By: Jonathan Vincent U. Yusi
On April 11, 2016, the Aquino administration, through the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA), held a groundbreaking ceremony in Capas, Tarlac. This event marked the beginning of the road to establishing the country’s first clean, green, and sustainable city. At the helm of the project is the BCDA, a development corporation tasked with converting military reservations into economic zones. The issues, however, began piling up soon after the city’s development began. Claims of Aeta displacement in Tarlac made their way to headlines. Reports soon unraveled the extent of the problem through the stories of those who have already been affected by the initial phases of the project.
To be clear, it is undisputed that the New Clark City (NCC) will benefit a vast majority of Filipinos. Aside from being a viable solution to congestion and pollution in Luzon’s major cities, it will also provide job opportunities as it entices both foreign and domestic investors. That said, it is imperative upon the government to take due notice of the possible effects the said project would have on those who are considered the minority. The administration should not merely dismiss the claims of displacement even if those affected number only in the hundreds to a few thousand. While constructing a ‘green city’ is a step in the right direction, the ends do not justify the means.
Throughout recent years, the BCDA has argued that Tarlac’s disputed grounds are under its ownership, as these are within a military reservation and, consequently, form part of the Clark Special Economic Zone (CSEZ). The basis of this assertion is Proclamation No. 163 that provided for the creation of the CSEZ, comprising of the Clark Airbase Proper and portions of the Clark reverted baselands such as Camp O’Donnell in Capas, Tarlac. The said proclamation specified that the BCDA shall be the governing body of the CSEZ, in compliance with Section 15 of the Bases Conversion and Development Act of 1992.
Furthermore, the BCDA has consistently asserted that no indigenous communities are displaced because no Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) covers the areas contested. The purpose of the issuance of a CADT is to officially recognize the applied property as an ancestral land or domain. Therefore, the lack of such a title could only mean that no ancestral domain is within the terrain in question. With the abovementioned arguments, the BCDA admonished critics by stating that any reports of displacement are nothing but “fake news”.
On the other hand, some Aetas in Capas, Tarlac claim to have been in continuous possession of the disputed lands for as far back as memory reaches. The head of Asosyason ng Katutubong Mahawang told reporters that the indigenous community of Capas had occupied the ancestral domain years ahead of Spain’s colonization of the Philippines. This declaration of continuous possession finds support in the landmark case of Cariño v. Insular Government, where the Court ruled that domains and lands held under native title are presumed to have never been public lands. The Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act of 1997 (IPRA), adopting the ruling in Carino, defines native titles as those pre-conquest rights to lands or domains which, since time immemorial, have been held under a claim of private ownership by ICCs/IPs, have never been public lands and are thus indisputably presumed to have been held that way since before the Spanish Conquest.
Moreover, as early as 1999, the Aetas have consistently applied for a CADT. However, their applications have gone unnoticed and unanswered despite numerous requests throughout the years. Jurisprudence lays out that the issuance of a CADT is merely a recognition of ownership already vested in them by their predecessors-in-interests’ possession of the property since time immemorial. The non-granting thereof, despite multiple follow-ups from the applicants, can only mean that the lack of a valid ancestral domain title is not due to lapses on the Aetas’ side. Instead, it could indicate a lack of willingness on the part of the government to grant what is due to the indigenous groups in Tarlac.
At the very least, the conflicting reports throughout the years could only point to the project’s divisive nature. On the one hand, the government hopes that the NCC will be the city that brings the country to greater heights as the first of its kind. On the other, the city’s continued construction means the Aetas have to live in constant fear of having their lands eventually taken away from them.
Bridging the Gap
The Indigenous Cultural Communities (ICCs) or Indigenous Peoples (IPs) are protected by no less the Philippine Constitution. Section 5, Article XII calls upon the State to protect the ICCs/IPs’ rights to their ancestral lands to ensure their economic, social, and cultural well-being. The IPRA further reinforces these rights by recognizing that they are a distinct sector of society whose lands do not form part of the public domain. These lands are private properties belonging to them because of their continuous occupation and utilization of the same under the claim of ownership since time immemorial.
Additionally, social justice requires that those who have less in life should have more in law. While the Aetas are people rich in culture and tradition, they are highly dependent on the land they occupy. To deprive them of their ancestral lands and plunge them into a world of unfamiliarity would take away not only the property that has been with them for generations, but also their source of livelihood. The BCDA argues that any indigenous people affected by the project would be compensated and relocated within the NCC. However, ancestral lands, more often than not, hold more importance than just monetary value. They are home to, in essence, the history of our first people.
The NCC is known as a ‘green city’ because out of 9450 hectares, only about 3000 hectares would be for infrastructure. The rest, particularly the surrounding area, would be left as it is and used as green open spaces. Given that the majority of the site will not be for residential and commercial structures, then it may still be possible to leave the remaining ancestral lands untouched. Even if the current blueprint for the city requires that the disputed lands be taken and developed, there may be time to make changes that would stand to benefit those greatly affected.
While the completion of the New Clark City is with the public’s best interest in mind, it does not equate to the forfeiture of the rights of those involved. Although considerably small compared to those who stand to benefit from the project, the number of those affected should not justify the displacement of the concerned families, particularly the indigenous tribes. The Aetas of Tarlac are Filipinos as well; the laws and Constitution of the country protect them just as much as other citizens. If it is indeed the goal of the BCDA to create the most inclusive city, then the Aetas’ rights to their lands should be given equal consideration as its other goals.
 Office of Civil Defense, (n.d.), Pres. Aquino Leads Groundbreaking of Country’s First Smart, Green and Disaster-Resilient Metropolis, http://www.ocd.gov.ph/news/196-pres-aquino-leads-groundbreaking-of-country-s-first-smart-green-and-disaster-resilient-metropolis.html
 Rep. Act No. 7227: Bases Conversion and Development act of 1992
 Krixia Subingsubing & Mariejo Ramos, P607-B CLARK ‘GREEN CITY’ TO DISPLACE AETA COMMUNITIES, INQUIRER, (July 08, 2019).
 The BCDA Group, (August 22, 2018), https://www.facebook.com/TheBCDAGroup/posts/1685676088207590
 Ratziel San Juan, BCDA on Aeta eviction notice: No forcible demolition in New Clark City, PHILSTAR, (December 5, 2019), https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2019/12/05/1974513/bcda-aeta-eviction-notice-no-forcible-demolition-new-clark-city
 Mateo Cariño v. The Insular Government, G.R. No. 2869, March 25, 1907.
 Sec. 3 (j), Rep. Act No. 8371: The Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act of 1997
 Tony La Viña, [ANALYSIS] Aetas and New Clark: Trampling on human rights of our first peoples, RAPPLER, (December 10, 2019), https://rappler.com/voices/thought-leaders/analysis-aetas-new-clark-city-trampling-on-human-rights
 Lamsis v. Dong-e, G.R. No. 173021, October 20, 2010
 Roy Canivel, ‘Crazy’ New Clark City dream moves closer to reality, INQUIRER, (October 16, 2019), https://business.inquirer.net /281187/crazy-new-clark-city-dream-moves-closer-to-reality
Featured Photo credit: Bernice Beltran, accessed from The Diplomat.