For more than a century the Manobo-Pulangiyon of Bukidnon have been forced to live in the sidelines of their ancestral land, away from where their tribe can cultivate food, hunt for survival, or access water sources. Amnesty International Philippines held a press conference on Friday, ahead of the National Indigenous Peoples Month in October, to support 1,490 families of the Manobo-Pulangiyon, who have been desperately seeking for justice for the encroachment of their ancestral land.
“The Manobo-Pulangiyon have been living in precarious conditions at the side of the highway in Bukidnon since being displaced from their homes, experiencing irregular water and food supplies and inadequate medical care. The local government’s failure to take immediate action to protect their rights has forced many from the tribe to live in misery. They continue to face a number of human rights abuses and violations, entire generations are denied access to their ancestral lands, and their communities face violent repression and abuse for peacefully protesting to take back what is rightfully theirs to begin with,” said Butch Olano, Amnesty International Philippines Section Director.
Living on the ancestral land is key for the physical and cultural subsistence of Indigenous Peoples. Their sacred ground allows them to maintain their social practices and cultural traditions vital to their right to self-determination, all of which they are unable to do because of government inaction.
“Right to their ancestral land is crucial to them as it is an essential element for their sense of identity, livelihood and way of life. They were forced to live at the side of the road away from the heart and soul of their culture where their ancestors thrived. This situation can be reversed if the government dutifully enforce the IPRA law,” explained Olano.
The ancestral land of the Manobo-Pulangiyon, a property consisting of nearly-1000 hectares and several key landmarks including the Salagapon Falls, Banban, and the Karikayanan, have illegally been in the hands of private owners since the 1920s when Don Manolo Fortich ‘borrowed’ the land from them through a verbal agreement he made with tribal leaders at the time. Fortich transformed their land into a cattle ranch, put up a fence to keep the tribe out, and hired a private army to watch its perimeter.
The Manobo-Pulangiyon wasn’t able to access their land since, and then it was leased out again in 1986 to Kiantig Development Corporation (KDC), formerly known as Cesar Fortich Incorporated, via the awarding of the Forest Land Graze Management Agreement (FLGMA) No. 122. FLGMA is a product-sharing agreement between a qualified entity and the government to develop, manage, and utilize grazing lands. This same FLGMA expired in 2018.
“In 2018, the Manobo-Pulangiyon initiated procedures to gain legal recognition of their ancestral land after the 25-year lease expired. Negotiations have taken place between the current illegal occupant and government representatives for the land to be returned to the tribe. After almost four years from the time the lease expired and a total of six dialogues later, the community still hasn’t been able to regain access even to a small portion of their land,” added Olano.
In their current living conditions, the very survival of the Manobo-Pulangiyon tribe is at risk. Datu Rolando Anglao have reiterated to Amnesty International Philippines that there is no chance for a better life for their future generation on the side of the road.
“We live near our ancestral land but most of us do not remember what it’s like to live in our old home, our children don’t even know what it looked like. Since Manolo Fortich borrowed our land from our ancestors a century ago, we have been driven further away from the heart of our tribe,” lamented Datu Anglao.
“We live in between a dangerous highway and a fence that keeps us out of our ancestral land guarded by private armies who would not think twice about shooting at us to make sure we are kept out. In these dire conditions, we cannot even leave our children alone because there have been accidents in the highway. There is always danger of being hit by trucks. Five children were run over by vehicles already,” he added.
“Now the local government is red tagging us and continues to vilify us. But we have been working with the DENR, NCIP and even asked for protection from the AFP’s 88IB. We are only demanding for what is rightfully ours, as recognized by the NCIP when they granted us our Certificate of Ancestral Domain Claim (CADC) recognizing that we have rights over the land.” Datu Anglao shared.
Amnesty International’s various reports on the plight of indigenous communities all over the world show that most attempts made to get justice for their lands, territories, and human rights are thwarted by ineffective legal systems, a lack of access to legal documents and representation, corruption, and powerful state-corporate alliances. When the indigenous peoples cannot secure justice already accorded to them in law, companies learn that they can exploit them without consequences.
“Like many indigenous groups who have been driven away by big businesses, they are not asking for more than what is rightfully theirs. But they have experienced intimidation and violent attacks, as well as ongoing daily discrimination, for fighting for their rights. For more than a century of living dispossessed, scraping a living in precarious circumstances with little access to basic services, the government is still turning a blind eye on their situation. In the absence of a government agenda on social reform for indigenous peoples, it is high time for President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. to step in.” said Olano.
Amnesty International Philippines arranged an audience with various government offices for the representatives of the Manobo-Pulangiyon who are visiting Manila. The tribe is calling for the following:
- Immediately award the Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT).
- Direct the NCIP, AFP and PNP to install and secure the Manobo-Pulangiyon into their ancestral domain.
- Immediately disarm the blue guards of Kiantig Corporation allegedly accused of violent harassment of the Manobo-Pulangiyon indigenous cultural community. Immediately respond to the welfare and health needs of Manobo-Pulangiyon indigenous peoples.
- Reopen the investigation of the shooting incident on April 19, 2022, that wounded several members of the IP-community.
- Investigate the Mayor of Quezon, Bukidnon for conflict of interest and obstructing justice.
- Review performance and budget of NCIP.