Rick R. Flores

Work for volunteers and development workers at the tiny office of the Apo Sandawa Lumandnong Panaghiusa sa Cotabato (ASLPC) has intensified after the battle erupted in nearby Pikit, North Cotabato last February 11 between government troops and Moro rebels.
Together with Fr. Peter Geremia, the ASLPC staff had mounted activities in response to the emergency situation in several municipalities in North Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat. Despite the pressure ASLPC, in partnership with the Tribal Filipino Program (TEP), had continuously assisted indigenous communities in their struggle to secure their lands but its work faces an uphill battle: sustaining peace-building efforts and community organizing in the midst of a raging war. ASLPC is a federation of tribal organizations in the 10 municipalities of Cotabato Province and one in Sultan Kudarat. Formed in May 1993 as an umbrella organization that would push for the demands of indigenous peoples (IPs), ASLPC has facilitated the expansion of local IP networks and coordinated their efforts geared towards the recognition of ancestral domains (AD) being claimed by various IP communities.“ We assume the role of facilitating the consciousness raising of IPs and to organize, consolidate, and mobilize the tribal communities as legitimate means in defending and gaining recognition of their AD and their way of life,” says Fr. Geremia.The federation also aims to strengthen the unity of IPs in North Cotabato towards a more effective defense and management of their AD, in particular. ASLPC aims to strengthen and expand the Cotabato-wide organization of ASLPC and its 10 local organizations; delineate and legally secure at least 20,000 hectares of ancestral domains claims; pilot sustainable resource management projects in the three key priority organized areas; and conduct initial women organizing.ASLPC also established linkages with other Lumad organizations and advocacy groups to push its agenda and draw support for the Lumad cause and issues in Cotabato. Through its representative, ASLPC joined the Southern Mindanao Alliance of IP Organizations called PASAKA. It also participated in the fora and discussions on mining initiated by PANAGTAGBO.

A total of 47,945 hectares of ancestral lands are currently processed for the issuance of the Certificate of Ancestral Domain Claim, exceeding the targeted 20,000 hectares by 239.7%. Out of the 6,370 hectares ready for survey and release of CADC, only 3,200.15 hectares in Manobisa and Lebpas are followed-up and released by the DENR, registering a 50.24% accomplishment. Before the actual processing of the documents needed for the issuance of CADC, leaders’ meeting and consultations were conducted to the affected communities by the Ancestral Domain Coordinating Committees (ADDC) formed in the municipalities where the claims are located. ADCC handled the preparation of the documents to be filed in the DENR, likewise, ADCC also facilitated educational activities and other trainings in relation to the AD claims of the IPs.However, there is the need to intensify the implementation of consciousness-raising activities in the tribal communities by activating the sectoral groups of women, youth, elders and farmers and encouraging them to continue with the traditional practices of defending and developing the ancestral lands.
According to Aquino Manial, ASLPC chair, there is a need to continue and sustain the alternative education process through the Tribal Filipino Program (TFP) of the Diocese of Kidapawan with church support and local counterpart. For the organizing and advocacy, AD processing and development ASLPC can provide onl;y minimal follow-up and support. Same thing goes for relief and medical missions and other emergency responses and the commonly health program.Through funding from Oxfam-UK, various initiatives were undertaken since 1996 but support from the donor agency officially ended last June 2002
“Since then, ASLPC applied for another funding support from DKA-Australia but no definite response has been made yet,” says Manial. The most pressing needs of the IP communities are to sustain the organizing so that IPs can continue the struggle for land and food (advocacy, ancestral domain processing and development), survival in spite of repeated evacuations. ASLPC estimates that there are around 32,000 individuals and families who have evacuated from the areas served by ASPLC like Colombio, Carmen, and Pres. Roxas-all in North Cotabato. In an effort to revive the indigenous and sustainable cultural practices on farming system, ASLPC installed the SRM component (Sustainable Resource Management) as its strategy. Integrated in this component are the documentation of the old practices, listing of the traditional varieties of rice, corn and other indigenous crops, establishment of nursery, implementation of appropriate land technology and trainings. Three organized areas were identified as pilot areas for sustainable farming system, namely; Namuwaran, Manobisa, Magpet, Marudamel, Kabulakan, Matalam, Buluan, Lebpas and Pres. Roxas. For Fr. Geremia and Manial, the poverty situation that pervades in the tribal communities can be eradicated through collective action and strength.“We believe in the innate capacity of the IPs to chart their own destiny, to organize themselves and to support their initiatives with the use of their own local resources. The struggle of the IP organizations is not only to gain lands and food security but also recognition of IP rights and respect for cultural identity. This implies the awareness and respect for the IP culture and values within the IP communities within support groups even the public in general,” they said.
(Rick R. Flores is the Program Officer of MINCODE- an umbrella organization of 11 networks of Mindanao-wide NGOs and Pos)