After the national elections in 1961, Atty. Gabriel Dunuan of Kiangan, Ifugao formerly a Congressman of the province, was appointed as Chairman of the Commission on National Integration (CNI), by President Diosdado Macapagal. Atty. Dunuan and President Macapagal belong to the Liberal Party. The circle of Ifugao residents in Manila gave a small reception party for the Ifugao Commissioner. I joined the reception, and when Commissioner Dunuan saw me, he pulled me aside and said, “Romy, I need help. I want to put up a strong Legal Division of the CNI. The problems facing the CNI are so numerous and complex and are mostly legal. Our people are being dispossessed of or grabbed of their lands. They are being exploited by powerful interests, who want the cultural minority landholdings.” At first, I hesitated, as my Uncle Johnny Guiab, a US Army veteran and a resident in Chicago, Illinois, insisted that I go to the US and pursue my advance studies there. After some reflection, I eventually accepted the offer of Commissioner Dunuan to join the Commission on National Integration (CNI) as head of the Legal Division, and in the interim also as Acting Head of the Field Services Division.
Republic Act No. 1888 was passed by Congress in 1964 creating the Commission on National Integration (CNI) to effectuate in a more rapid and complete manner the economic, social, moral and political advancement of the Non-Christian Filipino, or National Cultural minorities and to render real, complete and permanent the integration of all cultural minorities into the body politic. Studying intently the provisions of RA1888 which is the Charter of the CNI, the term “Non-Christian” as used in the law refers more to the degree of culture and civilization of the public affected rather than to their religion (Ruby vs. Provincial Board of Mindanao, 39 Phil 660). It refers not to religious belief but, in a way to the geographical area and more directly to the natives of the Philippine Islands usually living in Tribal relationship apart from settled communities. (People vs. Cayat 88 Phil. 12; Parkan, et al vs. Navarro, 73 Phil. O.G. p. 32, 33).
Aware of the situation of the national cultural minority, who comparatively speaking, are those left behind in Philippine society, the Government has embarked on a real complete and permanent program of INTEGRATING all cultural minorities into the body politic. The State in adopting this altruistic program of integration, respects and recognizes the morals, values, cultures and traditions of these cultural minorities. Rather than emphasizing or focusing on the distinctive and ethnic differentialities of the cultural minorities, the program of integration stresses more on the commonalities, the similarities, the togetherness that will be galvanized in the integration process resulting in a much more solidified, stronger and progressive Philippine society. To further the said development of the National Cultural Minorities, a broadly spread Scholarship Program, allotted equitably among the cultural minorities of the country, was provided under RA 1888. Several thousand cultural minorities benefited from the program. A considerable number of these former CNI Scholars are now found occupying top positions in government - the Executive, Legislative and the Judiciary - as well as in the private and business sectors. A further incentive available to cultural minorities was in the form of waiver of examination in the Civil Service (RA 2260, Civil Service Law) for employment. The waiver ended on 10 June 1969.
RA 3985 and RA 3872
Reports of the field representatives of the Commission on National Integration, confirmed by the findings of the survey conducted in 1962 by the Senate Committee on National Minorities of Mindanao, Palawan, Mindoro, Nueva Ecija, Nueva Vizcaya, Cagayan, Isabela and Mountain Province, disclosed cases of land grabbing where invariably the victims were the poor and illiterate members of the National Cultural Minorities. In many of these cases thousands were being ejected from their ancestral dwellings and from their farm lots which they and their predecessors-in-interest have been occupying openly, peacefully, actually, continuously and exclusively in the concept of an owner since time immemorial.
