By Ali G. Macabalang
COTABATO CITY – Indigenous Peoples in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) are anxious about the fate of ancestral domain and tribal justice system in a short-lived transition of the interim regional governance.
Imbued with such fear, leaders and representatives of indigenous tribes in BARMM have joined the bandwagon of pleas for Congress to approve a harmonized version of pending bills postponing the 2022 regional parliament polls and extending to 2025 the lifespan of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) to 2025.
The tribal leaders declared “unequivocal support” to the quest in a manifesto issued on July 26, the day President Duterte delivered his sixth and final State-of-the-Nation Address (SONA).
“If the transition period will not be extended, the IPs fear that the desired institutional reforms for the protection and preservation of Fusaka Inged (ancestral lands) and entrenchment of the Tribal Justice system may be relegated and forgotten like what happened in the defunct Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao,” reads the manifesto.
In his two-hour and 46-minute SONA, the President underscored the essence of the BARMM creation in 2019 in the search for meaningful peace in Mindanao, but did not ask Congress to pass the poll-deferring bill in apparent pursuit of his earlier pronounced neutrality on the issue.
The IPs’ manifesto was received by the Senate on July 28, a day before some of the signatories staged another media forum on their pleas. The manifesto was signed by Tribal Chieftains Phoebe Grace Villamor of the Higaonon Tribe and Timuay Felino Samar of the Teduray Tribe, IP women representative Jocelyn Palao, and North Cotabato Council of Elders Bae Magdalena Suhat.
“Based on our manifesto, we fear that the non-passage of the extension (bills) might relegate to oblivion the efforts for adoption (in the BTA parliament) of the indigenous peoples’ code,” Samar said in Pilipino at the forum sponsored here by the Mindanao Peoples Caucus on July 29.
Article XVI, Section 4 of R.A. 11054 or Bangsamoro Organic Law mandates the BTA to enact seven priority codes including the Indigenous Peoples Code, which aims to promote the IPs’ rights and welfare, and protect and recognize their historical rights to their native lands.
The manifesto said “the process of IP Code drafting, consultations and consensus-building among the various tribes is still ongoing at various levels. […] These legal and cultural processes are hampered by the Covid-19 pandemic, which limits the movement of peoples within and among various communities, thus, causing delay in the enactment of the IP Code.”
“We will stop from heralding the voice of the IPs because we see in the interim BARMM government signs for the realization of our quests,” Palao told the forum also in Pilipino.
The petitioners commended the BARMM leadership for giving two IP representatives in the BTA, and for significantly increasing the annual budget of the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples Affairs, as well as the approval of the Education Code that enjoined the establishment of a tribal university.
“This only shows the high level of respect afforded on the right to self-determination of the IPs in the autonomous region,” they stated in the manifesto. (AGM)