Under the 1997 Act, the Dumagat can say no to the proposed national road. The law provides for indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consent to any project or policy that will affect them. They also have a right to decide their developmental priorities.
But in practice, due process was not followed, especially as there was no consultation with the tribe, said Cipriano, who is now the indigenous peoples’ representative in the municipal government.
He learnt of the national road only after seeing part of the existing one-lane road being expanded, with the latter works officially due to be completed by January.
The tribal council filed a complaint with the Department of Public Works and Highways, which only then approached the council and the community, said Marilyn.
Responding to CNA Insider’s queries, the department said it introduced the community to the project through a series of meetings but did not indicate any dates.
The Damagut found out that the project would also carve a new path from a neighbouring town, Baler, through the mountains to connect with the current road, then lead to the next town, Dingalan.
The two-lane carriageway from Baler — slated for completion by October — would be 4.5 km long and 6.7 metres wide, said the department.
It would cross sacred ground, where the tribal elders connect with the deities and which should not be disturbed, protested Cipriano, who called it “unjust”.
“Although we may be simple people, native people, we’re human beings who deserve respect,” he said. “(The state’s) utter disregard of our rights in our native land hurts us the most.”