I overheard the following  conversation between two of my neighbors at our village Coop’s Eatery yesterday afternoon as  I visited the place to buy some viands for dinner.

NEIGHBOR 1:  Asa man diay na dapita nahimutang nang inyong yuta? [Where is that piece of land situated?]

NEIGHBOR 2:   Tua gud didto sa bukid.  Layo lagi.  Kaduha ra gyud ko makaadto sa among lugar ba sukad sa pagkamatay sa akong inahan, kay unsaon nagaid na man gyud ko dinhi sa akong kalibotan sa baybay.  [In the mountains.   It’s really very far.  I have visited our place only twice after the death of my mother, because I’m already tied down here in my world beside the sea. ]

NEIGHBOR 2:  Unya nakakita ka sa maong yuta?  [And have you taken a look at the said lot?]

NEIGHBOR 1:  Aw kahibalo man ko kay didto man ko nagdako sa wa pa ko maminyo.  Karon ang  akong igsuong lalaki mao ray tua didto nag-atiman sa among kabilin. [Of course I’m familiar with it, because I lived there before I got married.  Now, only my brother is working on that inherited piece of land.]

NEIGHBOR 2:  Wa ka mabalaka nga mawad-an kag katungod anang imong bahin sa yuta?  Ayawg kahadlok  naa may balaod nga mo-protektar. Naa man kaha kay gikuptang dokumento?  [Are you not worried that you might lose    your right to your share of that lot?  But don’t worry because there’s the law to protect.  Do you have a document in your possession.?]

NEIGHBOR 1:   Ay, wala gyud oy! [Ay, nothing at all!]

NEIGHBOR 2:   Naa na kaha nay titulo?  Ang lisod og wala pa nay titulo.  [Is that already titled? It’s a problem if that’s not yet titled?]

NEIGHBOR 1:   Ay, unsa uroy  kalibotan nako anang dokumento o titulo!   [Ay, what do I know about documents or land titles!]

NEIGHBOR 2:    Kinahanglan gyud ka moduol og abogado ana  para maangkon nimo imong bahin anang yutaa!.  Kay kondili,  nah hayan mapornada!  Hehe.  Imong igsuon ray makapahimulos.  [You really need a lawyer  to insure that you get your share of that land!  Otherwise,  everything might be gone!  Hehe.  Only your brother will benefit.]

NEIGHBOR 1:  Aw, kay siya man bitaw maoy nagpahimulos ana karon!  Kay siya may naghago.  Siyay nag-ugmad, nagtanom. nagpabunga.. .!  [Well, as it is, he’s really the one benefitting most from it!  Because he’s the one tilling it, planting and growing the crops until they bear fruits.]  

NEIGHBOR 2:  Ug wala gyud ka niya bahini sa abot?  [And you never get your share of the harvests?]

NEIGHBOR 1:  Usahay, tagaan ko niyag  bahin sa halin.  Pero dili  permamente. Sa usa ka tuig, mohatod siyag kausa. . .usahay kaduha. . .usahay sad wala. [Sometimes he gives a share of the sale of the products.  But not regularly. In a year he comes once, sometimes twice…sometimes none at all.]

NEIGHBOR 2:  Gusto ka?  Naa koy kailang abogado, makatabang nimo.  [If you wish, I know a lawyer who can  help you.]

NEIGHBOR 1:  Di ko oy! Magkabingkil lang mi sa akong igsuon anang kalakiha.  Wa may problema na para sa ako, kay sa amoa sa mga Bagobo. naa man mi among kaugalingong sulondon nga kagawian mahitungod sa paggamit sa yuta.  [No, I won’t!  That will only cause conflict and enmity between us siblings.  For us Bagobos, that’s not a problem.  We follow our own customary ways about land use.]

For us lowlanders, it is very natural that we resort to some legal action in order to rearrange property rights or to settle disputes even between or among family members.  We  have to rely on some accustomed  practices of established legal principles in order to assert our rights.  Even among the grassroots who may not be highly schooled are aware of these so-called legal procedures and  requirements sanctioned by our legal system. These have already rooted to form part of our cultural superstructure.  In short, they have been constituted in our general consciousness ever since we have become citizens of the Republic of the Philippines.

The legal system adopted and established in our lands by the Spanish and American colonial governments are planted in our minds to be part of our world outlook.  And these have supplanted what have been the world outlook or general consciousness that used to prevail in the lifeworld of the tribal societies that had existed here on the islands before the foreign invaders came.

These legal precepts are now very much a component  part of our ways of thinking—of how we should look at things. Or how we should behave.  Like religion, we have been immersed as a people into a legal system of beliefs and norms that need to be observed and followed at the risk of some penal impositions.  A deviation from this system of beliefs is regarded as bizarre or unnatural or strange.  Or at most unlawful.

It would therefore come as a surprise when . . .

Once upon a time my activist friends doing mass work among the Kalinga tribes people in the Cordilleras were confronted with a problem. There was a member of a Kalinga tribal community who was accused of theft of a farm implement and who was apprehended by police authorities and detained in the municipal jail.

Now guess, what happened to him after a few days?

The pappangat or Council of Elders of this particular Kalinga tribe decided to find a way by which the detained tribesman could be taken out from prison.  They thought that the justice system of the government was inappropriate.   And so they plotted a jailbreak scheme that successfully freed the tribesman from prison.

According to the Kalinga chieftain of the tribe, “How can he work and earn so that he can pay back or restitute what he had stolen if he will just stay idle in jail?”

The wisdom of the indigenous people’s justice system as demonstrated by the Kalinga tribe cannot be overemphasized.  It is based on customary law that is based on reasonableness and in keeping with far more humane considerations.

This, as far as lowland justice is concerned,  is of course bizarre.  Perhaps, beyond comprehension to an ordinary lowlander (taga-patag).  And to think that it was the community’s Council of Elders—the supposed legal luminaries of the tribe—who  implemented  the tribe’s unwritten legal prescription is above reproach.

Our general orientation and behavior as a Filipino citizen has necessarily to put up with myths that were transplanted on our lands by the foreign colonizers. At first we were made to follow coercively the laws imposed by the western legal system of the State.  But with constant adherence and practice in conformance to these legal injunctions and prescriptions we became inure to their foreign bias and inappropriateness.  And they have now become part of a system of beliefs  we hold sacred as the Ten Commandments.  They have become myths.

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