How fare our indigenous brothers and sisters, especially in Mindanao? For decades, scholars, activists, church and academic leaders have raised issues in a multitude of fora on the marginalization of Mindanao’s lumad, or tribal communities. Sarangani-based contributor Edmundo Cejar wrote this ground-zero situationer in his Facebook page on July 9, with a personal appeal for intervention. 

Singer-songwriter Danny Javier, known in development and corporate circles as a friend of the lumad, noted in Cejar’s FB thread that “our hearts bleed for our B'laan tribes. Our efforts to bring them together, on and in their ancestral lands, must not end in M'ngayaw. There is enough turmoil in Mindanao. And the B'laan have suffered enough. This a call to action that must be heeded by all the responsible leaders not only of Malungon but of the province and national government as well. Salamat Sa pagbabahagi.” He added: “This is a cause for the Chieftains to get involved. A preliminary get together towards a kastifun to address this and other matters might be timely.”

At presstime, July 12, Cejar wrote that “a Digos-based lawyer is interested in taking a closer look at the case and tentatively promised to help if the Blaan claimants have a valid case.” He added that more people, including some lawyers, “have initially gotten in touch with me to evaluate the case and may be able to help if warranted.” 

Resurgent reprints his account in full.

The Blaan clan, with mostly illiterate older members, has always been recognized by the tribe as the legitimate claimant to about 300 hectares of ancestral land in Malungon (Sarangani Province). The clan head was killed in an ambush in early 2000. Now, the son and the other siblings are about to be ejected from their ancestral land.

The story is long but the gist is this:

Way back in the early 70’s a prominent settler convinced the illiterate clan head to have the clan’s land planted with gmelina under the DENR’s (Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources) program with the promise of millions of pesos in shares from the proceeds from lumber. As required by the program the old man had to "sign" documents he could not read. He was also paid some money. The project failed and there were no millions of pesos to the clan.

As it turned out, he has “sold” about 50 hectares of the tree plantation area to the prominent settler. Subsequently, this area was titled to the settler. The clan head was distressed but upon advice of cooler heads he honored the “sale.”

In the early 2000s a religious group based in Manila bought a property from the settler, which included the 50 hectares plus another 20 hectares. The additional 20 hectares were covered by CLOA’s (A Certificate of Land Ownership, a public document which shows ownership of the land granted to beneficiaries by the Philippine Department of Agrarian Reform—editor) in the name of relatives of the settler. The religious group wanted to use the forested area for a community and training center. When the religious group fenced off the area it purchased from the settler, the clan discovered that the area bought from the settler encroached into its areas not covered by the earlier “sale.” The late clan leader objected but he was presented by the religious group with the CLOA’s covering the 20 hectares. Unbeknown to the illiterate clan leader the settler had obtained CLOA’s from the DAR for the 20 hectares.

The feeling of being duped with the earlier “sale” and the issuance of CLOA’s on the additional 20 hectares without his knowledge or agreement outraged the old man. In the simple ways only an illiterate man can think of, he tried to recover the 20 hectares. His effort ended when he was fatally shot, together with a friend, while on a motorcycle along the highway close to the disputed area. The clan, rightly or wrongly, believed his brutal death had something to do with the land dispute.

For several years now the son, also illiterate, is pursuing the claim “to vindicate the blood shed by my father” over this land. He tried all legal and other informal means to reclaim the land. His main argument is simple--- the clan did not sell nor donate the 20 hectares to the settler, nor offered the area to DAR under the VOS (Voluntary offer to Sell) scheme, therefore, the CLOA’s issued by the DAR are spurious, with no legal basis. The provincial NCIP (National Commission on Indigenous Peoples) has been helping. So is the regional NCIP. But they are meeting determined legal resistance from the religious group. The local tribal council is of no help. The LGU is hesitating, according to the claimant because, perhaps, the settler (also already deceased) used to be a high official in the LGU and the family locally prominent. The claimant even wrote to the action center of the Office of the President but was referred back to NCIP.

Except for the NCIP, every person or office he goes to has a simple answer: The settler had the title (CLOA’s) so he could validly sell the land to the religious group. Nobody seems to be listening to the complaint of the clan that it has not sold or donated the 20 hectares to the settler nor offered the area for VOS so DAR cannot issue CLOA’s to the relatives of the settler.

Now the religious group has obtained a preliminary order for ejection from the Commission for Urban Poor (or something) against the claimant.

The bitter words of the desperate claimant are worrying. He said “My father spilled his blood over this land. I will not allow this land to be taken away from us. If I cannot get back this land thru legal means, I will take it back by other means”.

"M'ngayaw" is the Blaan term for taking bloody revenge for a perceived wrongdoing.

To the Sarangani provincial tribal council, the Malungon Municipal tribal council, the Sarangani provincial IPMR (Indigenous Peoples Mandatory Representative) and the Malungon Municipal IPMR, this can be your shining moment. To any civic -minded lawyer, especially a Blaan lawyer, this could be an opportunity to prevent blood spilling.