“BREAKING Free” was the theme for the special forum conducted early this year to discuss the rights of indigenous peoples (IP) in the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), and it could not have been more apt.
Held last July 11, 2014 in Justitia, the forum was organized by volunteer law students from the Katutubo Desk under the Ateneo Human Rights Center (AHRC) and former AHRC interns now working for the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center (LRNRC), a non-governmental organization that advocates for the special protection of indigenous peoples and their rights.
In an interview with Marlon Tronqued (4D), head of the Katutubo Desk, he explained that the forum was arranged in order to provide “an avenue for some members of the tribes in Mindanao, particularly the Erumanen ne Manuvu, to share their experiences in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM)” and discuss the “implications of the BBL on the IP tribes who are to be directly subsumed into the Bangsamoro territory [as well as those] who live just outside its peripheries.”
According to Section 3 of the BBL Draft, the purpose of the law is to establish an independent Bangsamoro political entity and “provide for its basic structure of government,” in recognition of the aspirations and traditions of the Bangsamoro people. While its purpose may be noble, IP advocates have constantly emphasized that the greatest care and utmost regard for the rights of the indigenous peoples must be provided before the law is finalized.
The main issue confronted in the forum revolved around how IP rights are currently being disregarded in the BBL negotiations between the Bangsamoro and the Government. The speakers — Atty. Grace Villanueva, Executive Director and OIC Director of Legal Services of the LRNRC and Timuay Alim Bandara, a Teduray tribal leader — primarily talked about the potential conflict in the treatment of IP rights for those who will be directly affected by the Bangsamoro Basic Law.
The problem, according to them, lies on the possible loss of protection initially accorded by the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997 (IPRA) to the rights of the IP tribes once the same becomes part of the territories contemplated in the BBL. The right of the indigenous peoples to their ancestral domain could best typify this eventuality. Thus, Atty. Villanueva and Timuay Alim Bandara both called for the inclusion of greater safeguards in the upcoming law, which is currently undergoing committee review in Congress.
The event was also graced by insights of notable people who served as reactors in the forum, namely: Atty. Ray Paolo Santiago, Executive Director of the AHRC, Ateneo Law School Dean Sedfrey Candelaria, who was actively involved in the crafting of the Bangsamoro Framework Agreement, and Fr. Albert Alejo, head of the Mindanawon Initiatives for Cultural Dialogue.
Other highlights of the talk included Timuay Alim Bandara’s discussion on the historical interactions between the Lumads and Bangsamoro in Central Mindanao, as well as Fr. Alejo’s narration of the meetings conducted between members of the IP tribes and the Bangsamoro leaders to resolve the issues at hand. He also shared his personal interactions with President Aquino to discuss the law.
Together, the speakers and reactors shared the sentiment of advocating for a more flexible BBL, emphasizing the importance of constant dialogue among the parties to ensure that the rights of the indigenous peoples would not be compromised. P