Around 80 tribal leaders of Palawan province have endorsed the bid of former Ifugao Rep. Teddy Brawner Baguilat for a seat in the Senate as part of the slate of Vice President Leni Robredo and Sen. Francis Pangilinan.

In a statement on Saturday, Baguilat, who is running on the platform of human rights and advancement of the interest of indigenous peoples, welcomed the endorsement that also came with the tribal leaders’ support for the candidacy of Robredo and Pangilinan for president and vice president, respectively, in the May elections.

“They see VP Leni as their hope for the defense of their ancestral domain and I join her in that crusade,” said Baguilat, who met with leaders from the Tagbanua, Cuyunon, Palaw’an and Batak tribes of Palawan on Friday during a summit where they read their statements of support for his candidacy and the Leni-Kiko tandem.

The Palawan IPs said space for IPs in their ancestral lands and in society continues to shrink because of growing threats from big corporations and powerful families as well as random red-tagging. Yet, despite these threats, they strive to peacefully coexist with other communities.

They commended Baguilat and former Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Jesse Robredo in pushing the institutionalization of Indigenous Peoples Mandatory Representatives (IPMRs) in barangays with ancestral domains through DILG’s Memorandum Circular No. 2010-119.

Villamor Flores, IP leader from Alimanguan, San Vicente said, “Buong suporta ako sa pagkakandidato sa pagkapangulo ni Leni Robredo at kanyang bise presidente na si Kiko Pangilinan sa napakahalagang pamanang ito ng kanyang yumaong asawa na DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo upang magkaroon ng kinatawaan at IPMR ang mga katutubo sa aming mga nasasakupang mga barangay (I fully support the presidential bid of Leni Robredo and her tandem for the vice presidency, Kiko Pangilinan on this very important heritage of her late husband DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo so that there will be a representative and IPMR for the indigenous peoples in our villages).”

Flores added that it is their hope that Baguilat would help them hasten the process of securing their ancestral domain title to bolster their position as rightful owners of their sacred land.

John Mart Salunday, president of the Nagkakaisang mga Tribu ng Palawan (NATRIPAL), believes it is high time that indigenous peoples have a genuine representative in the Senate in the person of Baguilat.