Giovanni B. Reyes
President, Philippine ICCA Consortium
Chairman, Indigenous Peoples’ Advisory Group (IPAG) – Global Environment Facility (GEF)
Member, Global Steering Committee, GEF Small Grants Program
This concerns recent actions against indigenous youth leaders, families and members of the Tagbanua community of Barangay Buenavista, Municipality of Coron, Province of Palawan. On Sunday, January 14, 2024, about 12 o’ clock in the afternoon, a group of four (4) barangay councilors, four (4) village watchmen (Barangay Tanod) accompanied by security guards and caretakers of the RBL Fishing Corporation, reportedly intruded in Tagbanua ancestral domain, and did then and there flaunting indigenous peoples’ rights, put up fences over a Tagbanua property of the Mosquera family. According to information received, the land subject of fencing is within the ancestral domain of Tagbanua – Calamian with approved Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) issued by the Philippine government on December 28, 2022. The fenced-off property according to Bernaldo Loquib, a barangay councilor of the said barangay, is “Pag-aari ito ng RBL at walang makakapigil dahil ipinag-utos ng Kapitan, Nori Ormido.” (This is owned by RBL, and no one can stop us, we are under orders by Nori Ormido, the Barangay Kapitan). Further information provides that a security guard of the RBL Fishing Corporation by the name Bano told the Mosquera family that they were under orders by the RBL corporation to set up fences around in the area. Thus, the Mosquera family said in its blotter dated January 15, 2024: “inutusan sila ng kompanyang RBL upang bakurin ang lugar” (they were ordered by the RBL company to fence off the area). RBL Company Security guard named ”Bano” reportedly threatened the Mosquera family as pointed out in the Mosquera blotter, “kapag tanggalin ang bakod ay ipadampot kami sa pulis” (if the fences are removed, he (Bano) will have us picked up by police).
Previously, on December 4, 2023, a criminal case of Grave Slander was filed by a Police Master Sergeant against Jeruel Quijano, a Tagbanua youth leader advocating for the protection of the Buenavista ancestral domain and the ancestral waters surrounding it.
Without wishing to prejudge, these twin acts scales up harassment and intimidation against indigenous peoples of the Tagbanua – Calamian community. The acts of fencing against the Mosquera family, may not only be against the well-being and security of the concerned family, and Tagbanua community, but an assault on the Philippine government’s international human rights obligations. It runs smack at the government’s implementation of the country’s Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA). By operation of law, the issued Tagbanua – Calamian CADT under IPRA effectively TERMINATES any legal basis for the jurisdiction previously claimed by any government agency including DENR, DAR, DOJ, and DILG. The business of RBL Company is in aqua culture accredited by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources – Bureau of Fisheries on Aquatic Resources.
On the slander complaint, this may amount to an instance of Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP). These lawsuits are typically foisted against indigenous rights advocates who exercise their right to freedom of expression to raise concerns about corporate activities that dispossess families and communities from their lands and resources. It aims to intimidate or silence indigenous peoples’ rights defenders by entangling them in lengthy legal process. It disrupts their lives as the power imbalance that exist between companies and indigenous peoples’ rights defenders are exploited given the extremely financial disparities between parties. To connect the dots, the complaint for slander by a Police Master Sergeant arise from the sworn statements of Barangay Kagawads Loquib and company, and whose very own pronouncements reported in the blotter points at whose private interests he and his group are working for.
Make no mistake here: not ensuring the rights of indigenous peoples will jeopardize the country’s international human rights commitments. Disrespect and arrogant ignorance on their rights will jeopardize the Rio Conventions particularly biodiversity and climate goals of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
As the UN Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of Expression (FoE) Ms. Irene Khan commences her official visit to the Philippines today, this is a call to her, and urges the immediate attention of the international community to look into the violations of indigenous peoples’ rights in the Philippines, and help compel the Philippine government and business companies to comply with international humanitarian laws and signed agreements including rights-based business practices.
Attached, the Mosquera Family.