By Karl Mico Alangui
I FIRST met Rocky Jake Calde Ngalob (Ngalob for brevity) during our college years at the University of Baguio. Ngalob was a true-blue IP rights advocate and a student leader from the very onset. He advocated for students rights inside the four walls of the university as the elected UB Supreme Student Council (SSC) Deputy Prime Minister. He voiced-out indigenous peoples (IPs) rights as the UB-BIBAK president and as a cultural worker. His advocacy on IP rights transcended outside the walls of the university. I can recall vividly walking alongside him on Session Road leading the student delegation during the “Save 182” movement in the bid to save Luneta Hill from destruction brought about by the expansion of SM. Though the “Save 182” movement fell short and eventually fell to its demise, the crusade was forever cemented in our Philippine jurisprudence years in the case Cordillera Green Network Et Al VS Secretary of DENR, GR No. 215988, April 2019.
Right after graduation, Ngalob practiced his profession as a field journalist inside Northern Dispatch Weekly (Nordis). It is there where I witnessed him immersing in IP communities in the Cordillera. He carried with him his advocacy, as can be gleaned in his numerous published stories of the different IP situations, struggles and victories in the Cordillera. He likewise wrote opinion pieces, mostly unpopular personal views, on current issues and IP rights which irked the powers-that-be.
Ngalob then went to law school and returned to UB where his writing magnified to a more critical and legally-based dissent on IP rights. It was also here where he formally joined “Veritas Legis Fraternitas Est Sororitas kmu est. 2012 (Veritas Legis Fraternitas for Brevity)”. He embraced the vision of Veritas Legis Fraternitas: Salus Populi Est Suprema Lex (The welfare of the People is the Supreme Law) by voluntarily contributing his expertise on IP rights, particularly on the landmark yet complex RA 8371, otherwise known as the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA), and provided paralegal services to the IPs in need of legal services.
He left Nordis and jumped from Benguet State University (BSU) to the University of the Philippines – Baguio to work just to make-ends-meet while in his early law school years. Perhaps, the journalist’s wage could not pay for his law books? Whatever the reason may be, the answer is locked very deep within Ngalob’s shallow pocket. But be that as it may, luck struck Ngalob when he was appointed to the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples – Cordillera Administrative Region (NCIP) – the government agency created by IPRA and was imbued by the same to recognize, promote and protect IP rights. We, the whole of Veritas Legis Fraternitas, rejoiced when we heard of his appointment at the NCIP-CAR, confidently knowing that he would be contributing awesomely not only inside the institution but to the IPs of Cordillera.
Inside the NCIP-CAR, Ngalob was designated as the regional focal point-person for the Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) process. Though he was tasked with the most controversial function of NCIP, continue to believe in him that he will deliver, like he always has, unblemished services free from any evils of corruption and dishonesty. Now in his fifth year, his longest stay inside a government institution, he faced all types of challenges head-on in that time without sacrificing his advocacy on IP rights as envisioned in the IPRA.
While as the regional FPIC Focal Person of NCIP, suspensions were carried-out against project proponents who violated the FPIC process from the Chico River Irrigation Pump Project (CRIPP) in Kalinga, Upper Tabuk Hydro Electric Project (UTHP) also in Kalinga, to the Alfonso Lista Pump Irrigation in Ifugao, just to name a few. His strict monitoring of the FPIC process inside IP Ancestral Domains (ADs) established a very stern warning to project proponents not to violate but to religiously and faithfully follow and recognize the FPIC process as an inherent human right of the IPs in the Cordillera. Numerous show cause orders were issued to suspected FPIC violators by NCIP-CAR when Ngalob was the regional FPIC. Companies like Benguet Corporation, Itogon Suyoc Resource Incorporated, Aboitiz Corporation, HEDCOR Corporation, San Roque Corporation and DITO Telecom, just to name a few, were issued show cause orders.
