The Supreme Court has affirmed a 10-year old decision of the Court of Appeals that denied a petition of several individuals belonging to the Ibaloi and Kankana-ey tribes of Benguet to reverse a ruling of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples that upheld its issuance of certificates of
ancestral land title in 2007.

In a 24-page decision dated Jan. 16, 2023 released only last week and penned by Senior Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, the Supreme Court denied the Petition for Review on Certiorari involving the certificates of ancestral land title covering almost 77,585 square meters of land located in Pinsao, Baguio City issued by the NCIP to Maximo Bugnay Sr., who has been elected as the Indigenous Peoples Mandatory Representative of Baguio City this year.

The petition was filed by Gabriel B. Diclas, Antonia S. Dianson, Carlos Ansis, Joseph A. Soypaan, Corazon Soypaan, Rita Biador, Merto Saldet, Imelda Ingosan, Myrna Basanes, Grace Solano,
Marcelo Catanes, Valentino C. Sec-open, Dixson S. Anches, Carlos Anches, Jr. and Francis Que, Jr. after the Court of Appeals affirmed on April and October 2013 the rulings of the NCIP denying their petition to cancel the ancestral land titles issued to Bugnay.

The petitioners claimed to be the owners and long-time possessors of the ancestral land covered by certificates of ancestral land title issued in favor of Bugnay. Some of them alleged they are the
descendants of a certain Bilag, one of the pioneer Ibaloi families and was a claimant of ancestral lands in Baguio City. They claimed that the matriarch of the Bilag clan inherited portions of the disputed parcels of land from Bilag, who they claimed has occupied these parcels of land since time immemorial.

In their petitions before the NCIP and Court of Appeals, Diclas and co-petitioners claimed that Bugnay committed fraud in securing his certificate of ancestral land titles through conflicting representations in his application. They also claimed that the Court of Appeals erred in ruling that
they, the petitioners, failed to establish that they have acquired a vested right over the subject parcels of land, that Bugnay did not comply with the requirement of publication when he applied for recognition of his ancestral land claim at the NCIP, and that Bugnay failed to comply with the mandatory requirements of delineation and recognition of ancestral lands resulting in a violation of the petitioners’ right to due process.

In denying the petition, the Supreme Court relied on the findings of the Court of Appeals, which upon review affirmed the decision of NCIP in its ruling on April 2013 and in its denial of the petitioners’ motion for reconsideration on October 2013. The Court of Appeals ruled Diclas et al. failed to prove their vested rights over the parcels of land as demonstrated by their failure to comply with the requirements for a townsite sales application.

“While petitioners assert a better right than the respondent (Bugnay), they submitted no evidence before this court to prove their claim of longtime occupation and possession. The supporting documents they allegedly submitted before the NCIP to prove their claim were not attached to the petition for review. Additionally, while they represent to be Bilag’s descendants, no proof confirming this allegation was present,” the Supreme Court ruled.

As to the alleged noncompliance of Bugnay with procedural requirements, the Supreme Court relied on the findings of the Court of Appeals that Bugnay had substantially complied with the requirements for the issuance of his certificates of ancestral land title: he submitted the correct application form, it was accompanied by supporting documents and ocular inspections were conducted before his application was submitted to the NCIP director for evaluation.

The Supreme Court also ruled the petitioners failed to present evidence supporting their claim that
the requirements for publication in a newspaper of general publication and posting of the ancestral land claim of Bugnay were not complied with. “Petitioners again failed to submit before this Court evidence to support their contentions. They attached no evidence, documentary or otherwise, to prove respondent’s noncompliance and non-submission.

Such being the case, this Court has no means to ascertain the truthfulness of their claims,” Leonen
wrote in the decision. The Supreme Court added, “We are constrained to rely on the factual findings of the Court of Appeals that respondent (Bugnay) had substantially complied with the requirements of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act, negating any violation of petitioners’(Diclas et al.) right to due process.”

Amianan Balita Ngayon