By Ernie Reyes
MANILA — A tribal group wants the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP) to maintain the cease-and-desist order it issued against a tourism project of Ayala Group in El Nido, Palawan until the conglomerate recognized the group’s ancestral domain rights over the site of the project.
Atty. Peter Paul Danao, legal counsel of Tagbanua-Tandolanen IP community in El Nido, said the NCIP should not withdraw the CDO it issued against Ten Knots Philippines Inc. (TKPI), a subsidiary of Ayala Land Inc., which is developing the 325-hectare Lio Airport and Tourism Estate in Barangays Villa Libertad and Pasadena in El Nido.
The NCIP on March 7, 2022, issued the CDO over the alleged refusal of TKPI to undergo the Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) process with the Tagbanuwa-Tandalunen IP community, as mandated under Republic Act No. 8371 or the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act.
The CDO, signed by NCIP Mimaropa regional director Dr. Marie Grace Pascua on March 7, 2022, ordered the temporary halt of the project. It also directed NCIP provincial director Atty. Jansen Jontila “to implement the order with the assistance of lawful authorities or other government agencies if necessary.”
The NCIP Regional Office is set to meet to discuss the possible withdrawal of the CDO, following reports that the Ayala Land subsidiary already submitted the documents under the FPIC
Danao said the NCIP should maintain the order against TKPI despite the submission of documents under the FPIC guidelines to oblige the Ayala Group to seriously negotiate with and recognize the ancestral domain rights of the Tagbanua-Tandolanen IP community.
“The CDO will oblige them to do what is right. If the CDO will be lifted, they (TKPI) will only return to their usual ways of asking too many questions, resulting in the delay in the judicial process,” Danao said.
He said the NCIP should also learn from the tactics of TKPI in the past. “The NCIP wrote five times to the lawyers of Ten Knots. This is what will happen again if the CDO is lifted, which will delay the process,” said Danao.
He said it has been two years that the tribal group has been sending letters to TKPI, and they did not receive a serious response until the NCIP issued the CDO against the company.
Apo Remedios Cabate-Cabral, chief of the Tagbanuwa-Tandulanen IP community, also called on the NCIP not to withdraw the order against TKPI as they vowed not to surrender their rights to the company.
“The members of our group would not agree to the withdrawal of the CDO. We have been fighting for this for so long. We would not give up our rights,” Cabral said.
The Tagbanua-Tandolanen group earlier said their members were barred entry to their own ancestral lands because of the TKPI projects in the area. These projects include El Nido/Lio airport, Lio Estate, and Seda Hotel.
Cabral also asked El Nido Mayor Edna Gacot-Lim and Business Permits and Licensing Office head Bernie Bero in a letter dated March 17, 2020, to enforce the CDO against TKPI. “We have evidence that TKPI’s subject businesses have remained operational to date despite receiving the CDO on 14 March 2022,” said Cabral.
“This continued defiance of Ayala/TKPI is an affront to the authority of the NCIP which is under the Office of the President. In fact, our beloved President Rodrigo R. Duterte himself had previously called out the Ayalas as an ‘oligarch’ who had enriched themselves at the expense of others, including our own tribe here in El Nido. By tolerating Ayala/TKPI’s continued defiance of the government’s CDO, it is effectively challenging our President himself who has supervision over NCIP,” Cabral said.
“Worse, TKPI’s continued operations to date despite the CDO is a blatant manifestation of Ayala/TKPI’s greed at the expense of its duty to comply with existing laws. They purvey themselves as above the law when no one should be above the law no matter how rich you are.
The rule of law mandates that they immediately comply with the government’s CDO,” Cabral said.
Republic Act No. 8371 or The Indigenous Peoples Rights Act recognizes the vital role of IPs like the Tagbanuwas in preserving cultural heritage and identity and provides them protection against abuses and profiteering.
The law duly recognizes that IPs have time immemorial rights over their ancestral lands even without any formal title issued in their favor. These lands are inalienable as part of their cultural heritage and preserve the tribe’s way of life, according to Danao. (ai/mtvn)