Ancestral domain agreements still at work among lumad and Moro peoples in Mindanao

Mar. 05, 2009

Davao Today

KIDAPAWAN CITYEven if the Supreme Court has declared the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain (MOA-AD) unconstitutional, the same kind of agreement at work at the local level can be a key to peace, a Catholic priest closely working with tribal groups in Cotabato said.

Fr. Peter Geremia, coordinator of the Tribal Filipino Program (TFP) in 10 Cotabato towns and in Colombio town of Sultan Kudarat, said the agreements on ancestral domain between the indigenous peoples and Moro communities continue to be at work at the local level even if it has been rejected at the national level. He also said that these ancestral domain agreements can be a key to avoid the expansion of conflict and the attainment of a lasting peace.

He said that the all-out-war of the Arroyo government in 2003, which spilled the conflicts on to the areas covered by the Tribal Filipino Program, prompted the indigenous peoples to review the agreements.

“When they had this review, they tried to find the maps, and here were their crude, unsophisticated maps, indicating the natural boundaries like rivers and mountains,” Geremia said, showing the maps of ancestral domain claims of the Moro tribes and indigenous tribes of the Bagobo, the B’laans, some T’bolis, Manobos and Arumanens in the boundary areas of the 11 towns covered by the TFP, where the Church has been organizing gagmayng lumadnong katilingban (the lumad equivalent of basic Christian communities) and where indigenous groups have been living peacefully alongside their Muslim neighbors.

“They have identified territories and boundary lines,” he said. “For them, these agreements are sacred,” he said. “These maps were done in between conflicts brought about by the all out war (by former President Estrada and later, by the present administration) to clarify land claims and avoid the renewal of conflict; and to a great extent, this becomes very successful,” he said.

The failed signing of the MOA-AD led to the renewed fighting between the government and the Moro rebels in the last quarter of last year.

“What the MOA-AD did for the Muslims has been done before with the tribals but it didn’t become such big news, it did not cause an uproar,” he said.

Geremia said there were initial anxieties among the indigenous tribes in his areas when the news about the MOA-AD between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) came out last year but these anxieties quickly dissipated after a series of dialogs with the Moro neighbors. He said the indigenous tribes realized that as long as they continue to respect those “sacred covenants” by their ancestors in the past the peace will remain intact. “They were asking if a lasting peace is possible,” he said, “But in their rituals they were reminded that as long as they respect these covenants and refused to be used by armed groups, they will keep the conflict from expanding.”

He said the purpose of the ancestral domain is to allow the tribes to practice their own culture and ancestral beliefs. “Without their ancestral domain, the lumads will lose their identity,” he said. (Germelina Lacorte/

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