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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

“After EDSA: A Mindanaoan Indigenous Peoples Perspective” by Josephine C. Turner


“After EDSA: A Mindanaoan Indigenous Peoples Perspective”1
February 16, 2007 (Saturday, 2-4 PM)
Galing Foundation, Inc (GFI),
& Alpharetta Public Library

Who are the Indigenous Peoples?

People who inhabited a land before it was conquered by colonial societies and who consider themselves distinct from the societies currently governing those territories are called Indigenous Peoples.

As defined by the United Nations Special Rapporteur to the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, Indigenous communities, peoples and nations are

…those which having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, consider themselves distinct from other sectors of societies now prevailing in those territories, or parts of them. They form at present non-dominant sectors of society and are determined to preserve, develop, and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity, as the basis of their continued existence as peoples, in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institutions and legal systems.

“Indigenous peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development”

Self-determination: The right of a cohesive national group (“peoples”) living in a territory to choose for themselves a form of political and legal organization for that territory.

Tribal Filipinos, also referred to as indigenous cultural communities (ICCs) by the 1987

Philippine Constitution and "indigenous peoples" by organized tribal Filipinos themselves, constitute at least 10 percent of the Philippine population; an estimated 6 million live in upland forest zones. They are found all over the Philippine archipelago, but are concentrated in the hilly regions of the country, particularly in Northern Luzon, the islands of Mindoro and Palawan, and the interiors of Mindanao.

Marcos Regime’s Implications Affecting Indigenous Peoples

Since 1972, with the declaration of martial law by the late President Ferdinand Marcos (which was officially lifted in 1981), inappropriate government policies, inadequate or non-existent basic social services, state-sponsored resettlement, missionary work, trade and commerce, militarization, and the encroachment into ancestral lands by lowland migrants, loggers, miners, ranchers and agribusiness corporations, have all combined to alter drastically the traditional relationships between the ICCs and their ancestral lands.

Land and the Tribal Worldview

In a 1977 seminar-workshop on "Tribal Groups and their Worldview" conducted by

Roman Catholic church workers in Mindanao with 54 representatives of 15 Mindanao groups, one of the questions discussed was: How do you view land? To this question, the answers were (Anonymous, n.d.; Cullen, n.d.):

1. Land is a gift from God which provides everything needed to sustain life. Land

is a source of life.

2. The earth is owned by God but since humans were created by God, they have

the right to develop the land and are therefore the secondary owners. When they

die, they return to the land.

3. Land cannot be sold or bought since according to one group, the Tiruray, land

is both mother and father.

4. Land cannot be divided, only the fruits of the land can be divided.

5. Land is plentiful and could be sold cheaply, that is, the steward rights may be


In another consultation conducted in Mindanao in 1985 by the Episcopal Commission on

Tribal Filipinos (ECTF) of the Roman Catholic Church, representatives of 11 Mindanao tribes responded to the question: What is your concept of land, its ownership and its use?

(Anonymous, 1985). The responses by the representatives from the ICCs were similar to those obtained during the 1977 seminar-workshop. The summary is worth quoting in full:

According to the tribal participants, land is a blessing and a giftfrom God and is, therefore, sacred. It is the source of life of the people, like a mother that nurtures her child. Consequently, ... land is life. Land is also seen as a symbol of identity. It symbolizes their historical identity because they see it as an ancestral heritage that is to be defended and preserved for all future generations. It symbolizes their local identity because they believe that wherever they are born, there too shall they die and be buried,

and their own graves are proof of their rightful ownership of the land. It symbolizes their tribal identity because it stands for their unity, and if the land is lost, the tribe, too, shall be lost. Ownership of the land is seen as vested upon the community as a whole. The right to ownership is acquired through ancestral occupation and active production. To them, it is not right for anybody to sell the land because it does not belong to only one generation, but should be preserved for all future generations.

The 1987 Philippines Constitution and

RA 8371 Provisions for the Indigenous Peoples

National Land and Resources Law viz. Tribal Filipinos

The 1987 Philippine Constitution provides that the state recognize and promote the rights

of ICCs within a framework of unity and development (Art. III, Sec. 22). The state shall also recognize, respect and protect the rights of ICCs to preserve and develop their cultures, traditions and institutions and shall consider these in the formulation of national plans (Art. XV, Sec. 17). Furthermore, the State shall protect the rights of ICCs to their ancestral lands to ensure their economic, social, and cultural well-being and may provide for the applicability of customary laws governing property rights in determining the ownership and extent of ancestral domain (Art. XII, Sec. 5).

