Ancestral Rights versus Modern development in the Province of Aurora: The Case of Casiguran Dumagats’ ancestral claims against the Angara’s Flagship Progress by Adrian Avilado Antazo, MBA

Social Justice according to Jose P. Laurel in Calalang vs. Williams 70 Phil. 726 in 1940, is “neither communism, or despotism, nor atomism nor anarchy, but the humanization of laws and the equalization of social and economic forces by the State so that justice in its rational and objectively secular conception may at least be approximated. Social Justice means the promotion of the welfare of all people, the adoption by the Government of measures calculated to insure economic stability of all the component elements of society through the maintenance of proper economic and social equilibrium in the interrelations of the members of the community, constitutionally, through the adoption of measures legally justifiable, or extra-constitutionally, trough the exercise of powers underlying the existence of all governments, on the time-honored principle of salus populi est suprema lex.”1

The Parties

The Dumagats

The Negrito group recognized in literature as Agta, otherwise locally known as Dumagat, can be found along the Pacific coast of the province of Aurora. They inhabit seven hundred square kilometers of dense forest on the eastern flank of the Sierra Madre Mountains of northern Luzon, especially in the municipality of Casiguran. They spread over the ridge to the western flank then to the adjoining province of Nueva Vizcaya. The Negrito are one of the oldest people to populate the various islands of the Philippines. They are said to have arrived in the archipelago between 30,000 to 20,000 years ago at the end of the last glacial period when the sea level started to rise. They were thought to have moved overland and island-hopped, coming from the southwest of the Philippines from the direction of the Indian Ocean. Only two other groups may have come before them in these islands, the first being the Paleolithic Age men of Cagayan Valley in northern Luzon who are dated to have been present as early as 9 million years ago, and the Mamanwa of northeastern Mindanao estimated to have been present in the Lake Mainit area of Agusan del Norte at about 60,000 to 50,000 years ago. Thought earlier as another Negrito group, the Mamanwa were later to be identified as a distinct Proto-Malay population.2

 The Angaras

Former Senator Eduardo Javier Angara was a Filipino politician who served as the President of the Senate of the Philippines from 1993 to 1995. He was a Senator from 1987 to 1998 and again from 2001 to 2013. He also previously served as the President of the University of the Philippines. 3

Former Representative-now Senator Juan Edgardo Manalang Angara was first elected to public office in 2004 as the representative to Congress for the lone district of Aurora, where he succeeded his aunt, Bellaflor J. Angara-Castillo, a three-term representative and erstwhile governor of Aurora. Elected at age 31, he was one of the youngest members of the 13th Congress.

Former Governor-now Representative Bellaflor “Bella” J. Angara-Castillo, is a member of the Philippine House of Representatives representing the lone district of Aurora. She previously served three consecutive terms as governor of Aurora province from 2004 to 2013.

The Contention

In 2007, Senator Edgardo Angara and Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara (Lone District of Aurora) authored Republic Act No. 94903 which created the Aurora Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA), the body tasked to administer the economic zone in Brgy. Motiong, Casiguran, Aurora. Later on, Republic Act No. 10083 was enacted which amended the name to Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport Authority or better known as APECO. The APECO was created to generate jobs and livelihood not only for Aurora but its neighbouring provinces. As a logistics hub, it is a very timely and strategic infrastructure investment for the Philippines catering to Trans-Pacific ocean traffic.4

The Economic Zone is located in the municipality of Casiguran in the province of Aurora, a coastal town in the eastern seaboard of the island of Luzon in the Philippines. It is esteemed as the only Economic Zone(Ecozone) facing the Pacific Ocean, an ideal starting point for the inflow of commerce in the Northeastern quadrangle of Luzon. Aurora Province is a 328-kilometer land area facing the Pacific Ocean ornamented with natural wonders. The Ecozone was purposely situated in the bay area of Casiguran, a naturally protected enclave cradled by the Sierra Madre mountain range and the 12,000-hectare San Ildefonso Peninsula.

