Negrito tribe leaders to hold confab in QuezonBy Delfin T. Mallari Jr.
Inquirer Southern Luzon
LUCENA CITY—In celebration of the 15th anniversary of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA), leaders from different “negrito” tribes from all over the country will convene in General Nakar, Quezon on Saturday (Oct 13) for the “1st National Negrito Cultural Revival Festival and Development Forum”.
Ramsey Astoveza, an Agta tribe leader in Sierra Madre, said the event is expected to gather over 400 participants from Luzon (Sierra Madre, Zambales mountains, Bicol), the Visayas, Palawan and Surigao del Sur.
“This will be a historic event. Negrito tribe leaders will be discussing pressing matters that affects our lives, our communities and our natural habitat particularly on the issue of ancestral domain,” Astoveza, also the director of Tribal Development Center in Infanta, Quezon, said over the phone Friday.
The IPRA or Republic Act 8371, passed in October 1997, aims to support further policy formulation and program development on indigenous peoples’ issues and concerns.
The four-day event is organized by local peoples’ organization of the Agta-Dumagat-Remontado, Samahan ng mga Katutubong Agta na Ipinagtatanggol at Binabaka ang Lupaing Ninuno (SAGIBIN-LN, the Tribal Center for Development (TCD), and the provincial tribal Council with support from the Non-Timber Forest Products-Task Force (NTFP-TF).
A dialogue between tribe leaders, National Commission on Indigenous Peoples and representatives from different national government agencies is also scheduled on Tuesday at the covered court of General Nakar town that lies at the foot of the Sierra Madre.
During the forum, the NCIP will also conduct the ceremonial awarding of the approved Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) application for General Nakar.
Last month, Sen. Franklin Drilon called for review of the IPRA after the Department of Environment and Natural Resources reported that its implementation may have already caused a massive reduction in the size of country’s forests because of the issuance of land titles to indigenous peoples under their right to own forested land.
According to DENR Secretary Ramon Paje, land titles issued to tribal communities have reduced the country’s forest lands to less than 9 million hectares from more than 15 million hectares.
However, Astoveza argued that the threat to forest lands come from continuous logging activities and not from indigenous people.
“Forest land is sacred to us. It has been an inherent part of the lives of indigenous people. Without the forest, no negrito tribe will continue to exist. No one can sincerely protect the forest but the indigenous people,” he said.
Astoveza said the Agta tribe leaders will also bring the issue of the government failure to stop the destruction of the Sierra Madre mountain range, considered one of the last bastions of lush forests in the country that starts in the north in Cagayan and ends in the south in Quezon.
The northern part of Quezon at the foot of Sierra Madre has long been the haven of illegal loggers despite President Aquino’s total log ban order on February 2011.
But the reality on the ground would show that the supposed log ban was just on paper, according to Sierra Madre protection advocates.
Astoveza has expressed fear that the with the coming election season, illegal logging will be more widespread to finance the candidacies of politicians protector of forest criminals.
Outgoing Bishop Rolando Tria-Tirona, of the prelature of Infanta, once said that their calls for the government to stop the continued rape of Sierra Madre already “sounds like a broken record.”
Astoveza also lamented that the indigenous people is still voiceless and lack representation in the local government despite a government order.
He noted that more than 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, the order has yet to be implemented due to lack of local budget for the purpose.
Under Section 16 of the Ipra, it 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.”
It added: “Consequently, the state shall ensure that [indigenous Filipino communities] shall be given mandatory representation in policy-making bodies and other local legislative councils”.
To address the situation, Agta “governor” Nap Buendicho, registered as an independent candidate for councilor of General Nakar, Quezon in next year election, “to help protect the Sierra Madre” from further destruction.
Astoveza said Agta leaders made a pact among tribe members and environmentalist groups that they will remain vigilant in their protection of the mountain ranges, considered the “backbone” of Luzon spanning the island’s northeastern coast from Cagayan in the north to Quezon in the south.
According to a report by US-based non-government organization Conservation International, the Philippines’ tropical forests ranked fourth in the group of 10 most threatened forests in the world due to years of logging and invasive human activities.