TUBA, Benguet– “tongtongan’ or dialogue is an age-old customary practice of indigenous cultural communities and indigenous peoples (ICCs-IPs) to settle disputes. It had been pave herd immunity.
Mayor Frenzel A. Ayong stated that passed on to generations where it was used to settle even complicated rifts to the present
In the case of the unification of the feuding factions of the Indigenous Peoples Organization of Alang, Pukis, Sabian, Sta. Fe, Oliba and Luacan (IPO-APSSOL), the IP group that struck an agreement with Philex Mining Corporation for the continuous operation of the mining company in its ancestral domain I exchange for the payment of royalty by the said company, the dialogue among the feuding factions was instrumental in slowly bringing them together until such time that tribal elders were able to come out with a decision to get their acts together for them to be able to avail of the benefit of their agreement with Philex that will be instrumental in spurring the development in their respective areas.
Minda Bantasan, chairperson of the IPO-APSSOL Council of Elders and Leaders (COEL), stated that it took the ongoing Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic for her fellow tribal elders and leaders to realize the need for them to unite so that they will be able to reap the fruits of development with the use of their royalty that had been deposited by Philex Mining Corporation to their agreed depository bank at the start of the agreement sometime in 2008.
She admitted that the heavy impact of the pandemic to the economic activities and sources of livelihood of the people in their ancestral domain which is mainly agriculture made the tribal elders and leaders realize that they needed the benefits they were supposed to get from the mining company, thus, initial talks through the initiation of Commissioner Gaspar Cayat of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) started among them.
“It was not easy bringing feuding elders and leaders at one time. We had to start our gatherings in small groups until it expanded with the active participation of the elders and leaders from other involved families until such time that we were already aligned to the direction of unification,” Bantasan stressed.
She claimed that the effect of the pandemic to their economic activities and sources of livelihood made them realize that had they earlier used their royalty from the mining operations in their domain, they should not have encountered the difficulties in their living condition when the various levels of community quarantine were implemented for nearly a year now.
For his part, Rafael Francisco, IPO-APSSOL interim president, pointed out that Commissioner Cayat, the first Kalanguya Commissioner of the NCIP, played a key role in patiently convincing his fellow elders and tribal leaders within the Kalanguya ancestral domain to unite by adhering to the practice of the primacy of customary laws in settling their disputes that paved the way for the realization of such unification of the previously fragmented organization.
Both elders disclosed that Cayat’s voluntary and unconditional assistance in the unification efforts of the organization served as an inspiration and motivation for them to really consider the long overdue prop0-osal for them to unite so that they could start accessing their royalty paid by the mining company and use the same for the overall growth and development of their domain.
With the reinstatement of the group’s registration and with the lifting by the NCIP en banc of the writ of preliminary injunction that prevented them from withdrawing the royalty deposits that were made with their depository banks in Makati City and Baguio City, Bantasan explained that the group is now in the process of preparing its Comprehensive Royalty Development Plan (CDRP) that will serve as the blueprint in the effective and efficient utilization of the group’s royalty that had been accumulated in the banks for over 7 years.
According to her, a Baguio-based bank already allowed the group who initially withdrew a certain amount that will be used in the crafting of their CDRP and the conduct of consultations with concerned stakeholders so that the same will be submitted to the Commission for approval and subsequent implementation.
Under existing laws, rules and regulations, IP organizations are required to formulate their CDRP that will serve as a basis for the proper utilization of their royalty from companies operating within their domain to ensure the growth and development of their places every beyond the lifetime of the companies.
The IP elders and leaders belied insinuations that there was rampant corruption that was involved in the unification efforts that were done, saying that the decision to unit was a product of a series of efforts to reach out to every involved clan to impart to them the importance of their active involvement in such process for them to be able to reap the fruits of the royalty that was untouched for them to be able to advance their living condition in the said mining communities.
Batasan stipulated that the IPO-APSSOL is proud of what had been achieved as they were able to unify the conflicting elders and leaders which is now serving as a model of other ICCs and IPs in the different parts of the country for them to be able to maximize the benefits of their royalty from the various companies operating in their areas of jurisdiction.
Commissioner Cayat expressed his gratitude to the IPO-APSSOL for heeding the call for unification and for initiating the required processes without undue intervention from outside forces so that they will be able to start a new mechanism allowing them to directly and indirectly benefit from their accumulated royalty from the ones that were settled by the company over the past several years. By HENT