June 29, 2000

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Dispossessed Ibalois pushed 
to the fringes of mountain city  

By Gina Mission

GILDA Ampaguey loves to tell how her father’s umbilical cord was buried in what is now Baguio’s city hall. The way she tells it can strike the uninitiated ear as coming from a deranged woman. But the 62-year-old Ibaloi has her wits intact, and she is speaking literally.

Her father’s house stood there when he was still an infant and his umbilical cord was buried underneath after a traditional midwife cut it off from his navel. That house and the houses of other early inhabitants of the country’s summer capital are now but a memory, coming to life only in stories such as Ampaguey’s.

To the ancestors of present day Ibaloi residents, what is Baguio today was Kafagway, a mountaintop community built by tribal people. Life then was peaceful, simple, harmonious, and, as Ampaguey puts it, “characteristically Ibaloi.” The ownership of a piece of land was proved not by a transfer certificate of title but by one’s claim to it, which was respected by other members of the community.

Ibaloi customs, says Ampaguey, allowed them to “occupy, possess, and utilize their land as kejowan (communal forest), binaljan (residential area), payew (riceland), and many others. Boundaries were by padok (creek), bato (rock), keyew (tree).” Travel was through foot trails and commerce was done by bartering goods.

History, however, changed all that. Aida Pineda, president of the Baguio Ancestral Claimants, an organization composed of the Ibaloi, Kalanguya, and Kankaney tribes, says colonization “dispossessed” them of their lands.

A manifesto issued by the organization on the 1st of this month recalled that when the Spaniards colonized the country, they laid claim to choose tracts of lands for churches, convents, or schools. All such lands became the property of the King of Spain. When the Americans came, the lands became the property of the State by virtue of the Regalian Doctrine. The Ibalois and other tribal people were eased out and pushed to the fringes of the mountain community.

Land claims

Fast forward to the 20th century. The 1987 Philippine Constitution, which provides for “respect for ancestral lands,” brought back hope to the indigenous peoples of Baguio. Fulgencio Factoran Jr., as secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, issued Certificates of Ancestral Land Claims (CALCs) to qualified applicants.

Some 706 families applied for CALCs, and by the early 1990s, a little less than half of the applications had been approved. CALCs covered ancestral lands ranging from half a hectare for a family to as large as 33 hectares for a clan.

But none of the CALCs became a title, or a Certificate of Ancestral Land Title (CALT). Elizabeth Binayan, a CALC holder from Irisan, Baguio City, says this was due to the DENR’s refusal to turn over the CALCs to the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) in line with the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA), which gave indigenous peoples ownership rights over their ancestral lands. The law, enacted in 1997, gave NCIP the authority to process CALCs into CALTs and to implement IPRA.

Supreme Court

Binayan told PNI that when she and the other Ibalois in Baguio inquired at the DENR office, they were told that the documents could not be turned over to the NCIP because of the pending petition to declare the IPRA unconstitutional, filed with the Supreme Court by former Supreme Court Justice Isagani Cruz.

Considering that the DENR no longer has any legal basis to entertain ancestral land claims, the manifesto said, its refusal to turn over CALCs to the NCIP “has scandalized us.”

Having no titles to the lands they occupy, the indigenous peoples of Baguio have practically become squatters in the place where they and their ancestors were born and raised. Alfonso Aroco, officer in charge of the NCIP’s Ancestral Domains Office, told PNI, “You have a situation where IPs have a piece of paper and yet they cannot claim ownership of the land because these are not really titles.”


With a culture like theirs, it took the Ibalois years, even decades, to realize the importance of possessing titles to their ancestral lands. Joseph Sacley, barangay captain of Happy Hollow, an indigenous barangay located just outside the developed parts of Camp John Hay, says that in their culture, it is okay if you don’t have a title to the land you occupy. Your right to it is respected, even as its use is shared with others. “The land is open,” he explains. “Everybody is welcome.”

However, not all of those who were allowed to share their lands were good people. “They wanted our lands all to themselves,” Sacley says. “We are pushed (farther away) by the city of Baguio. We are only trying to salvage whatever little land is left to us.”

Life for the Igorot—a generic name for Ibalois and other tribal people—revolves around the farm. Any activity not directly related to the farm is deemed out of place and unproductive. “In our time, if we went to school, our parents would tell us that it would make us lazy. Farming was the thing,” says Ampaguey.

These days, her children reproach her every time she attends a meeting of the Baguio Ancestral Claimants. “Where are you going? How long will this end?” her kids would ask her. “The land is not yours, therefore, it couldn’t be ours,” they’d say.

It isn’t that the youngsters have lost all attachment to the land. Rather, it seems they are despairing that they may not be able to hold on to it. “There is impatience, anger, and fear of losing everything,” Binayan says, describing the current sentiments of indigenous peoples in Baguio.

But Sacley says they are determined to protect their lands. “We will protect the area. We will stay put. We have nowhere to go. We must fight.”¨
Pan-Philippine News and Information Network


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