A Philippine congressman from Northern Luzon, Representative Teddy Brawner Baguilat, Jr., has decided to champion the land rights of the Buid people of southern Mindoro Island. Mr. Baguilat, who represents the Ifugao Province, indicates on his Facebook page that he is, himself, an indigenous person, an environmental advocate, a believer in ethical, transparent government, and a champion of the rights of indigenous peoples.

Teddy Baguilat, Jr.He issued a press release last week, which was also picked up by a Philippine news service, about his latest effort to secure indigenous rights in his country. His action was to file a House Resolution seeking a congressional inquiry into the implementation of an agrarian reform project in the traditional territory of the Buid. The resolution requests the National Cultural Commission and the House Committee on Agrarian Reform to investigate abuses carried out under the auspices of an administrative department of the government, the Department of Agrarian Reform.

Evidently, land reform procedures were not followed correctly, and titles to lands traditionally used by the Buid were awarded to non-indigenous, lowland Filipino farmers. The deeds, called Certificates of Land Ownership Awards (CLOAs), were established by Philippine law on June 10, 1988, Act No. 6657, which set up the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.

The law sought to redistribute both public and private agricultural lands to landless farmers and farmworkers. Section 2 of the act provides for “a more equitable distribution and ownership of land, with due regard to the rights of landowners to just compensation and to the ecological needs of the nation.”

But the law also sought to protect from this process indigenous peoples. In Section 9, it states, in part, “The right of these [indigenous] communities to their ancestral lands shall be protected to ensure their economic, social and cultural well-being. In line with the principles of self-determination and autonomy, the systems of land ownership, land use, and the modes of settling land disputes of all these communities must be recognized and respected.”

It is clear from a previous news story, and from Rep. Baguilat’s bill last week, that the land rights of the Buid have not been “recognized and respected.” In 2004, the local office of the Department of Agrarian Reform had started distributing Buid lands to landless lowland farmers as part of the CARP program. The Buid protested—peacefully, or course. The distribution of their lands had been delayed due to a local insurgency, but it had been resumed in 2010. Hence the protests at that time.

The congressman said in his news release last week that in September 2010 Buid leaders filed a petition with the Department requesting it to cancel the distribution of the CLOAs, since the law prohibited that distribution within the ancestral territory of the Buid people. Rep. Baguilat indicated that the Secretary of the DAR, Gil Delos Reyes, issued an Administrative Order to streamline the process of cancelling the awards of the CLOAs in indigenous territories.

Baguilat wrote that, “for several years the Buhid Mangyans have remained patient and followed all the steps necessary for the proper determination of the merits of their claims.” He said, in his press release, that despite that administrative order, agency officials in the provincial offices have not taken action.

His conclusion could not have been written more strongly: “We should determine the efforts exerted by the DAR officials to protect and promote the rights of Buhid Mangyans who were unduly affected by the erroneous awards of CLOAS to non-indigenous persons in Oriental Mindoro.”