RA 1888 authorized Trial Lawyers of the CNI to assist indigent members of the cultural communities accused in criminal cases including their landholdings. As Chief of the CNI, Legal Division and the Field Services Division, I was deputized by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) then headed by Solicitor General Arturo Alafriz to assist indigenous members of the cultural minorities in cases involving their landholdings. Numerous cases of land grabbing of the landholding of the cultural minorities were brought to the attention of the CNI. Among them were the case in Kalinga Province in the Cordilleras; the intrusion and destruction of Higoonon villages in Agusan Province by big time lumber concessionaires; the destruction of the corn fields and villages of the Bilaans in Matanao, Davao, by a pasture land owner who was a top local official; the incursion into the Negrito settlements in Zambales and Bataan, and the harsh treatment by the U.S. Naval Base Authorities in Olongapo, Zambales, of the Negritos (Aetas) despite there having been availed and utilized by the American soldiers inside the Base, on the indigenous ways of surviving in the jungles. (Jungle survival course)
In the Senate, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Cultural Minorities was Senator Manuel Manahan. Together with the Cultural Minority Representatives in the House, they immediately tackled a response to the reported problems of the National Cultural Minorities. The CNI was called to help in crafting the appropriate legislation to help solve the land problems. For almost two months, I was detailed at the office of Senator Manahan in the Senate. Together with his staff led by Atty. Arceo, we were able to come up with the appropriate legislative proposal filed in Congress resulting in the passage of RA 3985 and RA 3872.
The problems of the cultural minorities affecting their landholding is due to the harshness and inequity of our present Public Land Act known as Commonwealth No. 141 and Commonwealth Act No. 452 known as the Pasture Land Act laws. RA 782, passed on 21 June 1962, grants to the occupants of agricultural public lands the right to own the same if they have been there since July 4, 1945 or prior thereto. A great number of cultural minorities occupying lands of the public domain would fail to come under the provisions of the laws, because since 1945, up to the present, most of them have been driven from their ancestral abodes. RA 452 rescued these cultural minorities from their position of disadvantage, not of their own doing, to one of a fair chance and equal opportunity as their Christian brothers in the acquisition of public lands, and their claim to possession or ownership covers both disposable and non-disposable portions of the public land domain, as long as they are found suitable for agricultural.
Section 3 of Commonwealth Act No. 452, rendered possible the deprivation of these National Cultural Minorities of their ancestral homes and landholdings thru the grant of pasture permits or leases to big and influential persons both in and out of the government. In the grant of the pasture lease or permit, the Pasture Land Act does not contain any provision for safeguarding the prior right by occupation or settlement of any person over the area subject of the pasture lease or permit. To cure this flaw, RA 3985 was passed by Congress on June 1964 which provided that no Pasture Permit shall be granted in provinces that are inhabited by cultural minorities and that a joint inspection by both representative of the Bureau of Forestry and the CNI certify that there are no cultural minorities actually occupying any portion of the area applied for under pasture permit or lease.
The Kalinga problem was among the serious cases initially handled by the CNI, as it involved the barrio of Liwan (now a municipality) and the surrounding sitios there at occupied by the native Kalingas. Their lands were claimed by the Susana Estate, owned by the Madrigals, by virtue of an alleged Spanish grant ceding said lands to them. Understandably, the natives objected to the claim pointing that they owned the land since time immemorial, as evidenced by their agricultural improvements like ricelands, coffee plantation, banana and mango trees and cemeteries where there ancestors were buried. Several court hearings took place in the Court of First Instance in Tuao, Cagayan Province. The native Kalingas, represented by the CNI disputed the claims of the Susana Estate. The Court did not heed the native’s claim of ancestral ownership. The natives could not produce any documentary proof of ownership over the land. This matter eventually reached the then Land Tenure Administration where the local political leaders raised the issue up to Malacañang.
Agusan Province Incident
The case of the Higoonons – the natives of Agusan Province who were beleaguered by the powerful timber concessionaires that ran roughshod over their villages and destroyed their farm lands planted with various crops. I went to Agusan Province and sought the assistance of then Provincial Governor Democratico Plaza, who later became my colleague in the 7th Congress. Gov. Plaza assigned two of his men to accompany me with two constabulary escorts and proceeded to the forests in Bayugan area covered by timber concessions. Reaching the place, we were confronted by an armed group with high powered firearms. They warned us not to enter the place and menacingly pointed their guns at us. The men of Governor Plaza and the two PC soldier’s escorts explained to the armed group that we were there to verify the report that armed men were harassing the natives, destroying their agricultural crops and even shooting two of the villagers. The armed men were told, that their acts were illegal. They were told to desist from further harassment the people else they will have to face the full force of the law. The headman then of the Higoonons, was a certain Datu Mampatilan, whom I noticed was sort of meztizo looking, tall and handsome, and fully garbed in their native attire. He narrated the way his people were treated by the timber concessionaires especially by their armed guards. I advised him to approach and seek the help of Governor Plaza and that we in the CNI are always ready to extend legal assistance.