While performing as the guard-dog of IPs’ right to FPIC, Ngalob also frequently conducted lectures on FPIC, not only as a process but as a human right, to the different universities and IP communities in Cordillera. We heard that together with the Regional Development Council, through the Committee on Indigenous Peoples Concern (RDC-CIPC) and Regional Research Development and Innovation Committee (RRDIC), Ngalob pushed for institutional change particularly for amendments on the FPIC process for the research and documentation on Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Practices (IKSPs). Such a move, if granted its fruition, will aid tremendously to the academic sector in the conduct of IKSP research.
Ngalob’s contributions to the IPs right to FPIC in the Cordillera, through his strict monitoring to implementation, have earned copious resentment from giant corporations. One very controversial FPIC issue that arose just last year was the infamous Gened 1 and 2 mega dams in Apayao. The project may have been given approval by the NCIP Commission En Banc and the same was announced publicly, but issues and controversies emanating therefrom seemingly cannot be cloaked by the NCIP’s approval and series of press releases. Ngalob, who was then one of the reviewers of the FPIC process, fearlessly wrote and published articles entitled: 1) “Gened Dam Opens the Flood Gates Drowning the FPIC Guidelines” in Nordis; 2) “Behind the desk – dissecting the paradoxes of the FPIC process” in Baguio Chronicle; 3) “Denying IPs of Separate FPIC in Cases of Relocation is a Prelude to Ethnocide” in Midland Courier; and 4) “EVOSS Law Weakens FPIC” also in Midland, to directly and indirectly negate the NCIP Commission En Banc’s decision on approving the controversial Gened Mega Dams inside the Ancestral Domains of the Isnag IPs of Apayao. These published articles were Ngalob’s gesture to expose violations of IP rights to FPIC being tolerated or condoned by his office. A testament to Ngalob’s character as a principled civil servant upholding IPs’ right to FPIC as an inherent human right.
His dissent against his office’s approval of the Gened Dams which he believes violated the IPs’ right to FPIC culminated in his reassignment at the NCIP-Benguet Provincial Office last September 2021; thus, leaving his original post as the regional FPIC for the Cordillera at the NCIP-CAR Regional Office. A punishment maybe by his office for staying-true to his work and advocacy, or probably he could no longer stomach the acts of those in authority breathing down his neck? We like to think that the reason is the latter because when he was reassigned at the NCIP Benguet Provincial Office, a lot of controversial issues were unearthed and are now being rectified by NCIP-Benguet with him as the FPIC member.
Recently, the Mining and Geosciences Bureau – Cordillera Administrative Region (MGB-CAR) was made to publicly admit, through a press conference, of its lapses on the issuance of Exploration Permit 009 in Tuba to Philex Corporation emanation from the EXPA 078, and the renewed MPSA 057-96 to Crescent Mining in Mankayan without satisfying the mandatory FPIC process from the IP community. Though we cannot ascertain for sure that it is Ngalob who caused such an admission, the same cannot be said that it is not a coincidence, knowing that Ngalob is a member of the FPIC in Benguet.
What is certain is that Ngalob, from the onset, has endlessly embraced and upheld IPs’ rights and welfare from his time as a student leader in UB up to this moment as an appointed civil servant no matter what the circumstances are and pressures to twist his arm. His principles and advocacy on IPs’ rights from his student years to this day, are not only still dominant but have been cemented deep within his character which anchors him to stand against the tide compelling him just to go with the flow.
Ngalob’s strict and faithful view on the implementation of FPIC is a direct adherence to IPRA – the only law, outside the 1987 Constitution that recognizes and promotes the rights of IPs Regional Autonomy as enshrined in its provision particularly Section 14.
For the above reasons, we from the Veritas Legis Fraternitas, commend Rocky Ngalob, a principled “IP Champion” of NCIP-Benguet Provincial Office formerly from NCIP-CAR Regional Office, for his valuable contributions to the recognition, protection and promotion of human rights particularly on IP rights to their land, life and resources – particularly to all of the Cordillera’s indigenous cultural communities and ancestral domains.
As a witness to Ngalob’s defense of ancestral domains, indigenous peoples and life of every person in Cordillera’s IP communities, despite surveillance by state forces and the disappointing corruption of his very institution, Veritas Legis Fraternitas commends his living legacy for the present and future generations in this autonomy clamoring region.