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SC: Crime suspects cannot invoke Indigenous Peoples' Rights Act.

THE Supreme Court has ruled that individuals belonging to indigenous cultural communities who are charged with criminal offenses cannot invoke Republic Act 8371, or the Indigenous Peoples' Rights Act (IPRA) of 1997, to evade prosecution and liability under courts law.

In a 19-page decision penned by Associate Justice Marvic M.V.F. Leonen, the Court's Third Division held that the IPRA does not strip the courts of jurisdiction over criminal cases involving indigenous people.

'Nowhere in the Indigenous Peoples' Rights Act does it state that courts of law are to abandon jurisdiction over criminal proceedings in favor of mechanisms applying customary laws,' the Court declared.

The Court made the pronouncement in recent decision where it denied the petition for mandamus filed by Roderick Sumatra also known as Ha Datu Tawahig, tribal chieftain of Higaonon Tribe seeking to compel respondent Cebu Regional Trial Court Branch 12 Presiding Judge Estela Alma Singco and her corespondents, all public prosecutors from Cebu City to honor a January 3, 2007, resolution issued by a body known as the Dadantulan Tribal Court.

The Dadantulan Tribal Court absolved Sumatra of liability for charges of rape and discharged him from criminal, civil and administrative liability.

Sumatra anchored its plea on Section 65 of the IPRA that states: 'When disputes involve ICCs [Indigenous Cultural Communities/IP [Indigenous Peoples], customary laws and practices shall be used to resolve the dispute.'

The Court noted that with the passage of the 1987 Constitution, the IPRA was adopted precisely recognizing that indigenous peoples have been 'resistant to political, social, and cultural inroads of colonization, non-indigenous religions and cultures, and became historically differentiated from the majority of Filipinos

It noted that among the IPRA's provisions on self-governance and empowerment is Section 15.

'The ICCs/IPs shall have the right to use their own commonly accepted justice systems, conflict resolution institutions, peace-building processes or mechanisms, and other customary laws and practices within their respective communities and as may be compatible with the national legal system and with internationally recognized human rights,' Section 15 of the law said.

The SC noted that Section 15 limits indigenous peoples' right to use their own commonly accepted justice systems, conflict resolution institutions, peace-building processes or mechanisms and other customary laws and practices.

It noted that the said provision explicitly states that this right is applicable only 'within their respective communities' and only for as long as it is 'compatible with the national legal system and with internationally recognized human rights.'

'Section 65 is qualified by Section 15. With respect to dispensing justice, resolving conflicts, and peace-building, the application of customary laws and practices is permissible only to the extent that it is in harmony with the national legal system,' the Court ruled. 'A set of customary laws and practices is effective only within the confines of the specific indigenous cultural community that adopted and adheres to it.'

The High Tribunal added that the IPRA 'does not compel courts of law to desist from taking cognizance of criminal cases involving indigenous peoples.

'[The IPRA] expresses no correlative rights and duties in support of petitioner's cause,' the Court said. 'Thus, a writ of mandamus cannot be issued.'

With the ruling, the SC directed the trial court to proceed and resolve with dispatch the rape case filed against Sumatra.

Concurring with the ruling were Associate Justices Diosdado M. Peralta, Andres B. Reyes Jr., Rosmari D. Carandang and Ramon Paul L. Hernando.
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Publication:Business Mirror (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:Jul 15, 2019
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