I was in Davao City sometime in the later part of 1965, at the time conferring with our field people, when Kinoc, a young CNI scholar from the Bilaan Tribe studying in one of the colleges in Davao City, rushed to see me. He reported that the armed men of a pasture land owner – a top government official, let loose their cattle from their corrals and the cows had a heyday - trampling, eating and destroying the corn crops of the Bilaan villagers in Matanao, Davao. The villagers tried to drive away the cattles but the armed guards stopped them, claiming that the natives were illegally occupying the pasture area of the government official. Among the armed groups were two Constabulary personnel who in the scuffle with the Bilaans got killed. The matter was immediately reported to the Provincial Constabulary Command. The PC Provincial Commander announced that he was organizing a punitive expedition to go after the Bilaans in Matanao, Davao to avenge the death of his men. The PC Commander’s announcement appeared in the local papers. I went to see the Provincial Commander Col. Ferdie Lagman and appealed to him to desist from launching the punitive expedition. I told him, the CNI Office will help in finding out what really happened in that incident and will assist the PC to ascertain whoever was responsible in the death of the two PC men. But the Provincial Commander, a very stern looking person, refused and said in a very harsh tone, “I will show those people, the consequences of their killing my men!” I reported the matter to my boss in Manila, CNI Commissioner Chairman Gabriel Dunuan and asked for instruction on what to do with the situation. He told me, to appeal to the local authorities. I answered him that, it may not be of any effect as a top local government official was the alleged owner of the pasture land at issue. So I asked, if he would permit me to contact the next higher PC Official that could stop the local PC Commander to go through with the punitive expedition. My boss allowed me to contact Brig. General Mamarinta Lao, a Maranao and also a member of the cultural minority from Lanao del Sur. He was then the Deputy Chief of Staff, SOUTHCOM, with station at Cagayan de Oro City.
I requested Col. Ferdie Lagman, if I could use their communication facilities to contact General Mamarinta Lao. Surprisingly, he agreed and he even said, “Ok you may contact him and hopefully you succeed.” I thanked Col. Ferdie Lagman, and when I called on the phone, surprises of all surprises, it was Brig. Gen. Mamarinta Lao himself at the other end. I explained to him the situation. He instructed me to hand the phone to Col. Lagman and he will talk to him. When I handed the phone to Col. Lagman, all that he said responding perhaps to Gen. Lao’s instruction was – yes sir!, yes sir! After that, he said Gen. Lao will be coming to Davao City. Thereafter, I left the PC Headquarters, glad to have prevented what could have been a bloody incident in Matanao, Davao. A few months later, Col. Ferdie Lagman was transferred to Luzon to be the Provincial Commander of Isabela Province, in the North. Sometime thereafter, he perished with other passengers, in the Philippine Airlines plane crash in Nueva Ecija.
Olongapo Naval Base Incident
As Chief of the CNI Legal Division and Administrative Services Division, while on an inspection trip with our CNI representative in Zambales, Mr. Euniciano Rodriguez, we visited the Negrito settlement at Mt. Pinatubo, San Marcelino, Zambales. After conference with the Negritos or (the Balugas as they are polpularly called ) by the local populace, we received an urgent call from the Negrito headman of the Negrito Kabalan settlement at Olongapo City. Two (2) of their people were shot to death by the U.S. Marines guarding the Subic Naval Base, particularly that portion of the base alongside the boundary of the towns of Dinalupihan and Olongapo City, where the tall radar tower can be seen from afar as you approach Olongapo from Dinalupihan. The Balugas were engaged by the Naval Authorities to train the Navy Personnel in the art of jungle survival in the thick forests that surrounded the naval reservation. For their tutorial services, the Balugas were allowed to scavenge for any materials of utilitarian in the Naval dumping or garbage grounds inside the reservation. However, they were restricted from entering those designated as restricted zones. The spot where the two (2) Aetas were shot was allegedly within the so called restricted zone of the reservation.
