NCIP is back under the Office of the President

President Benigno Aquino III on Monday has ordered the transfer of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) from the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) back to the Office of the President (OP).

Aquino signed Executive Order No. 11, returning the IP body back under his office to “ensure concerted efforts in formulation and implementing policies, programs and projects geared towards the protection and promotion of the rights and welfare of Indigenous Cultural Communities/Indigenous Peoples.”

The NCIP, by virtue of Republic Act No. 8371 or the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA), was created as an independent agency under OP as the primary government agency that will formulate and implement policies, plans and programs to promote and protect the rights and well-being of IP communities and recognize their ancestral domain as well as their rights.

It was first lodged under the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) through Executive Order No. 364 and later on under the DENR through Executive Order No. 726, both under the previous administration.

“There is an urgent need to clearly define the administrative attachment of the NCIP in keeping with the legislative intent, address the needs and aspirations of the Indigenous Cultural Communities/Indigenous Peoples with regards to their rights and welfare by the highest officials of the land, and ensure consistency in policies, programs, project coordination and implementation,” the EO stated.

The President likewise designated Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles as oversight official of the NCIP, and appointed two commissioners who are seasoned peace and IP rights advocates.

The commissioners are Zenaida Brigida Hamada-Pawid, representing Region I and the Cordilleras, and Dionesia Banua, standing for the island groups including Mindoro, Palawan, Romblon, Panay and the rest of Visayas.

It can be recalled that Aquino signed Executive Order No. 2 last July 30, which identifies as ‘midnight appointees’ officials appointed by the President on or after March 11, 2010; appointed prior to March 11 but took their oaths and assumed office after the date; or designated during a 45-day ban under the Omnibus Election Code.

Following the issuance, six out of seven commissioners of the NCIP were affected since they were appointed on March 5 and 8, 2010.

In their letter dated August 9, 2010, the six commissioners – Atty. Noel K. Felongco, Miguel Sia Apostol, Francisca B. Rosquita, Rizalino “Langley” Segundo, Dr. Ronald Adamat and Amalia Apang, appealed to the President to exempt them and some employees from the implementation of EO No. 2.

The letter indicated that all six were appointed before March 11 and took oath after the date.

On Deles’ designation as cabinet oversight official, Pawid said that the peace adviser is a fit choice because among the cabinet members, she is the only one with the qualifications to perform the oversight functions for the NCIP.

“She can articulate and fight for the policies and programs for the IPs because she has worked on IP issues since the National Unification Commission (NUC) days,” she stated.

Being cabinet oversight for NCIP is also not new to Deles having acted in that capacity from 2001 to 2003 while holding the post of National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) head. It was during this time that Deles co-vice chaired with Ret. Gen. Rene de Villa the Task Force 63, a quick response mechanism created by virtue of EO No. 63 to address emergency situations of IPs.

By virtue of law, NCIP was created without a cabinet position rank. Thus, a cabinet oversight was usually assigned to give it a voice in the cabinet.

“The work of the NCIP and OPAPP actually complements each other considering that most IPs are living in conflict-affected areas,” Pawid added.