“I believe that as present officials, we owe the Baguio Indigenous Peoples a public apology like the Australian government to their Aboriginal Peoples.”
This was the statement of Councilor Jose Molintas in his privilege speech during the Baguio City Council’s regular session last September 19.
In his speech, Molintas made reference to the public apology made by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in 2008 to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples of Australia “whose lives had been blighted by past government policies of forced child removal and assimilation.”
Just like the Australian government, the City Government of Baguio must also acknowledge the historical injustices committed against its indigenous peoples (IPs), Molintas exclaimed.
These Baguio IPs whom Molintas referred to were the Ibalois and the Kalanguyas.
He lamented the discrimination and oppression experienced by the Baguio IPs for the past 120 years particularly the deprivation of the original settlers of their right to claim legal ownership of their lands.
“The Baguio Indigenous Peoples lost their ancestral lands due to the imposition of foreign laws implemented in a very discriminatory manner as if they were non-existent under the Spanish regime,” he recalled.
He brought up Mateo Carino’s fight for his ownership over his 148-hectare land within the Camp John Hay Reservation which his clan, the Ibaloi tribe, had been occupying since time immemorial.
Records show that the United States Supreme Court upheld Carino’s rights over the property which paved the way for the establishment and recognition of the ancestral lands’ native titles.
The ruling of the US Supreme Court penned by Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes is known as the Mateo Carino Doctrine which has benefited not only the IPs of the Philippines but also the native communities in the other parts of the world as courts around the globe continue to cite this jurisprudence in protecting the rights of the original inhabitants of a certain territory. (Gary Paul Abela, 2021)
However, according to Molintas, Baguio City had been selling the lands supposedly covered by “native titles” through Townsites Sales Application, Commercial Sales Application, and Miscellaneous Sales Application since the day it was chartered.
“Baguio has been making money out of these ancestral lands. In fact, this system encouraged illegal occupation of lands as they were given priority to acquire titles instead of being disqualified. This is one of our present major land problems because illegal settlers have now encroached into our reserved lands,” he stated.
He asserted that the current and future administrations must work harder for the remuneration and restoration of these ancestral lands that the original settlers had lost.
He called out the city government for not acknowledging the “historical discrimination” against the Baguio IPs during the yearly celebration of Baguio Day.
The councilor further expressed disappointment on the presumed lack of historical and cultural sensitivity during the said celebration as he pointed out a specific instance.
He admitted to taking offense on the chanting of “Uggayam” and the conduct of “Pitik”, both non-Ibaloi rituals, instead of the recitation of the Ibaloi prayer called “Badiw” during the Baguio City Charter Day celebration last September 1.
“If we are sensitive and not ignorant of the past injustices, then we should formally apologize to them [Baguio IPs] and avoid being offensive in the next celebrations,” he argued.
Furthermore, he pointed out the exclusion of a certain provision in the original city charter from the Revised City Charter of 2022 (Republic Act No. 11689). The provision mentioned was Section 9 which provided for the creation of an advisory council including five igorots as members.
Consequently, there are no igorots in the list of members of the newly constituted advisory council, he claimed.
He also bemoaned the absence of an Indigenous People Mandatory Representative (IPMR) in the city council.
He went on to assail the Revised City Charter, claiming that the ancestral land claims of the Baguio IPs “were not given emphasis” and were instead made subordinate to the jurisdiction of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority over an expanded area including the lands occupied by the 13 barangays.
He said that a technical working group created by the city council will initiate a comprehensive review of the Revised City Charter together with all the stakeholders and the academe.
He expressed hope that Congressman Marquez Go, principal author of the Revised City Charter, will work with the technical working group for the proposed amendment of the “vague provisions” of the said law.
Finally, he pointed out the absence of the annual celebration of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples in the city as institutionalized by Ordinance 87-2019 because no funds were allocated for this purpose.
He concluded his speech with an appeal to his fellow city officials for the issuance of an official public apology by the city government to the Baguio IPs on a fitting occasion like the supposed celebration of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples in the city.
He likewise appealed to the event organizers of the city government to seek the advice of leaders of the Igorot communities on the conduct of culture-related events in order to accurately portray the “true customs and traditions” of the Baguio IPs. -Jordan G. Habbiling