North Cotabato lawmaker wants lumad militias recognized by gov’t
KIDAPAWAN CITY, North Cotabato, Philippines – Amid reports of lumad paramilitary groups terrorizing several communities in Mindanao, North Cotabato Representative Nancy Catamco is seeking for full recognition and regulation of the traditional defense systems of indigenous cultural communities (ICCs) “in order for the rights of indigenous peoples (IPs) in the country to be fully upheld and protected.”
In a two-page statement, Catamco, chairperson of the House committee on Indigenous Peoples, said like other citizens, IPs’ right to protect their persons and properties should be respected and advanced by government.
“..(T)raditional defense systems of indigenous communities also deserve to be recognized in a way that would fit their own customs, traditions and practices,” she said.
Catamco did not say what these traditional defense systems were, but some lumad groups have formed themselves into baganis.
Emphasizing that this recognition “should come explicitly by law,” Catamco pointed out that the right to life, liberty and property and to be secured in the exercise of these rights has been “undeniably” a universally recognized right.
Catamco said even the 1987 Constitution has recognizes this.
“The Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act of 1997 or (IPRA) also upholds the primacy of customary laws not only in the recognition of the indigenous peoples’ right to ancestral domains but all the rights that inhere in them as distinct groups of peoples, including the rights to self-governance and empowerment, social justice and human rights, and cultural integrity in order to promote their political, economic and cultural well-being,” she said.
“Under the IPRA, the IPs have the right to regulate the entry of migrants and other entities into their ancestral domains,” Catamco pointed out.
“For our indigenous peoples and communities, these rights are deeply embedded in their customary laws traditions, and practices,” she said.
Catamco also called on the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) to draw up the necessary guidelines for the recognition of traditional indigenous community defense systems.
“I will exert all effort to compliment the same by way of legislative action to accord it with the full recognition of the law. The same can be done by putting in place the necessary regulatory policies and measures to ensure that this right is placed away from the hands of those who intend to abuse it for their own interests, or from being used to defeat the purpose for its recognition,” she added.
These indigenous community defense systems, she noted, have been living traditions among the IPs but these have not been well understood.
“I am equally aware of the many pitfalls that may lie ahead for the recognition of this right, and perhaps is the main reason why policy-makers have chosen to ignore its existence as well as the clamor for its recognition,” Catamco said.
“But I must say, that these traditional defense systems are the reasons for the very existence of these peoples, their lands and territories and all the resources that we share with them today,” she pointed out. “To continuously ignore them is to give the IPRA less than half the measure of the law that it deserves. Carlo Agamon, Inquirer Mindanao/CDG
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