The intent of these Constitutional provisions is to recognize the rights of ICCs as

communities. As yet however, more than 4 years after the ratification of the Constitution, there has been no legislation to provide for the official documentation and registration of the ICCs' ancestral lands or domains. One explanation for this inaction is the dominance of a legal mindset that refuses to acknowledge the validity of land and land ownership concepts other than those already entrenched in the national legal system; the latter in essence recognizes only private individual land ownership, both documented and demarcated.

Refusing to accept indigenous concepts of land and land ownership, government officials

point to the Constitution's convenient endorsement of the Regalian Doctrine, by which all lands of the public domain, waters, minerals, coal, petroleum, forests or timber, wildlife, flora and fauna are owned by the State and that all resources, except agricultural lands, shall not be alienated (Art. XII, Sec. 2). They cite other laws all of which have their roots in Philippine colonial history and have been uncritically carried over into Philippine Constitutions, national laws and degrees.

The 1997 Republic Act 8371 otherwise known as the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA), elaborates and defines institutional mechanisms for the implementation of these rights. Other pro-indigenous constitutional provisions were elaborated by IPRA, which thus serves as a legal framework for indigenous peoples' rights that was absent in earlier legislation. It was however received with mixed reactions – with strong objection from powerful corporate lobbies, to full support from the churches, academe and some rights advocacy groups, to guarded optimism and even rejection by many grassroots indigenous organizations. Pro-mining groups challenged IPRA's constitutionality twice before the Supreme Court, invoking the Regalian Doctrine (a principle in law which means that all natural wealth - agricultural, forest or timber, and mineral lands of the public domain and all other natural resources belong to the state). Both instances produced a deadlock. Hence, key legal questions persist even as the law remains in effect.

Aside from legal inconsistencies and ambiguities in IPRA itself, there are political factors that weaken the law and hamper its full implementation. As a President-appointed implementing body, the NCIP is crippled by the lack of electoral mandate from indigenous constituencies, on the one hand, and a lack of political support from the Chief Executive on the other. Meanwhile, other executive departments have been more aggressive in implementing laws with contrary provisions, such as the Revised Forestry Code and the 1995 Mining Act.

Current Central Issues Affecting the Indigenous Peoples of the Philippines According to the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA)

This section takes up issues that are of importance to the indigenous peoples in the Philippines:

Human Rights Violation
Development Aggression
Land Titles
Poverty, health, education and gender issues
1. Human rights violations

Indigenous communities and organizations all over the country are being ravaged by worsening militarization and human rights abuses, especially with the relentless and nationwide political killings that started when President Macapagal-Arroyo took power in 2001. This trend has worsened with the recent declaration of all-out war by the government against the Left, which includes a wide range of organizations suspected of being "legal fronts" for insurgent groups.

According to documentation from KAMP (a national federation of indigenous organizations) and KARAPATAN (an independent national human rights alliance in the Philippines), there have been around 33,000 indigenous victims of human rights abuses, of which 747 are victims of political killings, indiscriminate firing and massacres. As of September 9, 2006, 96 cases of killings had been committed against indigenous peoples in the Philippines during the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (i.e. since January 2001).

In its latest report "Philippines, Political Killings, Human Rights and the Peace Process (August 2006)", Amnesty International concluded that the killings in the Philippines are politically motivated. For the many victims, human rights organizations and advocates, the pattern of killings is clearly linked to Oplan Bantay Laya (Operation Plan Freedom Watch), which is the presidential administration's 5-year counter-insurgency program. It took off in January 2002 and is programmed to culminate in 2007 with a view to: 1) immediately defeating the Abu Sayaf ; 2) actively containing the Moro Islamic Liberation Front secessionists; and 3) halting the growth of the communist movement.

Increasingly, under the Oplan Bantay Laya, military death squads have targeted not merely rural villagers suspected of harboring insurgents but prominent indigenous leaders and elders. They include Nicanor de los Santos, secretary-general of the Makabayang Samahan ng Katutubong Dumagat (killed in December 2001) and Markus Bangit, a regional officer of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (killed in June 2006). The serious concern over the Oplan Bantay Laya is that it does not make a distinction between legal, aboveground, unarmed political dissent and armed rebellion. It does not distinguish civilians from combatants.

2. Militarization

Every Philippine president from Marcos onwards has declared their own version of a "Total War Policy" against rebel groups such as the Communist Party of the Philippines, the New People's Army and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Many indigenous areas are seen as popular bases for the rebels and subjected to large-scale, intensive and sustained army-police operations. Among the indigenous territories, Mindanao and Northern Luzon were the most militarized from 1972 to 1986. Since1986, despite peace talks, one indigenous area after another has reeled from such operations. Particularly vulnerable are localities where planned or ongoing mining, energy and similar projects have been met with strong popular resistance.

