(File photo)

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is urging the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) to conduct a probe on the alleged pillage of a traditional burial ground of the Tagbanua tribe in the west coast of Puerto Princesa City and other issues affecting their rights in their ancestral domain.

The call was made by DOJ assistant secretary Cheryl Daytec Yangot following a visit in Napsan on Monday through the invitation of the Nagkakaisang Tribu ng Palawan (NATRIPAL).

Her visit is a prelude to the holding of a deeper investigation on the alleged “removal of the remains of Tagbanua indigenous peoples (IPs)”, including non-IPs, by a private individual who allegedly bulldozed the burial ground in 2013 in the coastal area of Sitio Anonyog, Napsan.

In a dialogue with the Tagbanua tribe members and other residents of Barangays Napsan, Simpocan, and Bagong Bayan, Yangot also learned about their other complaints such as private claimants who are trying to build fences on lands within their ancestral domains and their priority rights over non-timber forest products and others in the three barangays.

The Tagbanua IPs in the west coast area and the NATRIPAL are accusing the NCIP of being “slow” in the conduct of an investigation to resolve the destruction of the sacred burial ground and other issues.

“I think again, bigyan natin ng assignment ang NCIP as the prime protector of the rights of [the] indigenous peoples. Dapatimbestigahan ito. I think we should have another dialogue on this kasama siguro ang NCCA (National Commission for Culture and the Arts), DOT (Department of Tourism), mga local offices, tulungan niyo naman ang mga katutubo dito,” Yangot pointed out.

The complaint regarding the burial ground destruction was made by resident Love Baterzal.

Baterzal said it was a sad incident knowing it is important to the Tagbanua and their families.

“Three or four years ago, ‘yong aming mga katutubo dyan ‘yong kanilang sementeryo kumbaga pasok na siya sa [ancestral] domain, nakakalungkot kasi pinahukay ng may-ari lahat ng kanilang mga patay kahit mga ninuno. Nakakalungkot dahil wala silang magawa kung hindi ilipat, kukunin ng bulldozer yong beach front ‘yong sementeryo ng mga katutubo,” Baterzal said.

She added the sacred burying site of the Tagbanua tribe should not be owned by anyone, appealing to the DOJ and other line agencies to investigate the matter and hold the private individual accountable.

Baterzal did not say who was the claimant of the beachfront in Anonyog.

NCIP representative Ricardo Sanga, on the other hand, said they will take action if a formal and notarized complaint is made and sent to their office.

However, he said the Napsan area is not covered by his jurisdiction which is the southern Palawan area.

Sanga advised the Tagbanua IPs not to be afraid to file their complaint to the NCIP office that has jurisdiction over Puerto Princesa

He advised that even IPs are afraid to complain, as long as they have evidence and the statement of the leader, there would be a case to file.

As far as he knows, he said, he is not aware if a complaint from the Tagbanua tribe in the west coast had been filed to the NCIP to warrant it to conduct an investigation.

“Yong mga isyu na ganyan, ma-e-entertain naman ‘yan kung meron dapat ipaalam sa amin at may notarized affidavit o complaint. Kung takot man sila, dapat kahit man lang meron kaming mahawakan na ebidensya at salaysay ng mga lider para i-follow ‘yong kaso. Actually, ngayon wala pa,” he said.

But NATRIPAL president John Mart Salunday said they have already submitted a complaint to the NCIP regarding the matter.

However, it is the “slow action” by the NCIP that is their problem.

“Nag-submit na kami ng complaint, ang problema namin ang NCIP ang bagal magbigay ng aksyon sa problema ng IPs. Syempre gumawa kami ng complaint regarding doon… na dahil ito ay burial ground, isa ito sa tinuturing na sagradong lugar ng mga katutubo kaya hindi pwedeng salaulain,” he said.

Salunday said despite being informed that the Tagbanua cemetery is a venerated site, the private individual still proceeded to bulldoze the area.

He added that before its destruction, the site also held the remains of non-IP residents in the west coast.

“Kung mapapansin mo, naging mabagal ang naging aksyon ng sangay ng pamahalaan. Unang-una, ang area na ‘yon ay matagal nang libingan ng mg katutubo pati ang hindi katutubo ay naglilibing rin doon pero di ito na-respect. Sabi rin ng resort owner ay pasok ito sa kanilang nabili kaya kinakailangan nilang tanggalin at ilipat ‘yong mga nakalibing. Hinukay lang at pinagsama-sama sa isang area na pinaglibingan,” he said.

Salunday said the local government that covers the west coast should also give protection to the IPs as it is stated in the Local Government Code (LGC) that their areas must be respected, particularly if they are sacred sites.

He said the response of the LGU has frustrated because of the many requirements they needed to comply.

“Pagdating sa hanay ng gobyerno, dini-dribble kami, ikot-ikot, ang daming hinahanap, nakaka-frustrate kaya ang katutubo kapag hindi siya ano doon… mawawalan ng gana,” he added.

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is one of the senior reporters of Palawan News. She covers agriculture, business, and different feature stories. Her interests are collecting empty bottles, aesthetic earrings, and anything that is color yellow.