In the company of the local police and PC Officer, we proceeded to the spot of the killing incident. The U.S. Marine Guards prevented us from entering the gate even when we explained, that we were there to retrieve the remains of the two (2) Negritos, who were reported to have been shot and killed in that area. The guards prevented us from entering the gate as they said that it was a restricted area. I argued that I would go inside anyway, as those killed were our countrymen. They pointed their guns at us and said that they will not hesitate to shoot, if we insist in going inside. At that juncture, the PC escort who was with me, had a mobile phone and said, ”Sir, hwag na tayong magpumilit pumasok at pinapatawag na tayo ni Sec. Salvador Mariño. Nasa Office daw ni Admiral Baer, (the Naval Commander of the Subic Base) at pinapapunta daw tayo roon ngayon.” With that message, I proceeded to the office of the Naval Base Commander. Upon entering the room, Admiral Baer stood up and in a stern voice berated me for entering a security area of the Base. I answered back, “I was just there to retrieve the body of our country men killed by your people.” Sec. Mariño took me aside and told me, “Bata, hwag na kayong makipagtalo, umuwi nalang kayo at ako na ang bahala rito.”
Tongkil Island Incident (Sulu)
As Chief of the CNI Legal Division my main task was to assist in the legal problems of the minorities. One time, the CNI got an urgent call from the natives of Tongkil Island in Sulu. They claimed that a certain German National named Schultz was easing them out of their landholdings. Tongkil Island is mostly planted with coconut trees and copra was their main product.
I went to Zamboanga on a Saturday; I called our CNI Regional Director of the area, a certain Datu Ayu Mandi, a former Olympian swimmer, who participated in the London Olympics shortly after the war. I told him, that we should go to Tongkil Island somewhere on the Northeast side of Jolo Province, along the Sulu Sea. At first, Datu Ayu Mandi was reluctant to go there. He said, “Sir, Tongkil Island is quite far and will take about 5 to 6 hours to reach there. Besides, the water in that area is quite rough.” I told him, “Our instruction was to proceed there and verify the allegations of the Islanders.” So, very reluctantly he was able to find a motorized sailboat – the type that has an outrigger on both sides. Together with the boatman, we boarded the sailboat at about 7:00 am from Zamboanga sailing southeast ward to our destination. It was a Sunday and it was a hot day and the sun shone in full blast. After about three (3) hours at sea, the motor of the pump boat conked out. The boatman said, he could not start it anymore. So our boat just floated listlessly on the sea and the waters were getting rough. We just sailed along with the ebb and flow of the big waves. I was frightened that the boat will just capsize with the huge waves pounding on it. Also, I saw schools of shark’s popping in and out of the water beside our boat. I thought that we will soon die with the boat capsizing because of the strong waves, then we would readily be eaten by the sharks. I was trembling with fright imagining the sharks luring at us with their razor sharpen teeth enjoying their meals. I prayed to all the saints and to God for our safety. It was past noontime and exposed to the heat of the sun, I felt so exhausted and gripping with the pain of thirst and hunger. I must have passed out for a while, when I sense that Datu Ayu Mandi was besides me assuring that all was well
as we were drifting towards south west of the Sulu Sea. It was already late afternoon and I shuddered at the thought, that we would be overtaken by darkness. The waters were relatively calm by now, until Datu Ayu Mandi saw a boat in the distance. He waved and waved at the boat and shouted to come close and assist us. The boat was a bigger boat, a batel plying between Zamboanga and Jolo. The batel towed our sailboat to the nearest island – Sta Cruz Island, just opposite Zamboanga City. I breathed a deep sigh of relief and thanked God for this miracle.
Atty. Mamintal Tamano was appointed Chairman of the Commission on National Integration (CNI) in 1965 by President Ferdinand Marcos. Chairman Tamano is a Maranao from Marawi City and was a government scholar when he graduated from the College of Law of the University of the Philippines. He took up and finished his post graduate studies at the Cornell University in Rochester, New York, USA.
