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How the Ibaloi lost their land

07:56 PM January 14, 2014

American law had been the bane of Baguio City’s Ibaloi residents for more than a century, since the colonizing government required the native inhabitants of the summer capital to secure documentary titles to their lands.

Kapaoay or Kafagway was a grazing ground for cattle before the Americans decided to build the city of Baguio. Spanish accounts describe the area as a bustling settlement of cattle herders and farmers ruled by the “baknang” (the community’s wealthy clans), according to the 2002 study of the status and impact of ancestral land claims in Baguio that Ibaloi families conducted for the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process.

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Custom dictates that “the first to till the land or introduce improvements” are recognized owners of the property. This is expressed during ritual feasts when “mambunong” (ritual leaders) recite the community’s history, the study said.

At the start of the 20th century, it said, the Americans acknowledged the settlements of the “Igorrotes” when agents of the colonial government reached Kafagway to build a hill station.

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“For the greater populace of native inhabitants … the white men [had not harmed them],” said the study, which was reinforced by a decree exempting Benguet from paying taxes.

On Nov. 11, 1901, the American government appropriated P11,000 for the expropriation of Baguio land as it embarked on the creation of the mountain city. The study said the Ibaloi were forced to sell their landholdings which were in the way of proposed government building sites, and lost much more land they needed for grazing cattle.

Pushed to the fringes, the Ibaloi were also required to register their lands, a process that baffled Baguio’s original settlers because it involved new concepts like land surveys, the study said.

In 1909, Baguio was officially declared the summer capital, and the American government gave its inhabitants a shorter period to perfect their land titles when it established the Baguio townsite. In 1924, 48 Ibaloi claimants petitioned the government to recognize their land rights, but these claims were not settled.

The number of Ibaloi claimants grew just as Baguio developed. But when World War II ended, Baguio addressed its first squatting problem, by relocating these families to villages, which were covered by ancestral land claims.

The national government had tried to resolve the claims from the 1960s to the martial law years of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos. In the 1990s, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) was tasked to process ancestral land claims, as the government pursued the enactment of Republic Act No. 8371 (Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997 or Ipra).

But by 2002, 757 claims remained in limbo. The study said 194 of 425 ancestral land claims it examined indicated they inherited these properties. About 10 percent of the 757 claims involve emancipated tenants of the old baknang who were granted rights to lands.

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The study said the Ibalois never abandoned their claims. “In the 1950s, fortunes were made and lost in the attempt to register and perfect Igorot claims. The Ibaloi family learned [to rely on lawyers] in the never-ending encounters with the administrative and judicial courts,” it said.

Some even played the game of “titling through squatting,” the study said, hoping to benefit from “grateful or manipulative politicians,” in the same manner squatters of the 1950s were granted their lands through relocation sites.

Ipra, it said, was the Ibalois’ latest opportunity to correct a history of displacement. Vincent Cabreza

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