WHEN we speak of the indigenous people, we are actually referring to the first settlers in our land. They are the group in actual possession of the land which they occupied even before the Torrens titling system came to be.
For this reason, the lands they have occupied since time immemorial are at their disposal, use and maintenance.
However, with the onset of the Torrens titling system, a wealthy family masquerading as environmentalists saw the opportunity to grab from the indigenous people the land that has long been theirs long even before these greed-driven people were born.
Take the case of the Dumagat indigenous group at the southern tip of the Sierra Madre Mountain Range. They have settled there for who knows how long. They are now driven away in view of greed concealed as environmental protection.
The last time I checked, their ancestral domain has already been reduced to what seemed too negligible an area in the upland portion of Rizal.
No less than 27,000 families of the government recognized indigenous people have nowhere else to go in the midst of aggressive efforts to dislodge them from a place classified by law as their ancestral domain.
Sadly though, just a handful of the Dumagats would be able to understand the piece of paper – a memorandum of agreement signed by the late former Environment Sec. Gina Lopez – being used by the Masungi Georeserve Foundation to legitimize their quest to seize an area that is almost the size of Pasig City with the use of force embarking on what local residents claimed looks more like a private army.
The document which later turned out to be a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between Lopez and a construction company (using the name Masungi Georeserve Foundation) supposedly designated the latter as environment stewards.
According to the Dumagat tribal leaders forming part of the Kaksaan Ne Dumaget De Antipolo Inc., the officials behind the Masungi Georeserve are forcibly driving them away from their ancestral domain, accusing them as land grabbers, squatters and illegal loggers. These people were also responsible for the floods that hit Marikina during the recent typhoons.
Can a mere memorandum of agreement between Dumaliang and the DENR supersede Republic Act 8371 (Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act of 1997)?
Interestingly, the Dumagats have been given the authority to protect, preserve and conserve the forest and the watershed within their ancestral domain under the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Act.
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