At Cornell University, he met another Filipino scholar, UP Professor Mario Zamora finishing his graduate studies in Anthropology. On his return to the Philippines, Dr. Zamora was appointed Dean of the UP Department of Anthropology. When Commissioner Tamano was already at the helm of the CNI, he embarked on a program of in depth research and study of the cultural minorities of the country. In tandem with Dean Mario Zamora of the UP Department of Anthropology and with the active assistance of Dr. Artemio Rodriguez, also another UP Alumnus and the Cultural Officer of the Southeast Asean Treaty Organization (SEATO) with head office in Bangkok, Thailand, a Tribal Research Center was organized and established in the CNI. The CNI Public Relations Office headed by Ms. Alice Reyes launched a nationwide information drive about the CNI and the existence of the Tribal Research Center. Sometime thereafter, a stream of local and even foreign researchers availed of the services of the Center.
The workings of the CNI and the Tribal Research Center must have caught the attention of the Vietnamese Government, as there was a request, if they could send a delegation of one of their Hill Tribes – Montagnards, to observe and learn how the Philippine Government handles and administers the affairs of cultural minorities. A month later, a delegation of Vietnamese Hill Tribes, the Montagnards, arrived in Manila. A series of briefings by the CNI was held for the group. A few days after, with the assistance of the Philippine Air Force, the Montagnards were ferried to Malaybalay, Bukidnon Province where personnel of the Summer Institute for Linguistic (SIL), were involved in studies of ethnic groups languages. The SIL then produced a bible in the dialect or language of the natives. From Bukidnon, the group visited various Regional and Field Offices of the CNI, where they observed the organizational operation and implementation of action programs for cultural minorities.
The visit of the Vietnamese Hill Tribes (Montagnards), triggered a project proposal from SEATO Head Office in Bangkok, Thailand. It was proposed, that selected CNI Officials be sent to Thailand to observe and study the various Hill Tribes in that country. Their findings and reports shall be submitted to SEATO and most likely, passed on to the Thai Government, perhaps to use as a model in putting up the appropriate Agency in administering the affairs of Thailand’s Hill Tribes. Atty. Johnny Marombsar and myself, were chosen to go to Thailand. Our work base was in North Thailand, in Chiangmai, where most of the Hill tribes were found, although there were also tribes in Southern Thailand towards Malaysia. In coordination with Air America which was also based in Chiangmai, we were regularly ferried to the various mountain tribes settlements scattered all over the area near the boundaries of Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. I worked for six months in Chiangmai, Thailand. My findings and formal report on my research and field study was submitted to the Cultural Office of SEATO. I returned to the Philippines and resumed my work in the CNI.
Other Activities in the CNI
I also attended to the other cultural minority groups like the “Romentados”, the indigenous mountain tribes of Rizal Province who are spread down even towards Quezon Province although the main concentration of those groups is in the Rizal Province area. There was what was known then as a CNI Reservation, located in the town of Tanay. The Reservation was being encroached by non-Romentados easing out the indigenous people who were already settled there. As CNI Legal Division Head, I recommended, that an immediate survey be conducted to determine the metes and bounds of the reservation. A survey party was contracted by the CNI to undertake the perimeter survey, The Field Services Division took over from there, and a program of development of the reservation was made. Other corollary measures were taken to protect the indigenous people (Romentados) from being eased out of their occupancy of the reservation.
The island of Mindoro has also its share of indigenous tribes known as the Mangyans and Tagbanuas. One of the bigger reservation/settlement for the natives is in Bataraza, Occidental Mindoro. The CNI has a Field Representative stationed in the island of Mindanao, whose task was to attend to the problems of the indigenous people. Every now and then, the CNI Central Office would receive reports that the settlement/reservations for Oriental and Occidental Mindoro indigenous people were slowly being encroached by aggressive parties. Our CNI Field Office in Mindoro, was conveniently located near the native communities for easy access by them.
