ITOGON, Benguet – Mayor Victorio T. Palangdan underscored that indigenous peoples (IPs) should not be treated by the government as squatters in their own lands because of the existing land classifications under existing laws, rules and regulations.
Palangdan, who is one of the aspirants for the province’s lone congressional post, pointed out that under the current set up, IPs are already considered as squatters in the lands that had been passed on to them by their ancestors because the said areas where their houses are erected are classified to be protected lands, watersheds, timberlands or patented mining claims of large-scale mining companies that deprive them the right to acquire titles to the same despite having lived in the said areas for decades.
He claimed that because of the existing actual use of the said types of lands, there is a need to reclassify these to allow IPs who are mostly the occupants of the said lands to establish their ownership and prevent the government from treating them as squatters in the lands they inherited from their ancestors or own through various means.
The 3-term mayor stipulated there is nothing wrong in the efforts of the government to preserve and protect the environment because of its established benefits to humanity, but there is also a need to strike a balance between protecting the environment and the actual use of the areas where IPs are mostly residing as they can coexist with nature as evidenced by the decades of their stay in such places.
Palangdan emphasized the need for concerned government agencies to realize that huge portions of the protected areas, watersheds, timberlands and even patented mining claims have been originally occupied by IPs or already been converted into communities thus the need to facilitate the segregation of these portions of lands from such reservations for it to be considered as alienable and disposable that will be awarded to those qualified actual occupants for them to have legal ownership of the lands they already occupy.
According to him, IPs know and understand the importance of preserving and protecting the environment and government must reward them with the legal ownership of the lands that traditionally occupied with the condition that they will no longer encroach into the identified metes and bounds of the areas not alienable and disposable, and for them to be the protectors of the protected areas within their midst.
The local chief executive argued that IPs deserve to be rewarded by concerned government agencies for being stewards of the environment being the original occupants of areas that were classified as protected, forest reservations, watersheds, timberlands and patented mining claims, without unduly damaging these thus they deserve to be the partners of government in environmental preservation and protection.
Palangdan revealed that one of his priority legislations when given by the people of Benguet the chance to be the representative of the province to the House of Representatives is for the immediate re-classification of the lands within protected areas, forest reservations, watersheds, timberlands and patented mining claims to conform with the actual use of the lands so that those that need to be reclassified as alienable and disposable will be segregated for these to be awarded to the qualified actual occupants with the condition that they will be the stewards of the environment within their midst.