By Hannah Torregoza
Senator Risa Hontiveros has sought a formal Senate inquiry into the alleged displacement of Aetas and other indigenous peoples (IP) communities from areas within the New Clark City development project, saying there was a need to protect them from unjust expulsion from a land which has served as their home.
Hontiveros has filed Senate Resolution No. 257, saying that an investigation into the reported issuance of an eviction notice to the IP communities which was served in the middle of the festivities of the 2019 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, was warranted to check if their rights to their ancestral domain and livelihood were abused.
“Development should not come at the expense of the rights and welfare of indigenous communities and of the environment. Hindi tunay ang pag-unlad kung may paglabag ito sa karapatan ng mga katutubo at ng kalikasan, (It is not real progress if the rights of our IPs and our environment is violated),” Hontiveros said.
The senator recalled that in 2015, the government approved what was then called the “Clark Green City”—a 9,450-hectare master planned property within the Clark Special Economic Zone—which was envisioned to be the first smart and green city in the country.
However, an estimated 15,000 local farmers and 20,000 Aeta and Abelling indigenous communities were projected to be displaced by the project. A research project of the University of Glasgow, in partnership with the University of the Philippines had also shown satellite imagery which revealed that in the 18 months since the NCCP project started, hectares of green land have been converted into concrete and in the process, displaced people from their homes and livelihood.
Just last November 29, in the middle of the preparation for the Southeast Asian Games, the BCDA served a notice of eviction to residents of Barangay Aranguren in Capas, Tarlac to give way to the construction of a road connecting Clark International Airport to New Clark City.
They were given seven days to leave and demolish their homes. The eviction notice claimed that the land they occupied was government-owned and will be used for the greater good. The IP communities involved, however, rejected the notice, and any offer of payment in exchange for vacating their ancestral lands.
The BCDA, for their part, maintained that it followed due process by consulting with the Capas local government and that they were offering financial assistance package amounting to P300,000 per hectare or P30 per square meter. BCDA also claimed there were no declared ancestral domains or Certificates of Ancestral Domain Titles (CADT) in the area.
However, Hontiveros claimed that indigenous communities in the area are protected by Republic Act No. 8371, otherwise known as the Indigenous People’s Rights Act (IPRA). The Aeta community in the area had also made the effort to apply for Certificates of Ancestral Domain Titles or CADT in 1999, 2014 and again in 2019 for 18,000 hectares in Capas, Tarlac.
“This obscures the fact that IP communities have always faced enormous difficulties in obtaining official documents of ancestral lands,” she said in a separate statement.
“The difficulty of obtaining official documents to prove ownership has impeded the capacity of our indigenous people to protect their lands. This is a failure of the bureaucracy and not of IP communities,” she explained.
The lawmaker said giving financial compensation was not enough, saying it was essential “to understand that it is not just homes and livelihood that are being taken away from them.”
“For IP communities, their cultural identity is tied to their lands. Ang lupa nila, extension ng pagkatao nila ‘yan at hindi lang basta-basta kinukuha at binabayaran,” she stressed.
“Honoring and cherishing our indigenous cultures and cultural communities should not be merely paid lip-service. We need to ensure that development comes in a way that indigenous people, cultures, and the environment are protected and remain sustainable. We need to build greener and smarter cities that include everyone,” Hontiveros reiterated.
Thus, she said, there was a need for the Senate Committee on Cultural Communities to conduct an investigation, in aid of legislation, on the displacement of Aetas and other indigenous communities in areas covered by the NCC.
“There is a need to ensure the protection of Aetas and other indigenous communities from unjust expulsion from a land that has served as their home and have tilled since time immemorial,” Hontiveros said.