DAVAO CITY—Timuay Santos Unsad, a Teduray leader, knew Camp Omar ibn al-Khattab by heart, not as a camp of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), but as a site of a sacred stone that the Tedurays call “batew,” a brown stone as big as a hill that never stops growing.
Unsad said the stone, an important part in the rituals of the Tedurays, now lay very close to the base of Camp Omar, one of the government-recognized camps of the MILF that is contiguous with Camp Badre, another government-recognized MILF camp along the borders of Datu Saudi, Datu Unsay, Datu Hofer and Guindulungan towns of Maguindanao province.
But Unsad said it did not use to be that way.
What the government now recognizes as the site of the two MILF camps forms part of the 300,000-hectare ancestral domain claim of the Tedurays that at present, spanned the areas from the Maguindanao town of Awang to cover Dalikan, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Talayan, Guindulungan, to the upland areas of Datu Saudi, Datu Unsay, Datu Hofer, Ampatuan, Datu Abdullah Sangki, and the whole of North Upi, South Upi and Datu Blas Sinsuat towns.
“It was only in 1996, when the MILF entered the area without the consent of the Tedurays,” said Unsad, recalling how, in 1996, after his absence for so many years, he dropped by to visit his relatives near the Teduray ritual stone, and discovered to his surprise MILF checkpoints and how the MILF had established camps in the area.
“We don’t want to act as spoilers but there are issues that should be brought out in the open,” said another indigenous peoples’ (IP) leader, Arumanen Datu Roldan Babelon, who expressed a similar concern.
At least two of the indigenous peoples’ groups within the proposed Bangsamoro area want three of the six acknowledged MILF camps to be dropped from the list, saying these camps are within their ancestral lands and not within MILF territories. They also expressed apprehension that their rights as indigenous peoples will just be set aside, just like what happened to the indigenous peoples’ lands in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, where IP ancestral lands have never been delineated.
Aside from Camp Omar ibn al-Khattab and Camp Badre, which sits within the Teduray territory in Maguindanao, Camp Somiorang in Lanao del Sur province also sits within the Arumanen ancestral land and should be removed from the list of MILF camps that the government acknowledged in the normalization annex to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, said Babelon, an Arumanen tribal chieftain in Macabenban, Carmen town, in North Cotabato province.
Camp Somiorang sits near the boundaries of Wao in Lanao del Sur and Kalilangan town of Bukidnon province.
“Among the issues we cannot compromise on are issues about our territory, because it is where all the other issues, like our culture and identity, revolve around,” Babelon said.
Both indigenous peoples’ leaders, however, said they fully supported the MILF’s struggle for self-determination and that they were one with the people of Mindanao in the quest for lasting peace. But they said they could not just sit back and keep quiet about how they felt the new political arrangement would affect their ancestral land claims.
Thumbing through the copy of a primer on the normalization annex to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, Unsad looked worried and disturbed. Camps Badre and Omar are among the six previously acknowledged MILF camps, where former MILF combatants will be required to return to after the signing of the peace agreement to concentrate on development work.
“At stake here is the Tedurays’ claim to the land,” Unsad said.
“We want ourselves to be heard in the national level because if we keep quiet, the rights of indigenous peoples will be silenced forever inside the Bangsamoro political entity,” Unsad said.
Unsad said the Tedurays presented their position in a series of talks with the MILF central committee.
“They listened and told the Tedurays they’ll just borrow the area for the war and return it to the Tedurays during peacetime,” Unsad said.
His group also raised the issue to the government panel and to high-ranking officials of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, who assured them they will send someone to look into the problem.
“But until now, we are still waiting,” Unsad said.
“In our experience, it’s not good to keep quiet in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao,” said Timuay Alim Bandara, referring to the entity that will soon be replaced by the Bangsamoro.
Babelon explained that since the signing of the Indigenous People’s Rights Act (Ipra), the delineation of the indigenous people’s domain has never been done in the ARMM because the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) has never been set up in the area.
Unsad said the Tedurays were only able to delineate some 300,000 ha of their land with the help of the nongovernment organization IP Dev.
“We do not pose a national threat, because we are not armed, that’s why we are not being listened to,” Babelon said.
The Arumanens’ ancestral domain covers some 500,000 to 600,000 ha within the North Cotabato, southern Bukidnon and part of Lanao del Sur areas.
Babelon also said almost half of the 39 additional barangays in North Cotabato, which would soon be included in the Bangsamoro, were areas where Arumanens lived, and that two barangays were within the ancestral domain claims of the Arumanens.
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