The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has initiated a dialogue with the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) to address concerns on ancestral domain claims within protected areas like the Upper Marikina River Basin Protected Landscape (UMRBPL).

"The DENR and NCIP must work together to align our policies on conservation and protection measures in protected areas with the government’s program for the recognition, protection, and support of indigenous peoples’ rights in protected areas," DENR Undersecretary for Policy, Planning and International Affairs Jonas Leones said.

He said the initiative is pursuant to DENR Secretary Roy A. Cimatu's directive to beef up conservation and protection efforts in the country’s 244 protected areas.

It will help DENR and NCIP address overlaps and "prevent complications" from the implementation of the provisions of Republic Act (RA) 7586 or the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) of 1992 and RA 8371 or the Indigenous People's Rights Act (IPRA) of 1997.

"We really need to resolve with the NCIP what policy direction should be on the question of lands within protected areas that are subject to claims by our indigenous cultural communities," Leones said.

He pointed out that public lands will be assumed as private lands and never to have been part of the public domain once declared as Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) area.

However, Leones noted that CADT holders are prohibited from selling ancestral land to private entities and non-tribe members as it defeats the purpose of protecting their rights and culture.

Section 58 of IPRA states that indigenous peoples concerned "shall be given the responsibility to maintain, develop, protect and conserve such areas with the full and effective assistance of government agencies to maintain, develop, protect and conserve the ancestral domains and portions thereof which are found to be necessary for critical watersheds, mangroves, wildlife sanctuaries, wilderness, protected areas, forest cover or reforestation."

He cited, for instance, the UMRBPL where the Dumagat-Remontados of Antipolo have a pending application for CADT covering some 13,000 hectares, or half of the 26,126-hectare total land area of the UMRBPL.

"The DENR would effectively lose jurisdiction over half of UMRBPL should the NCIP decide that the claim is valid and issues a CADT," Leones said.

He noted that the DENR has been doubling its conservation efforts within the protected area as part of the ongoing rehabilitation efforts of Task Force Build Back Better (TF BBB) led by Cimatu.

Under Executive Order 120 issued by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte in November 2020, the TF BBB will oversee post-typhoon rehabilitation efforts in areas ravaged by typhoons Rolly and Ulysses, namely, Cagayan River, Bicol River and Marikina River.

Within the UMRBPL, around 100 kilometers, covering 801 hectares, are targeted for streambank stabilization with the planting of bamboos involving 11 indigenous communities.

Since 2012, at least 247 check dams have been constructed to reduce soil erosion and slow down the flow of water from upstream Marikina into the Marikina River, while at least a hundred more check dams are in the planning stage that will cover 87 kilometers of riverbanks within the protected area. ###