Thursday, May 12, 2005

Will Malacanang let down Aetas to favor CDC?

First the good news. Praise be to the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) for taking the side of the Aetas of Mabalacat, Pampanga and Bamban, Tarlac by honoring their ancestral land claim. The NCIP even increased the original claim of 5,515 hectares granted by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in 1997 to more than 10,000 hectares in 2004.

The bad news is that Clark Development Corporation (CDC) has been contesting this since the beginning. And pressures from Malacanang, through a directive sent around Sept. 2004, prompted NCIP to hold in abeyance the awarding of the Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT).

Next week, starting May 19, a revalidation process will again be done, even as Aeta beneficiaries are protesting. For after a century of struggle, since the Americans occupied Aeta land and turned it into a huge military base, the Aetas thought victory was theirs. They Aetas are in for a rude awakening if their own government will let them down.

Here are some facts from NCIP documents.

As mentioned in historical accounts, in the 1700s, during the days when bravery was the highest virtue in the land, Juanico, the Son of Arap the Aeta, was chosen to lead the clan in what is now known as San Nicolas.

A Spanish document (obtained from the Bureau of Archives) containing a descriptive report corresponding to the year 1891 and the creation of Tarlac attests to the occupancy of the Aetas. On page 3 of the English translation, it says that the Negritos and Balugas were nomads living on the mountains located at the West of Capas and Bamban.

From 1900 to 1950, during the American occupation, many parts of the Aeta Ancestral Domains were taken as part of the US Military Camps (Fort Stosenberg later re-named Clark Field Military Reservation). However, in manifest recognition of the rights to these lands, the Americans did not prevent the Aetas from cultivating their lands within the areas taken as reservation. For 50 years it was exclusively the Aetas who were cultivating lands within the areas taken as military camp.

As early as 1975, the Aetas of Mabalacat and Bamban, have written petitions for the recognition of their ancestral land to then Pres. Ferdinand Marcos. This was reiterated sometime in 1982 and 1983, when they filed a ``petition for exclusion of 2,628 hectares from coverage of the Sacobia Development Authority projects for exclusive Negrito Resettlement Site, Negrito ancestral lands of Bamban from pre-hispanic era to present’’. Their petitions did not yield results.

In March 14, 1993 the DENR created Department Administrative Order (DAO) No. 2 for the identification, recognition and delineation of ancestral lands/domains claims of Indigenous Peoples. The Bamban Aeta Tribal Association, representing several other Aeta communities in Tarlac, filed an application. Their claim was processed.

DENR approved the Aetas’ claim and issued R03-CADC-107 dated Nov. 21, 1997 over 5,515 hectares within the area of Bamban, Tarlac.

On Jan. 13, 1998, Romeo S. David, president and CEO of CDC wrote then Executive Secretary Alexander Aguirre requesting that the CADC 107 be declared null and void. Aguirre formed a Joint Action Team (JAT) to look into CADC 107. The JAT findings on the extent of the ancestral domain more or less tallied with what DENR had approved.

With the birth of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act in 1997, a petition for the conversion of the same into Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) was filed by the Aetas. Processing of the petition of turning CADC to CADT (from claim to title) were done from Jan. 2003 to April 2004. Publication of the technical description (and an erratum) and map of the claim was likewise done last year.

The petition was then heard by NCIP en banc on Oct. 6, 2004, Nov. 9 and 12, 2004.

On Nov. 24, 2004, CDC manifested its intention to question the NCIP approval of the claim and the CADT issuance.

With pressures from MalacaƱang, the NCIP held in abeyance the awarding of the CADT and entered into negotiations with CDC, under the auspices of the Department of Land Reform (DLR). CDC wanted the ancestral domain to cover only 1,600 hectares.

Consequently, NCIP, CDC and the DLR agreed that a revalidation of the area and the beneficiaries of the CADT shall be conducted by the three agencies. (The Clark Special Economic Zone covers 28,041 hectares; the CADT area is 10,684 hectares. The number of Aeta beneficiaries is 2,973.)

Aeta beneficiaries of the CADT have appealed to Pres. Arroyo saying that there is no basis to the claim of CDC that only 1,600 hectares should be awarded to them. They are also opposing the revalidation of the CADT, since the period prescribed has lapsed. Under the IPRA, the law provides for a 15-day period (after publication) for opposing the claim. Under the same law, the CDC should have brought the decision of the NCIP to the Court of Appeals, and not before the Office of the President or the DLR.

Here’s a sentence from an NCIP document: ``Said ownership by the Aeta tribe of the area known as Clark is undisputed and uncontroverted.’’

A source from NCIP said that the area covered by the Aetas’ ancestral domain should first be established and then awarded once and for all. And if portions of the domain have to be used by CDC then a memorandum of agreement should be made between the parties concerned.

In the Visayas, the brewing issue between the Aetas and private land developers in the hip party island of Boracay is something to watch. More on this another time.