APECO was approved without consultation allegedly, with tribal groups, which is contrary to Filipino law.5 The Dumagat indigenous group, who have lived there since the 1900s, subsist on hunting, gathering and fishing and need vast forests and coasts to survive. They are opposing the development, and are asking the Supreme Court to cancel the project. The Dumagats insisted that the enactment of the APECO law encroached their ancestral rights in Casiguran, rights which are protected by Republic Act 8371 also known as The Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) of 1997.” Which provides that the State shall protect the rights of Indigenous Cultural Communities/Indigenous Peoples (ICCs/IPs) to their ancestral domains to ensure their economic, social and cultural well being and shall recognize the applicability of customary laws governing property rights or relations in determining the ownership and extent of ancestral domain;6

The Issues

  1. Whether the claim of the Dumagats to their ancestral rights in Casiguran have legal standing against APECO.
  2. Whether the enactment of APECO without the public consultation and consent of the ICCs/IPs of Casiguran violates their right to due process, which is guaranteed by the constitution and in summation unconstitutional.

The Dumagat Agta has Legal Standing to claim their Ancestral Domain Rights in Casiguran

Section 3 of RA 8371 defined Ancestral Domains as “… all areas generally belonging to Indigenous Cultural Communities/Indigenous Peoples comprising lands, inland waters, coastal areas, and natural resources therein, held under a claim of ownership, occupied or possessed by Indigenous Cultural Communities/Indigenous Peoples, themselves or through their ancestors, communally or individually since time immemorial, continuously to the present except when interrupted by war, force majeure or displacement by force, deceit, stealth or as a consequence of government projects or any other voluntary dealings entered into by government and private individuals, corporations, and which are necessary to ensure their economic, social and cultural welfare. It shall include ancestral land, forests, pasture, residential, agricultural, and other lands individually owned whether alienable and disposable or otherwise, hunting grounds, burial grounds, worship areas, bodies of water, mineral and other natural resources, and lands which may no longer be exclusively occupied by Indigenous Cultural Communities/Indigenous Peoples but from which their traditionally had access to for their subsistence and traditional activities, particularly the home ranges of Indigenous Cultural Communities/Indigenous Peoples who are still nomadic and/or shifting cultivators…”.

The said law also defined ancestral land as “…land occupied, possessed and utilized by individuals, families and clans who are members of the Indigenous Cultural Communities/Indigenous Peoples since time immemorial, by themselves or through their predecessors-in-interest, under claims of individual or traditional group ownership,continuously, to the present except when interrupted by war, force majeure or displacement by force, deceit, stealth, or as a consequence of government projects and other voluntary dealings entered into by government and private individuals/corporations, including, but not limited to, residential lots, rice terraces or paddies, private forests, swidden farms and tree lots…”.

Senator Juan Flavier, author of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act sponsored said law to recognize the rights of the Indigenous Peoples based on two postulate, (1) the concept of native title; and (2) the principle of parens patriae. The IPRA was enacted to address the century old neglect of the Philippine Government to the community of Indigenous People.

 According to Senator Flavier, “[w]hile our legal tradition subscribes to the Regalian Doctrine reinstated in Section 2, Article XII of the 1987 Constitution,” our “decisional laws” and jurisprudence passed by the State have “made exception to the doctrine.” This exception was first laid down in the case of Cariño v. Insular Government where “x x x the court has recognized long occupancy of land by an indigenous member of the cultural communities as one of private ownership, which, in legal concept, is termed “native title.” This ruling has not been overturned. In fact, it was affirmed in subsequent cases.” And under the principle of parens patriae inherent in the supreme power of the State and deeply embedded in Philippine legal tradition. This principle mandates that persons suffering from serious disadvantage or handicap, which places them in a position of actual inequality in their relation or transaction with others, are entitled to the protection of the State.

