CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY – A lumad community driven out from their land which they claimed as their ancestral domain and opted to live on the periphery of their ancestral domain in Quezon town in Bukidnon is optimistic they could return to their homes soon.
This hope has kept the more than a thousand families belonging to the Manobo-Pulangihon tribe of Kiantig, Barangay Butong in Quezon, Bukidnon to remain staunch with their fight for the land they have been occupying for generations by a group of armed security personnel hired by a private corporation in 2017.
With nowhere to go, the Manobo-Pulanguihon encamped on the roadside in Kiantig, Butong with families living in makeshift dwellings without tap water, electricity, exact source of livelihood or food and concrete government help.
The situation has gotten from bad to worse as parents have to tie ropes to their young children’s feet so they can’t wander off the road and get hit by passing vehicles, said Arnel Angcosin, secretary-general of the Kiantig Manobo-Pulangihon Tribal Association.
“Our children have suffered the most. Many of them have gotten sick due to the poor living condition. Diarrhea and fever are among the common ailments our children suffer as we are forced to drink contaminated water. It’s really that miserable,” Angcosin said.
The tribe asserted that the land they have been living in Kiantig, Butong is their ancestral domain, although a company has occupied the 995-hectare property for years due to a contract with a government agency.
Angcosin said the occupant of their land is an entity called Cesar Fortich Inc., who secured a Forest Land Graze Management Agreement (FLGMA) from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in 1986 that expired in 2018.
Cesar Fortich Inc. changed its name to Kiantig Development Corp. (KDC) in 2007 and reportedly appointed Pablo Lorenzo III as its general manager. Lorenzo is the mayor in Quezon town.
Global Witness, an international nongovernmental organization, has noted in its 2019 report on the land issue in Bukidnon that tribal leader Renato Anglao “was shot dead after demanding local rancher and current mayor Lorenzo III return their land, which Lorenzo’s company – the Montalvan Ranch – has been using for agribusiness plantations.”
The report added that “nobody has been prosecuted for the killing” of Anglao.
Angcosin said they were forcibly evicted from the land by KDC in 2017 and have been living on the side of the road since then.
He added that the FLGMA was not renewed by DENR, hence, the occupying company are squatters of their ancestral domain.
Angcosin said that Vergilino Alima, Bukidnon Provincial Environment and Natural Resources officer, in his letter to Lorenzo in January 2019, said “DENR has lost jurisdiction over the said property and it is the office of the NCIP that has exclusive authority to manage and dispose of the above-mentioned property.”
In a dialogue attended by the tribe, the provincial government of Bukidnon, DENR and NCIP officials on July 27, the agencies concerned have assured the displaced community that actions have already been taken to facilitate the return of the indigenous people to their ancestral domain.
“We are optimistic that we can finally go back to our homes, to our ancestral land. We hope it won’t be long,” Angcosin said in a telephone interview Wednesday, July 28.
He said the NCIP provincial office in Bukidnon has assured them that their certification for ancestral domain title is on process in Manila.
During Tuesday’s dialogue, Angcosin said Reymond Pimentel, officer-in-charge of the NCIP office in Maramag town, Bukidnon, has told them that only NCIP commissioner Allen Capuyan can sign the tribe’s CADT.
“We can wait as long as we know that we can legally go back and live again in our ancestral land,” Angcosin said.
As of this writing, this reporter has not been able to reach out to Lorenzo, so the mayor could give his side of the story.