NCIP revokes compliance certificate issued to Bukidnon ranch occupant

MALAYBALAY CITY (Bukidnon News / 30 Sept) – The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, sitting en banc, decided to annul the compliance certificate it issued to a ranch operator in Maramag, Bukidnon, reversing a verdict it made more than three years ago, according to a copy of its decision furnished by petitioner Panalsalan Dagumbaan Tribal Association (Padata).

In its September 20, 2011 decision, released only on September 28 and was emailed to Bukidnon News a day after, the commission en banc granted Padata’s petition to annul or recall Compliance Certificate No. CCRX-08-7-150 issued to respondent Engr. Ernesto Villalon.

The decision came more than a month after the killing of 28-year old farmer Welcie Gica, who was reported shot by security guards hired by the Villalons in Panalsalan village to secure the ranch. Gica, father of two, joined fellow Padata members who staged a protest  in the ranch on August 24, 2011 when they were confronted by the guards.Joseph Coles of Task Force Mapalad, the group supporting Padata, said this actually cost the Villalons the case.

The commission ruled that some members of the community were excluded in the hearing of the FPIC and cited actions of its field personnel that have to be corrected.

The decision of a handful that is not representative of the community, the commission added, should not compromise the rights of other members of the community.

“This compels this commission to act accordingly in order to rectify whatever omissions that may have been committed by its staff that brought about the exclusion of certain ICCs/IPs in the FPIC process,” the commission added in the decision.

They cited that they cannot ignore what is happening in the field “that is causing disunity among ICCs/IPs themselves and the disturbance of peace and order in the community. “Compliance Certificate No. CCRX-08-7-150 issued in the name of Engr. Ernesto Villalon for the renewal of his Forest Land Grazing Management Agreement with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources is hereby revoked,” the commission said in the final paragraph of the decision.

Villalon obtained the compliance certificate in 2008 after the NCIP
Ancestral Domain Office recommended it on August 8, 2008. On August 18, ten day after, the Padata members filed a protest before the commission contesting the FPIC on the 607-hectare area in Brgy. Dagumbaan in Maramag town in southern Bukidnon.

Villalon first obtained a 15-year Pasture Lease Agreement No. 1816 for the same area in 1981. When it expired, Villalon applied for renewal. The PLA was later renamed as FLGMA.

With the passage of Republic Act 8371, or the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA), the renewal process has included a free and prior informed consent (FPIC) from the indigenous peoples in the community where the area subject of the lease agreement belongs.

The decision was signed by commissioners Datu Cosme M. Lambayon, Percy A. Brawner, Conchita C. Calzado, Dionesia o. Banua, Santos M. Unsad,
Roque N. Agton Jr, and NCIP chair Zenaida Brigida H. Pawid. Commission officer-in-charge clerk Ma. Victoria R. Formento certified the veracity of the decision.

In their petition Padata and Henry Aslag sought for the issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO),  annulment on the following grounds, a subsequent writ of preliminary injunction after appropriate proceedings; a fact finding committee investigation to “ferret out the truth behind the controversy,”and to declare the writ of preliminary injunction and to declare the compliance certificate void.

In their response, the Villalons prayed that the petition be dismissed and raised Padata’s alleged lack of personality to pursue;  failure to exhaust remedies under customary laws, failure to include in the case an indispensable party referring to the group of Bae Victoria Jakosalem who took part in the questioned FPIC, and that the action is barred by the statute of limitations.

The Villalons also raised the issue of the commission’s alleged lack of jurisdiction to rule on the case claiming it should be with the NCIP regional field office.

The commission en banc ruled that since they issued the compliance certificate, they should be the one to have jurisdiction on the matter.  Further, they argued that their role to decide on all appeals in the commission does not mean the NCIP regional hearing offices have exclusive and original jurisdiction over cases involving ICCs/IPs.

The commission also gave weight on Padata’s and Aslag’s claim they have the legal personality to sue. Also, they favored the petitioners on the various technicalities raised by the respondents, including the period when the petitioners can only question the community’s decision on the FPIC.

“We cannot deny them that right, outright merely on technical ground,” they added.

The commission also ruled that exhaustion of remedies under customary laws does not apply in the case because one of the parties, the Villalons, are not members of the ICCs/IPs.

They said there is also no need to include Bae Jakosalem in the case because the compliance certificate, a pre-condition in the renewal of the FLGMA was issued only to Villalon. He alone should be the respondent of the case, they added.

The commission, finally, ruled that there were members of the community who were not included in the consultation, hinting that the NCIP field officers who conducted the consultations had “omissions that need to be corrected.”

The commissioners added that the act “goes against the very purpose of the NCIP, which is to ensure genuine participation of ICCs/IPs in decision making.” When asked for comments, Villalon’s counsel Claver Ariño said they have not yet received a copy of the decision as of September 30.

Lawyer Pinky Pabelic, NCIP 10 regional director, told Bukidnon News earlier the decision was already out but she was not authorized to release it to the media. Vic Gov. Jose Ma. R. Zubiri also told the Sangguniang Panlalawigan afternoon of Sept. 20 that he obtained a copy of the decision in the morning.

Although he clarified his copy was the recommendation of “a committee in the commission.” He furnished Bukidnon News with a copy of the commission en banc’s cover letter furnishing him a copy of their decision.

She said on September 29 that they release the copies of the decisions to the parties at the same time. Coles said the next arena is the DENR, which should decide to cancel the FLGMA due to the cancelation of the NCIP’s compliance certificate for the FPIC, one of the requirements to renew the agreement.(Walter I. Balane/Bukidnon News)

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