Supplementing and complementing the efforts of government in attending to the cultural minorities are civic spirited private individuals like Benjamin Abadiano, a man with an uncommon passion in devoting his life to the service of the Filipino indigenous people. He lived with the Mangyans for nine years, and put up a school for them. He also established the Pamulaan Center for
Indigenous People’s Education in Mindanao. There are other countrymen of ours, who were earnestly, without much fanfare, committed and actively involved themselves in improving the lot of our indigenous peoples.
Contemporary events and the Cultural Minorities – (in retrospect)
In the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, the thrust of government’s efforts in attending to the concerns of the various ethno-linguistic tribes found in the three main islands of the archipelago, namely Luzon, Vizayas and Mindanao – was that of INTEGRATION. Even as the state recognized the distinctive culture, customs, traditions and practices of the different tribal groups, it focused more on the commonalities, the similarities, the identical phases of their customs and beliefs. Notable among their aspirations, was their yearning for stable, peaceful and progressive communities, like those of their Christian countrymen. To join the mainstream of Philippines society – would be a process of integration. Hence, the passage by Congress of Republic Act No. 1888 created the Commission on National Integration which was mandated to effectuate in a more regional and complete manner the economic, social, moral and political advancement of the Non-Christian Filipino or National Cultural Minorities, and to render real, complete and permanent the integration of all said national cultural minorities into the body politic.
To implement this integration program of the government, the Commission on National Integration (CNI) launched a broad scholarship program which was equitably availed to all various cultural minorities. There was a noticeable surge of cultural minority students enrolled in the various schools of learning in the country both in the public and private schools, from primary, elementary, secondary up to the tertiary levels. Most of these scholars have graduated in their respective chosen fields of study, and are now occupying prominent positions in the executive, legislative and judicial departments of the government. A great number are in the private sector engaged in business or have joined the corporate world.
As an additional incentive for cultural minorities applying for jobs in the government service, a waiver of examination requirements for employment in the Civil Service (RA 2260 – Civil Service Law)
was extended to them. A considerable number of cultural minorities took advantage of the waiver until its expiration on 19 June 1969.
The CNI thru its field offices, assisted cultural minorities in their agricultural, and other livelihood endeavors, availing for them trained technicians, who taught them the latest technologies needed in their farm lands or other business ventures. The various established government reservations for cultural minorities found all over the country were activated, and cultural minorities moved into these reservations. Some of these reservations were found in Zambales and Bataan for the Negritos, in Tanay, Rizal province for the Romentados, in Mindoro for the Mangyans and Tagbanuas, in Cotabato for the Bilaans and in Davao for the Bilaans and the Bagobos etc.
All these government programs for our cultural minorities were in full swing and very productive as it contributed to the stability of the country. All the feedbacks from it were positive. There were no adverse reports as to tribal jealousies or rivalries. They were expected to unite and obtain positive results from their active participation in the program. What surfaced was a collective acceptance of the wisdom and value of the integration process. Each tribal group with its own distinctive customs, traditions and cultures was respected by the rest. No pronounced distinction was made of the traits or idiosyncrasies of any group. On the other hand, what was emphasized was the similarities, the points where their practices coincided, the areas where they realized mutual values and beneficial advantages. A kind of social connectivity which in the words of Social Scientist Robert Putnam calls, “Social capital greases the wheels that allow communities to advance smoothly. Where people are trusting and trustworthy, and where they are subject to repeated interactions with fellow citizens, everyday business and social transactions are less costly.” At that time, we dared to make some raw prognostications, that in two or three decade’s time, we could fully realize the effective formation of a wholly solidified Philippine body politic.
Unfortunately, the vagaries of time had untimely aborted whatever nebulous wish, we were harboring. The new dispensation that replaced the Marcos regime, abolished the cultural minorities integration program. It chose to revert to giving recognition to the distinctions, the differences, the practices that marked the different tribal groups of the country. The essence of national integration was simply made to evaporate with the change of political wind. The sincere and enormous efforts to galvanize our people into one strong nation, were simply cast aside. Instead, we are now spectators of the indecent and deceitful attempts to dismember our country by pandering to the demands for a separate state.