“The Indigenous Cultural Communities, including the Bangsa Moro, have long suffered from the dominance and neglect of government controlled by the majority. Massive migration of their Christian brothers to their homeland shrunk their territory and many of the tribal Filipinos were pushed to the hinterlands. Resisting the intrusion, dispossessed of their ancestral land and with the massive exploitation of their natural resources by the elite among the migrant population, they became marginalized. And the government has been an indispensable party to this insidious conspiracy against the Indigenous Cultural Communities (ICCs). It organized and supported the resettlement of people to their ancestral land, which was massive during the Commonwealth and early years of the Philippine Republic. Pursuant to the Regalian Doctrine first introduced to our system by Spain through the Royal Decree of 13 February 1894 or the Maura Law, the government passed laws to legitimize the wholesale landgrabbing and provide for easy titling or grant of lands to migrant homesteaders within the traditional areas of the ICCs.”

According to the late Senator Flavier, “The IPs are the offsprings and heirs of the peoples who have first inhabited and cared for the land long before any central government was established. Their ancestors had territories over which they ruled themselves and related with other tribes. These territories- the land- include people, their dwelling, the mountains, the water, the air, plants, forest and the animals. This is their environment in its totality. Their existence as indigenous peoples is manifested in their own lives through political, economic, socio-cultural and spiritual practices. The IPs culture is the living and irrefutable proof to this. Their survival depends on securing or acquiring land rights; asserting their rights to it; and depending on it. Otherwise, IPs shall cease to exist as distinct peoples.”7

It is crystal clear that the Indigenous People of Dumagat has legal standing in their claim of ownership to their ancestral lands in Casiguran. The Indigenous Peoples Rights Act well defined these said rights and instructed the State to ensure the protection of it for the preservation of Indigenous People’s culture and way of life. It grants these people the ownership and possession of their ancestral domains and ancestral lands, and defines the extent of these lands and domains. The ownership given is the indigenous concept of ownership under customary law which traces its origin to native title.8

Free and Prior Informed Consent of all members of the Indigenous Cultural Communities/Indigenous Peoples is indispensable

The enactment of APECO without the consent of the Indigenous Cultural Communities/Indigenous Peoples is an enormous defect of the said law. Free and Prior Informed Consent of the Indigenous Cultural Communities/Indigenous Peoples equates to the “right to due process” which is a guarantee upheld and protected no less than the Supreme Law of the land, the Constitution. Without the Free and Prior Informed Consent of the Indigenous Cultural Communities/Indigenous Peoples through public consultation, the enactment of the said law violates the constitutional rights of the Indigenous Cultural Communities/Indigenous Peoples to be heard and was deprived of the Due Process.

During the meeting of the representatives of the Indigenous Cultural Communities/Indigenous Peoples and the Creator of the APECO, then Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara admitted and I quote “We admit na nagkulang talaga kami sa widespread consultation,dahil sa pressure rin po yan sa pagsasabatas ng APECO Law, ang nangyayari po diyan ay naghe-hearing at mabilisan po yan, talagang iniis-schedule, so ang ikini-consult po naming ay yung barangays, barangay leaders, mayor, sanguniang bayan at saka sanguniang panlalawigan ho. So maaring, aminado naman kami na nagkulang kami sa pagkonsulta sa ibat ibang sector…”.9

Existing jurisprudence also favoured the indispensability of due process and public consultation to the affected person and communities prior the enactment of any laws. In the case of Guido v. Rural Progress Administration (84 Phil. 847) may have been modified in some ways by the provisions of the new Constitution on agrarian and urban land reform and on housing. The principle of non-appropriation of private property for private purposes, however, remains. The legislature, according to the Guido case, may not take the property of one citizen and transfer it to another, even for a full compensation, when the public interest is not thereby promoted. The Government still has to prove that expropriation of commercial properties in order to lease them out also for commercial purposes would be “public use” under the Constitution10  In the case of Tiongson vs NHA (G.R. No. L-55166), “…the decrees, do not by themselves, provide for any form of hearing or procedure by which the petitioners can question the propriety of the expropriation of their properties or the reasonableness of the just compensation. Having failed to provide for a hearing, the Government should have filed an expropriation case under Rule 67 of the Revised Rules of Court but it did not do so. Obviously, it did not deem it necessary because of the enactment of the questioned decrees which rendered, by their very passage, any questions with regard to the expropriation of the properties, moot and academic. In effect, the properties, under the decrees were “automatically expropriated.” This became more evident when the NHA wrote the Register of Deeds and requested her to cancel the certificate of titles of the petitioners, furnishing said Register of Deeds only with copies of the decrees to support its request. This is hardly the due process of law which the state is expected to observe when it exercises the power of eminent domain…”11

