Aetas fighting for land rights draw inspiration from fallen leader
SUBIC BAY FREEPORT—Before he died on July 31, Aeta leader Leonardo Abraham, who had fought for more than a decade for the rights of indigenous peoples in Bataan, was able to leave a blueprint for his community to follow in dealing with people and institutions that want to benefit from their lands.
In a July 19 letter to Zenaida Hamada-Pawid, chair of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), Abraham rejected the Joint Management Agreement (JMA) proposed by the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority on the ancestral domain of the Pastolan Aeta community.
The community holds a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) to over 4,200 hectares of land that overlaps with the area of the Subic Bay Freeport.
Abraham said that as chief of the council of elders of Pastolan in Hermosa town, he was “saddened by what’s happening and what [SBMA officials] are doing.”
“We opposed the JMA that the SBMA created and forced us to sign through deception, bribery and coercion,” he said.
Abraham has become an inspiration to the Pastolan community, his wife Norma said.
Ruben Florentino, 63, the Pastolan Aetas’ next leader, said he would not allow Abraham’s efforts to go to waste. “[I hope Abraham’s death] will unite all of us here. I am going to strive to do that, and do what’s best for [the Pastolan community],” he said.
The JMA, which is being validated by the NCIP, would give the Aetas 5 percent of rent of any locator there starting May 2009. It also includes a livelihood assistance for Aeta families of P20,000 to P40,000 yearly for 25 years, a school building, clinic and a P100,000 yearly gift for the community’s fiesta celebrations and holidays.
But Abraham said the JMA should have been in the form of a memorandum of agreement (MOA), as stated by the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (Ipra). He also said the process of obtaining the free prior and informed consent (FPIC), a requirement of the Ipra, was not followed.
He also lamented the limited information on the SBMA’s financial standing, on the locators using the Aeta ancestral domain, and on how much land businesses are occupying there.
He said the SBMA would give the Aeta community only 5 percent of rentals while keeping 95 percent for the government agency. The earnings would be deposited in a fund co-managed by the SBMA and the NCIP, and not solely by the Aeta community, he said.
Several companies have put up facilities in some of the areas covered by the CADT since the inception of the SBMA in 1992. These are in the Subic Bay Industrial Park and the Japanese Technopark. Residential communities, like Binictican, are also covered by the CADT.
Abraham refused to sign the JMA and told SBMA officials to present and discuss it with the rest of the community.
He credited the Welfare and Management Services for Indigenous Peoples (Wamsip) for helping the Aeta community in its negotiations with the SBMA. “They explained the Ipra to us and helped us negotiate with the SBMA,” he said.
Sergio Pascual, Wamsip deputy executive director, said the rental of 5 percent offered by the SBMA was “very little compared to what they should really be getting.”
“The SBMA and the NCIP should not dictate the terms to the indigenous peoples. The JMA transfers all the rights over the land to the SBMA, and nothing is left to the Aetas except the little ‘icing’ they give them,” he said.
In an earlier interview, SBMA Chair Roberto Garcia said the agency’s offer was based on the Ipra and on negotiations with the Pastolan Aetas.
“Under the Ipra, Aetas can negotiate and enter into an agreement with appropriate government agencies to manage Aeta properties under a written agreement with the guidance and approval of the NCIP,” Garcia said.
“The compensation of the Aetas was computed by rental of locators as this is the only income of SBMA and the Aetas from the property. Using a percentage of gross income would not be acceptable to the locators and would force them to relocate as it would cause a heavy burden on the financial resources.”
He said the share of 1 percent gross income being proposed by Wamsip “is not comparable since this is under the mining law, which compensates [communities] due to extraction of minerals.”
“[Mining] destroys the land being mined, which is not the case with SBMA land leases,” he said.
The SBMA has been reasonable with its offer to the Pastolan community, Garcia said, adding that Wamsip’s assertion that the JMA is disadvantageous to the Aeta community is not true.
“They have an interest, that’s why they are saying that. The Aetas were almost unanimous. That’s why they signed [the JMA]. There was no intimidation. The NCIP will not approve of the JMA if it is disadvantageous to the Aetas. That’s their mandate—to protect the interests of the indigenous community,” he said.
Conchita Calzado, NCIP regional director, said negotiations on the JMA would be rescheduled.
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