The ongoing friction between Barlig, particularly Lias and the municipality of Natonin emanates from the latter’s alleged encroachment of the former’s ancestral domains.
The existing Puchun (peace pact) agreement between the two has already been severed when a Natonin fellow stabbed an I-Lias student at the capital town of Bontoc during the previous year. Thus, there is the fear between both parties that a tribal war would ensue and the killings that transpired during the previous decades would persist particularly in the disputed areas.
However, both tribes have expressed high hopes that never again would killings transpire especially so that we are now in the modern age. And that, the desperation for revenge would be relegated to the desire to make peace with each other.
Digging into the Story
Atty. Narciso Somyden, who has been designated by the municipal office of Barlig to lead the complaint against Natonin’s claims, intoned that it all started when the 2013 cadastral survey of Natonin annexed sitios Maitog and Mattar of Lias all the way to Kalinga to its jurisdiction. Even barangay Lunas and sitio Mog-ao of Kadaclan was included as part of Natonin. That is why the case has been raised to the municipal level, thus, it is now a clash between Barlig and Natonin.
All in all, Natonin’s overlapping claims are more than 5000 hectares.
This is in total contrast to the 1997 political map, wherein, those mentioned areas were a versus, meaning, they were marked as disputed areas. Hence, it came as a surprise to the locals of Lias and Kadaclan when the latest cadastral survey came out.
“There was never a consultation made between the parties involved and now, our people are shedding tears for they have lost their lands,” said Lorenzo Nabusan, who is also delegated to monitor the case. He said that the Puchun agreement which have been the basis of setting boundaries since time immemorial was violated by Natonin’s clandestine use of papers to expand their claims. He added that even those who signed the papers presented by Natonin especially those working in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources(DENR), should be held accountable for agreeing without any prior deliberations and consultations.
To date, Nabusan noted that formal protest papers with their corresponding evidence are already being prepared. They have already intensified their actions since Natonin is, accordingly, eyeing to expand its claims beyond the Tanudan river especially that it has made pacts with Basao in Kalinga.
INREMP as an aggravating factor
The upcoming implementation of the Integrated Resources Environment and Management Program (INREMP) is deemed by the locals of Lias to aggravate the boundary dispute between Lias and Natonin.
As a backgrounder, the INREMP is a special project of the DENR that seeks to conserve the existing watershed areas and espouse development in host communities. Among the pilot areas is the Chico River basin which also encompasses all communities along the Tanudan River.
Lorenzo made mention that the I-Lias staunchly oppose its implementation since Natonin is included in the project, whereas, in the first place, it has no territory bordering the Tanudan River. He explained that the implementation of INREMP would only favor the claim of Natonin over Lias’ ancestral domains.
Recently, proponents of the INREMP project conducted two consultations in Lias to encourage the people’s approval but their goal has been rejected.
According to Julio M. Maches, an employee of the DENR based in Bontoc, INREMP is still being carried out despite the existing land disputes. He said that INREMP is not supposed to be implemented when issues as that remain unsolved. Nevertheless, INREMP activities are already being conducted at sitio Mattar.
Behind the Alleged Aggression
Ferdinand Charaychay, one of the two Indigenous People’s representative of the Cordillera region to the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) and who hails from Lias, explained that Natonin is determined to expound its territorial claims even if it means violating the Puchun agreements since those areas are fertile and completely covered with dense, tropical forests. Sitios Maitug and Mattar, for example, have vast tracts of gently sloping areas which are potential for any economic undertakings.
These are also thriving hunting grounds, though, there has been an evident decline in wildlife population due to excessive and uncontrolled hunting. Charaychay decries that it is the Natonin intruders who are benefiting and exploiting the natural resources of Lias.
However, Natonin officials insist their claims over these disputed areas, since accordingly, historical accounts show that it has always been the Natonin folks who have been hunting here and these areas are much nearer to Natonin.
But Charaychay belied all these saying that sitios Maitug including Mattar have long been a part of Lias since it is here where the descendants of the I-Lias originated, adding that these areas are dotted with Lias’ fitu (a deep hole in the ground that serves as a trap for deer and wild boar).
Anchored to Puchun agreements, fitu also serves as a mark of a tribe’s territorial jurisdiction. Charaychay narrated that Natonin hunters were only allowed during the past to carry out hunting within these areas provided that they won’t be abusive, and these decisions, have been embodied under the Puchun. He furthered that Natonin hunters violated these when from time to time, they have started claiming the areas as theirs. Moreover, he said that the Natonin elders themselves generally acknowledge and respect the Puchun agreements especially in relation to tribal boundaries.
A local elder from Natonin said that there should be a stop to possible bloodsheds just because of the boundary conflict. He encouraged that young generations should ought to make peace rather than be driven to carry out killings.
“If in the past, killing in retaliation was a rampant practice, it should not be today as we have now the legal systems,” he said.
“I’m not so knowledgeable about the dispute but what I do know is that it’s all about boundary conflict so it should not have a bearing on our relationships as people,” adds Eleadora Gomangan, a local of Natonin.
On the other hand, Charaychay stressed that the only way to resolve this issue and maintain peace is to respect and uphold the traditional way, specifically the Puchun, of how the boundaries were set in the first place.
Himself a peace pact holder, Charaychay furthered that violence should never be used to justify one’s claim over these disputed areas especially that we are now in the modern era.
“Let us sit down in a proper forum to thresh out all problems and unite while considering the indigenous practice because it is where we came from. We all hear stories and these should serve as our basis in maintaining the boundary that has been set by our ancestors. We like peace so they have to respect peace and not stealing our territory when we are asleep,” Charaychay said.
He added that it’s not because there is now the legal system that the traditional system are to be disregarded in the due process. These should be respected and gave cognizance when coming up with decisions that may affect one tribe or another.//Daniel Jason M. Maches