BAGUIO CITY—Almost two years after the Department of the Interior and Local Government ordered barangay and town councils to include representatives of indigenous communities in their areas, as mandated by Republic Act No. 8371 (Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997 or IPRA), no such councilors have been installed.
The reason: The Aquino administration has failed to include a 2012 budgetary allocation to augment the funds of low revenue local governments to pay indigenous peoples (IP) sector councilors their salaries and incentives.
Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo had tried to secure the budget for IP councilors two years after issuing a circular in November 2010, making it mandatory for village and town councils to make room for IP representation.
Section 16 of the Ipra states that indigenous Filipinos “have the right to participate fully, if they so choose, at all levels of decision-making in matters which may affect their rights, lives and destinies through procedures determined by them as well as to maintain and develop their own indigenous political structures.”
“Consequently, the state shall ensure that [indigenous Filipino communities] shall be given mandatory representation in policy-making bodies and other local legislative councils,” it says.
In last year’s budget deliberations, Robredo proposed to increase by 10 percent the budgets of barangays or towns with IP council members, said Zenaida Brigida Hamada-Pawid, chair of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, when she led the first Indigenous Peoples Summit for Luzon here in September last year.
But the House committee on appropriations noted that an IP salary allocation in the 2012 General Appropriations Act “might appear as class legislation [given that it] would be an insertion for a specific sector,” said Ifugao Rep. Teodoro Baguilat Jr., who chairs the House committee on national cultural communities.
“We have been advocating for the selection of IP sector representatives because they can be the strongest champion for IP rights at the local government level,” he said.
However, many new IP councilors complained to Pawid during the September summit that they were not getting paid. Many of them assumed office in the middle of 2011 to comply with Robredo’s directives.
But Councilor Jose Bogbog, the IP sector representative of Cordon, Isabela, said he did not assume office because no one could pay his salary of P20,000 a month.
In an interview during the summit, Bogbog said he did not relinquish his post as executive secretary to Cordon Mayor Laurencio Zuniega because he needed to continue earning a salary while government addresses the budget problems of IP councilors.
Indigenous peoples’ rights advocates, who joined the summit, offered suggestions to improve Robredo’s directives.
For example, Evelyn Jacob of Bicol urged Pawid to allow tribal community elders to automatically assume IP representative seats in barangay councils. Bogbog said he was elected to the IP post by the local community.
Most of the towns with new IP councilors are in Mindanao and they assumed office without receiving salary, Pawid said last year. “Let’s make sure the IP council seats won’t be another reason to divide the IP,” she said.
Baguilat said the common aspiration among Mindanao IPs is to be part of the decision-making agencies.
“An active IP sector representative can serve as a rallying symbol for marginalized IPs, especially the lumad in Mindanao and the Aeta, Dumagat and Mangyan of Luzon,” Baguilat said.
“They should also be given appropriate training [as to their] duties and functions in government. What’s worse than an exploiter of IPs is an IP leader who is manipulated because of his or her ignorance,” he said. Vincent Cabreza, Inquirer Northern Luzon