by Karl M. Gaspar,C.Ss.R.

In August  of 2014, the members of the Davao Redemptorist Mission Community took over the administration of the Sto Niňo Nuing Mission Station (NMS) covering 11 barangays of the municipality of Jose Abad Santos, Davao Occidental.   Fr. Richie Cuaton, C.Ss.R., was assigned as the full-time in-charge of the NMS.  Early on, we already saw that one of the issues we had to deal with in the NMS was the issue of land.  In the months that we found ourselves immersed among the various Lumad communities (mainly Sarangani Manobo as well as with B’laan and those who have inter-married), we heard story after story as to how the land issue impacted their  daily  lives.

We had a consultation with all those connected with the Diocesan IP Ministry of the Diocese of Digos – with the attendance of Bishop Guillermo Afable, parish priests of parishes with big Lumad population and IP workers – sometime in October 2014 to discuss how we could, as church personnel, respond to some of these issues. In the months that followed we had consultations with the NMS lay staff on this issue, along with the Lumad leaders (having meetings at the NMS center in Nuing as well as in Molmol) and LGU officials.

In the process of our immersion and consultations, we were able to find out that: Since 2006, Fr. Sonny Villehermosa, who was then in-charge of NMS invited the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP) Provincial Office in Digos City, in collaboration with the Assisi Foundation (with Giovanni Soledad as the main in-charge) to explore the possibility of securing the Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) of the remaining ancestral territory of  the Lumad in NMS.  The process began with all the documentation and survey work that had to be done towards the issuance of the CADT. There was also the setting up of the Indigenous People’s Organization that would represent the Manobo-B’laan people, with the name MALOKA (in Manobo it means TO WAKE UP but is also the acronym for MALAHUTAYONG AGRIKULTURA, LUMANDONG  ORGANISASYON, KINAIYAHAN AMPI-NGAN – Sustainable Agriculture, IP Organization and Protect the Environment).

Eventually in 2012 (six years since the process began), the CADT application was approved by the NCIP National Office.  But three years later, the CADT that covers 2,540 hectares has not yet been awarded to the Manobo-B’laan claimants of Barangay Molmol. And there was no aggressive movement at all from the NCIP to do the necessary  follow-up on this CADT despite the attempts of MALOKA to follow them up.  Assisi Foundation had pulled out of  Molmol thinking that NCIP and MALOKA were in a position already to sustain the efforts. But this did not turn out to be the case.

12004092_10203453588379753_2354002420886757310_nAfter a five-month immersion and consultation process with MALOKA and the NMS staff, Fr. Richie Cuaton, C.Ss.R. and members of  the DRMC  decided to go ahead to organize a FORUM ON LAND ISSUES.  Since late last year   the various government agencies – especially the NCIP, DENR, DAR, DILG and the  Provincial Agriculturist’s Office at their provincial offices in Digos City – as well as non-government organizations (mainly the Ateneo Legal Center and the Assisi Foundation) and the church personnel involved of the Diocesan IP Ministry were contacted to join this Forum.

Among those who were present at the April 17 forum in Molmol where the following: NCIP: Diomedes E. Mirafuentes, Merry Jane T. Kinoc, Dominador D. Dala, Rene Chavez, Cesar Labastin and Luciano Lumangkas of NCIP Sarangani Province.

DAR was represented by Atty. Aison Garcia of the DAR National Office and Wilson Antiga – PARO of the Provincial Agrarian Reform Office, Digos City.  Raul Mazo of CENRO DENR in Malalag represented DENR.  DILG’s representative from the JAS municipal office was Maria Teresa Sioco.  From the Provincial Agriculturist’s Office was Syrial Surmion  while JAS Municipal Agriculturist’s office was represented by Ronvel Muego.

The Local government units came in full force. From the Province of Davao del Sur, Atty. Jason John Joyce, Provincial Board Member, attended. So did his father, Mayor James Joyce, Mayor of JAS who came with a number of kagawads and staff persons.  Mayor Joyce made use of his bulldozer to improve the barangay roads leading up to Molmol so that vehicles could penetrate this interior village.  Fortunately, there had been no heavy rains, so with the improved road, the guests could reach Molmol.

