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Making The Cariño Doctrine: Land Law and Indigenous Rights in the American Colonial Philippines

Sat, April 1, 1:15 to 2:45pm, The Drake Hotel, Huron

Abstract

In 1909 the United States Supreme Court ordered the American-led Philippine Commission to recognize indigenous claims to land ownership regardless of whether the claimants had held paper titles under Spanish law. The decision was a victory for Mateo Cariño, an Ibaloi chieftain from Kafagway, Mountain Province (now Benguet), who sued the Commission for blocking his 1904 attempt to register his farm and grazing lands in the Court of Land Registration. Kafagway and Cariño’s lands were the site of what Commissioners had hoped would become Baguio, the temperate summer capital. In his majority decision, Oliver Wendell Holmes declared that lands that had been held “as far back as memory goes [will be] presumed never to have been public” and could not be expropriated. Though relatively unknown in American law, the decision is today enshrined in Philippine law as the “Cariño Doctrine” and has, on occasion, protected indigenous-held lands from state expropriation for major development projects such as dam construction. Cariño’s win marked the cooperation of the juridical leadership of the Supreme Court and the customary leadership of the Ibaloi against the colonial authority of the Philippine Commission. As such, it suggests the ways in which law can constrain colonial ambition. Yet the decision did not extend to indigenous-held lands in North America nor did it prohibit Baguio from erasing Kafagway. Further, Cariño’s lawyer, a former American soldier named John Haussermann, later acquired rights to upland mines and become the wealthiest American in the Philippines. What then does Cariño’s victory also tell us about how particular environments, indigenous strategies, and political contexts shape the way courts and colonial officials weigh the value of indigenous claims against the potential benefits of displacement? How was protection for indigenous Filipinos enfolded with other processes of privatization, displacement, and the changing face of authority in Benguet Province?

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