The Century-old Fight for Indigenous Land

Mateo Cariño and his family, Baguio City (Image: Harvard University)

When does the fight for ancestral land ends? One of the top Philippine news headlines today is the blatant land grabbing from several indigenous peoples groups. In Surigao, the Lumads are battling against military intrusions in their ancestral domains. In Quezon, the Agtas are maximizing their power to prevent the construction of a dam project which can potentially harm the environment and displace them from their hometown. Meanwhile, in the Cordilleras, the descendants of Mateo Cariño have been in an endless struggle as they are reclaiming their stolen land. 

“It’s now 2010, so our long wait for justice is more than a hundred years old,” Joaquin “Jack”  Kintanar Cariño said as he questioned the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) in 2010. After fighting for over a century, Joaquin expresses his dismay as 78 hectares of land in the Baguio City Dairy Farm were baselessly awarded to a dubious claimant, the heirs of Ikang Paus. On the other hand, the Cariño clan still has a pending claim to the entirety of the aforementioned property. 


 Mateo Cariño (Image: Harvard University)

Over a century ago, “Kafagway” served as the home of Ibaloi chief Mateo Cariño’s family and the Ibaloi community. The land property included zones such as Camp John Hay, Rizal Park, and the current Central Business District of Baguio City. It was reported that the chieftain acquired his vast land at the cost of converting to Christianity during the Spanish regime. Hence, he gained the last name Cariño. 

When the Americans arrived in Baguio, the colonizers refused to acknowledge the ownership granted during the Spanish governance, and a military decree was issued to seize Cariño’s land. It was recognized as a reprisal for Cariño due to providing refuge to President Emilio Aguinaldo during his escape to Hong Kong. 

The land dispute case was brought before the US Supreme Court and Mateo Cariño fought for his land rights until his last breath in 1908. In the following year, a landmark ruling was issued recognizing a “native title” for the indigenous inhabitants. It was then called the “Mateo Cariño Doctrine”. The doctrine is not only used for the Indigenous Peoples (IP) of the Philippines but also in other nations such as Canada and New Zealand.  


  Bayosa Ortega (Image: Harvard University)

Even with evidence of lineal descent, the state once again turned its backs on the Cariños when their claim to the Baguio Dairy Farm was junked. The heirs of Ikang Paus allegedly purport to be direct descendants of Bayosa Ortega, the wife of Mateo Cariño. In 2010, the land claim was valued at P3.8M. The nullification of the certificate of the land title was pursued by the administration of Mayor Mauricio Domogan and the Philippine Supreme Court supported it in 2019.

While the ancestor of the Cariño’s legal victory is being used to support the indigenous peoples abroad such as the Maoris of New Zealand, it failed to restore what is rightfully theirs.