There were also a number of representatives from nongovernmental organizations like the Ateneo Legal Center and Assisi Foundation.  The Diocese was represented by Fr. Jomar Momo and Ms. Elenita Salip, both with the Diocesan IP Ministry. The problems related to the delay in the issuance of the Molmol CADT as explained by Mr. Mirafuentes  involved the following facts: 1) The CADT was already approved en banc at the NCIP National Office with the attendance of Datu Estoon in 2012. 2) Things have been cleared with the DAR. 3) However, there were still technical matters to be dealt with CENRO-DENR which is why the CADT has not yet been issued.

A number of times, the NCIP Provincial Office had written to CENRO asking for a Certificate of No Overlap (CNO) to find out if there were no longer overlaps between the CADT territory and the area covered under the DENR.  But the CENRO ignored their communications so far despite their attempts at following up on this request. 4)  For this reason, the NCIP could not proceed with the process of securing the title with the Register of Deeds (ROD). Without the ROD’s document, the NCIP could not issue the CADT to the Manobo-B’laan people in Molmol, JAS. 5) However, he indicated that the process of dealing with the Ancestral Domain Sustainable Development Program Plan (ADSDPP) has already started.  The MALOKA and its collaborating agencies can actually already be involved in the setting up of the ADSDPP.

There was then a discussion on the basis of the report of Mr. Mirafuentes. Mr. Mazo of CENRO said that he was not familiar with the NCIP request for certification and did not hear about these. But he said that he would inform the CENRO about this.  Mr. Mirafuen-tes insisted that a few requests from NCIP had been could be stranded up in the uplands, unless we were willing to walk hours to where we can catch a habal-habal.  So immediately after a quick lunch, all the visitors rode on their vehicles – army trucks, various vehicles with 4-wheel drive and habal-habal – and rushed to leave Molmol.

rimtAs we departed, I looked at the faces of the hundreds of Sarangani Manobo and B’laans who had joined the forum and sought to read the emotions that were manifested.  This was perhaps the first time in their lives when a big group of people converged in their interior village to dialogue with them on their land problems.  They were able to ask questions and perhaps they understood some of the answers, even as they might have been confused with the legalese language.  They knew a lot of work still needs to be done, especially the MALOKA leaders and those of the Tribal Council.

But perhaps, a hope arose in their hearts that some solutions to their enormous problems might be on their way. But perhaps many of them knew that it will not be the outsiders who will solve these problems but they, themselves.  That realization is, in fact, what brings hope to the uplands of Jose Abad Santos.  As if the Dugso ritual was considered favorably by the spirits, rains fell on the mountain range around Molmol that late afternoon of April 17 in these days of a drought. Indeed, as the song goes, “sometimes on April days, will suddenly bring showers, rain to grow the flowers for a rich bouquet.”

Following this April event, new assignments arose in the Cebu Province. New members of the DRMC and RIMT were named. After the PCLs of both communities, it was decided that RIMT will conduct a mission in the NMS from late June 2015 to April 2016.  Opening Masses in the 25 BECs of NMS took place in late June.  Through the past two months, members of the RIMT have done home visitation among the Catholic households of the 25 GKKs in the 11 barangays constituting the NMS in Jose Abad Santos town, Davao Occidental.

The work to assist the Manobo-B’laans in the NMS to secure their CADT continues even as RIMT members have continued with their home visitation, getting to know the members and leaders of the GKKs, listing  down those who need to be baptized and married in church,  preparing for renewal programs for GKK members and leadership training for GKK leaders and helping to strengthen the programs in the area of sustainable agriculture, community-based health and responding to the needs of the fisher folk in the coastal areas.

rimt3Two major difficulties have been met by Fr. Richie and the members of RIMT in the conduct of the various activities these past two months, namely, the geographical distances of the upland GKKs from the base in Barangay Nuing (some GKKs can only be reached by hiking 6 hours of steep mountain trails) as well as the weather conditions during the June-August rainy season (resulting in muddy trails, flooded rivers and non-stop downpour.  And now comes the news from Pag-asa  of a long El Niňo, starting in late September 2015 which may last until May or June 2016. Tough days ahead for RIMT in the NMS mission, indeed!

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