Indigenous folk gain access to gov’t services
PANGASINAN, Philippines—Councilor Danilo Bugtong of San Nicolas town, Pangasinan province, drove for four hours on Monday from his house in the mountain village of Malico to reach the municipal hall in time for the flag-raising ceremony at 8 a.m.
The trip took him to Sta. Fe town, Nueva Vizcaya province, and San Jose City and Lupao town, Nueva Ecija province, before passing through the towns of Umingan, San Quintin and Tayug in Pangasinan to reach San Nicolas.
Bugtong and other members of the Kalanguya tribe in the village had to go through the circuitous route to reach the town because the 20-kilometer Villaverde Trail can be used only for hiking.
“I’m already used to it,” said Bugtong, 57, who just sat in July as IP (indigenous peoples) representative to the municipal council. He is also a pastor of the town’s United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP).
When Bugtong studied at Red Arrow High School in San Nicolas and later at Luna Colleges in Tayug, he walked the trail for four hours.
“Many IPs in Pangasinan live in the uplands and the primary concern is the access to the center of governance,” said Bugtong, whose tribe is one of the three in his town. The others are the Ibaloy in Barangay San Felipe East and the Iwak in Barangay Fianza.
The province has 10 other tribes living in the towns of San Manuel, Sison, Umingan, Pozorrubio, Laoac, Sual, Labrador, Bugallon, Mangatarem, Mabini, Infanta and Aguilar.
The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) placed the IP population in Pangasinan at 14,670.
Bugtong said the delivery of government services to the IPs, such as health and education, was suffering because of the problem of accessibility.
Some areas in the province are isolated during the rainy season because it is difficult to reach them, said Dr. Enrique de los Santos, NCIP provincial officer. “They cannot also sell their produce in the town’s public market because it will be very expensive for them to transport it,” he said.
But he said the government had fixed the roads in some areas, like in Mapita, a mountain village in Aguilar, which can now be reached by a one-and-a-half hour drive, compared with the seven-hour hike before.
In December last year, electricity also reached Mapita.
But the physical distance that separates the cultural communities from the centers of power and decision-making has been bridged in some areas of the province.
Two towns now have IP representatives sitting in the municipal councils, De los Santos said. Aside from Bugtong, Josephine Saguirre assumed her post in the municipal council of Sison in July.
Bugtong said the implementation of the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (Ipra) of 1997 provision on IP representation in local legislative bodies was a product of a long struggle.
“Some local governments did not like it; others said there was no budget for it. We are very glad that during the time of the late [Interior] Secretary [Jesse] Robredo, this was finally realized. And we are very grateful for that,” he said.
He said members of the San Nicolas town council welcomed him warmly when he assumed office in July.
“I was emotional. Gone finally are the days when the IPs were only for tourism, when the IPs were only for street dancing. Now, we sit in the lawmaking body of the town,” he said.
“It’s very, very rewarding. It makes you proud to be an IP, that you can do something, that you can contribute, not only in the locality but in nation-building as well,” he said.
Ancestral domain titles
De los Santos said his office was working to help qualified IP communities get their certificates of ancestral domain title (CADTs) to assure them of communal land ownership.
In San Nicolas, the three tribal communities occupy about 15,000 hectares of ancestral land in the Caraballo Mountains.
The CADT is good for them because their territory will be protected from any government or private projects intrusions, De los Santos said. “If these projects enter an ancestral domain, they will have to seek the community’s free prior and informed consent,” he said.
Bugtong said indigenous communities in the province should remain united and strong to improve their lives. “We will continue to work hard to assert our rights. Our rights are not served on a silver platter; you have to work and fight for it,” he said.
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