The failure of the Angaras and the legislation in conducting public consultation, providing the right to due process, and attain a Free and Prior Informed Consent from the Indigenous Cultural Communities/Indigenous Peoples inviolate of the Constitutional guarantees.


“He who has less in life should have more in law.” — President Ramon Magsaysay

The Indigenous Peoples Rights Act was enacted to protect the rights of our Indigenous Cultural Communities/Indigenous Peoples who are often in the disadvantage due to lack of knowledge in our political, civil, and judicial system. These people are often lack the faculties to fight for their rights. It should be the task of the Government to protect these rights, Rights which are older that our government and our modern civilization. It is the duty of each and every one of us to look back into our history, our history prior the arrival of the colonizers on our land. We must help the Indigenous Cultural Communities/Indigenous Peoples in preserving our pre-spanish culture. The executive department must exercise its power vested to him, not just to execute the laws, but to scrutinize if the law is not just for the benefit of the many, but also for the benefit of the weak and the powerless. The legislation must observe there true agenda in our congress, and that is to be the representative of the people in the plenary of the legislature. They must ensure that all stakeholders, large or small, influential or not, prominent or voiceless, must be considered before any law is enacted. They must embody the true intention of the Constitution as their purpose, and that is to be the true representative of the people.

Representative Greg Andolana of North Cotabato during his sponsorhip speech of House Bill No. 9125, March 20, 1997 which eventually became  the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act:

“…This Representation, as early as in the 8th Congress, filed a bill of similar implications that would promote, recognize the rights of indigenous cultural communities within the framework of national unity and development … xxx … is our obligation, the government’s obligation to assure and ascertain that these rights shall be well-preserved and the cultural traditions as well as the indigenous laws that remained long before this Republic was established shall be preserved and promoted. There is a need… to look into these matters seriously and early approval of the substitute bill shall bring into reality the aspirations, the hope and the dreams of more than 12 million Filipinos that they be considered in the mainstream of the Philippine society as we fashion for the year 2000.”12

Wherefore, with the facts available to me, I believe that the enactment of APECO although it will contribute to the development and growth of the Philippine Economy, was enacted contrary to our Constitution’s Intention and purpose. When the APECO law was enacted without the Free and Prior Informed Consent from the Indigenous Cultural Communities/Indigenous Peoples, it not only violated the rights of the Indigenous Cultural Communities/Indigenous Peoples to due process, it also violates the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act and its intention and purpose.


  1. A. Azucena 2016, THE LABOR CODE with Comments and Cases Vol.1 Labor Standard and Welfare, Rex Bookstore, page 11.
  2. Agta Dumagat,
  3. Former Senate President Edgardo Angara Dies, –
  5. Ditsi Carolino (2014), The March To Progress in the Philippines, Viewfinder –
  6. The Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997.
  7. Sponsorship Speech of Senator Flavier, Legislative History of SBN 1728, Tenth Congress, Second Regular Session, Senate, Oct. 16, 1996, pp. 15-16.
  8. R. Puno, Dissenting Opinion (2000), Cruz vs Secretary DENR GR 135385, December 6, 2000
  9. Ditsi Carolino (2014), The March To Progress in the Philippines, Viewfinder –, Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara (7:36-8:03)
  10. Guido v. Rural Progress Administration (84 Phil. 847)
  11. Tiongson vs NHA (G.R. No. L-55166)
  12. Sponsorship speech of Rep. Andolana of House Bill No. 9125, March 20, 1997.

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