ITOGON, Benguet – Indigenous peoples (IPs) are calling on Congress to immediately act on the reclassification of lands in the municipality to conform with their present uses.
Rosita Bargaso, president of the Itogon Indigenous Peoples Organization (IIPO) said that most of the lands in the municipality are forest and watershed reservations, mineral patents and claims and timberlands which are not actually alienable and disposable.
However, she pointed out that these lands are no longer serving their desired purposes as most of the areas, particularly the mineral patents and claims of large-scale mining companies, are already built up places that already warrants the enactment of appropriate laws, rules and regulations for the reclassification of the said lands to conform with their present uses.
Itogon has a land area of more than 60,000 hectares where more than 49,000 hectares are either forest and watershed reservations or mineral patents and claims.
“Many of the reservations, especially the mineral patents and claims, are now built up areas that is why we want Congress to reclassify our lands that will first be returned to the government and eventually awarded to qualified homelot occupants” Bargaso stressed.
The IIPO official claimed that the IPs have already occupied many parts of the mineral patents and claims of large-scale mining companies and that they are now being advised that they might be evicted from where their structures have been built.
According to her, the concerned IPs are seeking the assistance of concerned government agencies and local governments to support their clamor for Congress to immediately act on their clamor for the reclassification of lands in the different parts of the municipality that reflect their present use.
The IIPO is the indigenous peoples organization duly accredited by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) representing the Itogon ancestral domain.
Bargaso underscored it is important that the built up areas within the various reservations and the mining patents and claims should already be excised from these so that it will revert to the government and eventually be awarded to the existing and qualified actual occupants for them to own the lands so that they can further develop and introduce their desired improvements.
The IP elder stipulated that the transfer of ownership of the lands from the large-scale mining companies to the individual occupants qualified for the purpose will be a legacy that the IIPO wants to leave behind to the town’s indigenous peoples thus the clamor for the timely reclassification of the said reservations and claims to prevent the displacement of the IPs from their lands that they had been occupying for a reasonable period of time.
Itogon is a first-class municipality in the province that hosts the operation of several large-scale mining and power generation companies for over a century now and derives its income from its share from the national wealth taxes being paid by the said companies to the national government. Sixty percent of the national wealth taxes being paid by the said companies are retained by the national government while 40 percent are equitably divided by the host barangays, municipalities and provinces.