Tagbanua residents of Lamud Island in Barangay Luac, Culion are being driven out of their traditional land by a resort developer that has fenced it with barbed wires.
Culion parish priest Rev. Fr. Roderick Yap Caabay said Thursday to Palawan News that Almavida Holdings, Inc., represented by a certain Engr. Adjerico Micolob, wants to build a resort on the island at the expense of the Tagbanua indigenous peoples (IPs).
Lamud is a 588-hectare island area that is known in the Calamianes for its pristine beauty, abundant marine life, and friendly IP residents. It is an ideal spot for diving enthusiasts and those who love outdoor adventures just 30 minutes away from the center of Culion town.
The main sources of livelihood of the island people, he said, are fishing, farming, and gathering non-timber forest products.
“Nabakuran na nila almost ang buong isla. Ang iniwan lang nila ay ‘yong sityo lang talaga na siguro mga 20 hectares lang. And Lamud is 588 hectares, nabakuran na po ang buong Lamud. Merong anim na kabahayan na nakulong na nila dahil binakod nila noong January 16. Nakulong talaga sila,” he said.
Caabay said his help was sought by the family of barangay official Joy Aguilar because the security guards of Almavida put a barbed wire fence around the area where homes are located, including theirs.
He said fencing started late last year and was continued last week. The island was reportedly sold to Almavida by Ronald Alcantara, a former barangay chairman and now municipal councilor in Culion.
Six families had been told to leave Lamud, however, they were able to stop this on January 22 with the help of the local offices of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) whose representatives went to the island to investigate.
“Ang immediate na affected na napigilan naman natin ay anim na households. Pero ‘yong mga katabing bahay ay kinakabahan din kasi mukhang testing ‘yong pagpapaalis doon sa anim na pamilya na kapag napaalis, lahat mapapaalis na,” he said.
“Nakabakod na, ha. Hindi mapasok ng tao ‘yong kabundukan. Doon sila kumukuha ng mga panggatong nila dahil wala naman silang gasul,” Caabay added.
Caabay alleged that Almavida is already resorting to harassment to occupy Lamud where there are over 100 households, threatening to shoot anyone who would get on its way.
He said residents on the island are already afraid that the situation might get worse if no help from the local and national governments will be given immediately to address the problem.
“Hina-harass na po sila. ‘Yong iba na may bahay, pinagbantaan na sila na ‘kapag kami pinigilan niyo, pagbababarilin namin kayo,” he said.
Lamud is forestland
On January 22, Caabay said representatives from the DENR sent by regional executive director Henry Adornado went to Lamud to investigate the situation with the NCIP.
It was at this meeting where the environment agency confirmed that Lamud is classified as forestland and that the Tagbanua residents have an existing application for a certificate of ancestral domain title (CADT) filed in 2015.
“Kahapon, nagulantang sila lahat kasi nagpadala ang DENR ng tao for investigation at ang NCIP para sa dialogue. Klinaro ng DENR na sa mapa, ang Lamud — the whole Lamud is timberland, it’s a forestland. It’s a property of the government, walang sino man ang puwedeng mag-magbenta at ang may right sa timberland area ay mga katutubo lamang na nandoon na namuhay ang mga ninuno,” he said.
He said the oldest occupant is a 69-year-old Tagbanua whose ancestors were among the first settlers of Lamud, proving it is ancestral land.
Caabay said the application for CADT has been submitted to the provincial NCIP but is not moving because the Tagbanua residents do not have enough resources to fund the required validation and other expenses which cost around P1.5 million.
“Walang pera para i-validate itong mga dokumento na na-submit nila. Naka-stuck lang doon kasi walang pera. Tumutulong na nga ako, pero hindi makaya. Saan kukuha ang mga katutubo ng perang ganoon?” he asked.
He added that the NCIP told the Tagbanua residents that the fact that they have applied for CADT means they “can exercise all their rights” based on the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act of 1997.
“Sabi pa ng NCIP, kahit hindi pa mag-apply ang mga katutubo, kasi ang pag-apply ng CADT is only a formal document of the government, they can apply their rights to the land. Ibig sabihin, wala man silang papel, the fact na dyan sila nabuhay — ang kanilang anak, magulang, namumuno, andyan ang sementeryo — their rights to the land should be recognized,” Caabay added.
Appeal to the government
Since Wednesday, Caabay said some residents have already removed a part of the barbed wire fence that obstructs them from accessing the waters to fish and forests to gather woods.
However, he said the fence that was removed only covers the six households, not the whole island.
“Kahapon, bago kami nagsipag-uwian, ang ilang pamilya kasama kami, ay tinanggal ang bakod na barbed wires at sinunog po nila ang mga bakod. Nagpalakpakan ang mga tao because it is a symbol of their victory na ni-recognize muli ang kanilang karapatan sa kanilang lupaing ninuno,” he said.
Caabay said with the support of the Pagketel Ita, a federation of Tagbanua leaders and communities in Culion, they are appealing to the DENR, the NCIP, and other concerned government and non-government agencies to help stop the fencing while waiting for the result of the investigation.
He said a special order should be issued to stop the violation of the rights of the Tagbanua on Lamud despite threats by Almavida to take the matter to court.
“Sana mag-issue ng special order na ipatanggal ang lahat ng mga bakod doon na naghahadlang sa mga IP na maghanap-buhay at malayang kumilos. It is a threat to their life and livelihood kaya dapat matanggal. Una sana na mangyari ay immediate removal ng mga bakod,” Caabay said.
Caabay also appealed for help so the Tagbanua residents can obtain their CADT.
“Sana matulungan sila sa kanilang application for CADT para pang-matagalan na ang kanilang seguridad sa kanilang lupaing ninuno,” he added.
The ancestral land dispute on the island came to light when Caabay posted a video excerpt of his Sunday homily on January 21, appealing to government authorities to stop Almavida.
Palawan News is trying to get the side of Almavida regarding the story.