Indigenous community battles for ancestral land
An old cultural tapestry weaves a compelling story of preservation in Misamis Oriental, where a Higaonon indigenous community, the custodian of one ancestral land, finds itself locked in a race against time to protect its cherished heritage.
As the sun sets over the horizon, casting a golden hue upon their ancestral land, lowlanders have begun to exploit the territory’s burgeoning growth and public infrastructure development.
The Higaonons stand at a critical juncture, and their only hope lies with a government that has yet to get its act together, is sluggish in addressing Lumad causes, and, at times, even acts as one of their oppressors.
For over a decade, the Mat-i, Man-ibay, Civoleg, and Langguyod Higaonon Tribal Community Incorporated (Mamacila) has been pleading with the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) to help them facilitate the registration of their ancestral domain territory in Misamis Oriental province.
Now, the opening of a new scenic and shorter route to the province’s easternmost parts has led to a surge in economic growth and a frenzied acquisition of land parcels within the Higaonon ancestral domain at the expense of Lumad families.
Investors raced to secure land rights, outpacing the Higaonons’ painstaking efforts to raise funds for their group travels to Cagayan de Oro to prod the NCIP to help them.
The land title
The Higaonons’ right over the 17,558-hectare territory, stretching from Claveria town to Gingoog City in Misamis Oriental, was upheld by the NCIP en banc 14 years ago through Resolution No. 123-2009. It granted their petition for the identification, delineation, and recognition of their ancestral domain claim.
The NCIP gave them a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) on July 23, 2009, covering parts of the villages of Aposkahoy and Mat-i in Claveria town to Lunotan in Gingoog City.
An NCIP-issued CADT, which acknowledges the existence of an ancestral domain and legitimizes a claim over it, is a form of land tenure instrument that grants ownership rights and management authority to an indigenous community.
The document also serves as proof of a group’s indigenous rights for the protection and preservation of its cultural heritage, traditional practices, and natural resources within a territory.
Until it became the preferred route of travelers from Villanueva town near Cagayan de Oro to Gingoog City near the boundaries of the Northern Mindanao and Caraga regions, the area was known to offer more secure mountain paths for New People’s Army (NPA) rebels who crisscrossed Misamis Oriental’s villages.
Opened in 2014, the highway became popular for its scenic mountain views, fog, and cool temperatures. It also significantly reduced travel time between Cagayan de Oro and Gingoog by at least an hour.
Now popularly known as Route 955, the road reaches an elevation of nearly 1,200 meters above sea level at the 48-kilometer mark. Travelers along the route almost always encounter a refreshing climate characterized by rapid weather fluctuations, transitioning from sunny skies to cool winds and fog even at high noon. It quickly became a favored destination for people seeking respite from the urban heat.
Route 955, however, cuts across the Higaonon ancestral domain. With the development of the road came a tourism boom, resulting in the establishment of numerous mountain resorts, restaurants, and cafes, starting from Claveria town to Gingoog City.
Erlinda Malo-ay-Morga, the chairperson of Mamacila, the holder of the ancestral domain title, is worried that they might lose all the land inherited from their ancestors to land grabbers.
“For indigenous people like us, our lives are intertwined with the forests. Without the forests, there might be no IPs,” Morga told Rappler on June 5.
Going in circles
Years after obtaining the title from the NCIP, hundreds of Higaonon families from Claveria to Gingoog now face the imminent risk of displacement. Their failure to segregate and register their properties with the Land Registration Authority (LRA) has jeopardized their homes and their future.
The reason: even after 14 years, the Commission has yet to write a simple work and financial plan to assist the Higaonons with their segregation and registration process.
In the context of ancestral domains, segregation refers to the process of setting apart specific areas exclusively for the use of particular indigenous groups or communities. MORE