The Bangsamoro Parliament is currently holding public consultations on Bill No. 273, the proposed "Bangsamoro Indigenous Peoples Development Act of 2024." However, these consultations are taking place amidst growing tension due to the proposed law's failure to recognize the distinct identity of the Non-Moro Indigenous Peoples (NMIPs) in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).


Timuay Leticio Datuwata, chieftain of the Teduray Indigenous community, traveled all the way to Manila to voice his concerns at a forum organized by the Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG). Datuwata emphasized that the very name of the proposed law, devoid of the term "Non-Moro," is a glaring issue.


"We appeal that the title of the IP Code should include 'Non-Moro Indigenous Peoples,'" Datuwata said. "We are concerned and alarmed that the Proposed Bangsamoro IP Code does not recognize the distinct and unique identity of NMIPs in its provisions and framework. It weakens the rights already granted to NMIPs under the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) and Indigenous Peoples' Rights Act (IPRA)."


The Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) itself recognizes the NMIPs as a distinct group within the BARMM. Datuwata argues that Bill No. 273, in its current form, contradicts this recognition. He fears a provision declaring the Bangsamoro as a "shared ancestral domain" could lead to outsiders staking claims within NMIP territories.


"We will lose our ancestral domains if this Bangsamoro IP Code is passed," Datuwata warned. "It declares the Bangsamoro as a 'shared ancestral domain,' which implies that anyone can claim within the lands of NMIPs. We appeal that our ancestral domain title will be awarded to us before the approval of any version of the Bangsamoro IP Code."


For the NMIPs, ancestral domains are not merely parcels of land; they are sacred extension of their existence, representing a lineage of blessings bestowed by their spiritual leaders. The NMIP position paper submitted at the forum outlines a vast ancestral domain encompassing over 208,000 hectares, including 35 villages, 11 towns, and a population exceeding 190,000 individuals.


Beyond the issue of Bill No. 273, IAG Executive Director Benedicto Bacani highlighted two other challenges threatening the identity and ancestral domain of NMIPs: the camp transformation program and the overall implementation of existing laws.


The GPH-MILF peace process includes a program designed to transform former MILF camps into peaceful and productive communities. However, Bacani pointed out that some of these camps, like Camp Omar in Datu Hoffer and Camp Bader in Datu Odin Sinsuat, are situated within ancestral domains claimed by NMIPs, including the sacred Mt. Firis for the Teduray people.


"Displacements and violence against the NMIPs have been happening in these areas," Bacani said.


According to Datuwata, at least 65 NMIPs have been killed and thousands displaced since 2018. The NMIP position paper calls on various government agencies, including the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), to ensure the proper implementation of IPRA and the BOL in the BARMM. They argue that the continued displacement, the delay in awarding Certificates of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT), and the proposed IP Code that disregards their distinct identity all point towards a lack of enforcement.


Bacani expressed skepticism about Bill No. 273 serving as a solution for the NMIPs' struggle. He pointed to a resolution passed by the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), the current Bangsamoro Parliament that is legislating the IP Code, in May 2022. This resolution urged the NCIP to cease the delineation process for ancestral domains in Maguindanao province, effectively halting the issuance of CADTs.


Bacani emphasized the precarious situation of the NMIPs despite supposed protections offered by the Philippine Constitution and the IPRA. He explained the core of the conflict lies in the differing views on ancestral domain.


“The NMIPs are in this perilous situation in the BARMM because their ancestral domain protected by the Philippines Constitution and the IPRA are in direct collision with the MILF’s position that there is only one ancestral domain in the Bangsamoro that is the Moro Ancestral domain and all IP’s share in this one ancestral domain,” he said.


“This position was not adopted in the CAB [Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro]. On the contrary, the CAB and the BOL that translated the CAB into the Organic Law of the BARMM, guarantee that in the BARMM, the identity and ancestral domain of the NMIPs are fully protected, that IPRA remains enforceable and any regional law such as the IP Code must not diminish rights of IP’s in the autonomous region under international conventions, the Philippine Constitution, the Bangsamoro Organic Law and other national laws,” he added.


Bacani concluded by urging the national government and the international community to intervene. He argued that the true success of the Bangsamoro peace process hinges on upholding the rights of all, not sacrificing the NMIPs for a fragile peace.


"For what kind of peace is attained when fundamental human rights especially of the minority continue to be trampled upon and policies and institutions are built not upon the rule of law but the threat of war?" Bacani said.


The future of the NMIPs in the BARMM remains uncertain. The public consultations on Bill No. 273 offer a glimmer of hope, but the concerns raised by the NMIP leaders highlight the complexities of achieving genuine peace and lasting recognition within the Bangsamoro. Whether the Bangsamoro Parliament will address their demands and find a solution that respects their distinct identity and ancestral domain rights remains to be seen. In the meantime, the NMIPs continue their struggle, their voices echoing a plea for a future where their ancestral lands are safeguarded and their unique heritage is celebrated within the Bangsamoro.