Militarized indigenous areas are awash with relentless human rights violations, including: bombardment, burning and forced re-concentration of villages; imposition of food blockades and "free-fire zones" on certain areas; extrajudicial killings, abductions, torture, and sexual molestation; illegal searches and looting of homes and offices; violent dispersal of legitimate protests; and psychological war types of intimidation. Most of the victims are non-combatant civilians, including leaders of legitimate organizations, tribal elders, women and children.

In 2005, a detailed Armed Forces of the Philippines manual, entitled Knowing the Enemy, explicitly identified indigenous areas as "guerrilla bases" and thus targets of massive troop deployments. The Armed Forces of the Philippines recruits paramilitary forces from among indigenous communities. These units are notorious perpetrators of human rights abuses and criminal activities, even as they assume the deceptive guise of "indigenous armies", such as the Cordillera Peoples Liberation Army in the Cordillera, and Alsa Lumad and Alamara in Mindanao.

Apart from the direct victims of violence, militarization disrupts many aspects of indigenous life, from routine farm work to the conduct of rituals. It erodes community cohesion, fuels armed feuds among tribes and clans, and hastens the influx of vice, criminality, prostitution and other forms of abuse against women. Indigenous organizations and human rights advocates have filed tomes of documented complaints with government and non-government agencies, including United Nations bodies, but few have culminated in legal action.

3. Development aggression

Through laws such as the Public Land Act of 1902, the Revised Forestry Code of 1975, the National Integrated Protected Area System Act and the 1995 Mining Act, vast untitled areas have been classified as inalienable public lands, and the natural resources declared as state-owned. Hence, the state and big business have treated indigenous areas largely as a resource base for "national development". They have denied pre-existing native rights over these lands and resources, making indigenous peoples "squatters" on their own lands.

Indigenous peoples' territories are rich in natural resources and vital minerals such as gold, copper and silver. The state has consistently granted big companies easy access to timberlands, mineral lands, agricultural land and even national parks through patents, licenses, permits, concessions, long-term leases and eco-tourism or biodiversity schemes. Government projects in these areas are geared towards providing the infrastructure, power, finance and labor needs of such businesses.

Some examples: of the government's 23 priority large-scale mining prospects, 18 are located in indigenous peoples' territories. The indigenous land area covered by mining applications totaled 14, 498,526 hectares as of February 2001, or 48.3% of the Philippines' total land area. To date, there are seven mega-dams built on indigenous peoples' territories and more dams are planned.

Large-scale extractive and commercial operations typically conflict with indigenous peoples' land rights, livelihoods and ways of life. Many indigenous communities have been dispossessed of and dislocated from their ancestral lands; most remain uncompensated to this day. Indigenous access has been greatly restricted, even for merely traditional subsistence activities such as hunting, gathering, swidden farming and small-scale mining. Mineral, timber, wildlife and soil resources are being depleted, and watershed areas destroyed. Mined-out areas are left un-rehabilitated. River systems, on which indigenous peoples greatly depend for fresh water needs and as an additional food source, are polluted by mine tailings and depleted by deforestation.

Opposition to what is being referred to as 'development aggression' is strong among indigenous peoples who not only fail to benefit economically but who also bear the brunt of environmental degradation. The website of the Philippine Indigenous Peoples Link (PIPLinks) provides further information on these issues.

4. Land titles

Under the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA), several tribes have received Certificates of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT). But, in general, the ancestral domain (AD) titling process has been slow, cumbersome and prone to problems, while corporate interests encroaching on ADs enjoy more legal protection. In early 2005, the Ancestral Domains Office of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) issued a claim book outline. The claim book is the basic document, which the NCIP studies and deliberates upon to decide whether or not a CADT is to be awarded. Feedback from assisting organizations is that, ironically, the NCIP's attempts to clarify procedures have resulted in further bureaucratization of the process, to the detriment of traditional concepts and practices. In other words: titling has not been made easier for indigenous communities. Many indigenous communities have thus become disappointed with IPRA and decided to explore other avenues for asserting their land rights.

5. Poverty, health, education and gender issues

Most indigenous communities remain poor, and the spread of a cash economy has pushed up the prices of basic commodities in the interior villages. In far-flung rural areas in particular, the state has largely neglected the need for alternative livelihoods and the delivery of social services such as health, education and community infrastructure. This is made worse by the privatization, commodification, under-funding and increased cost of such services, the impact of which is felt most in the least accessible areas, where most indigenous peoples live.

Statistics thus consistently show that human development indicators are lower, and poverty indicators higher, for indigenous areas. Particularly high incidences of morbidity among indigenous women and children are due to malnutrition, poor sanitation and lack of access to health care, aggravated by militarized or internal-refugee conditions.

Literacy rates are lowest in Mindanao's Lumad areas and among the Negrito groups, again due to poverty, lack of school facilities and the insensitivity of most school curricula to indigenous language and culture. Long-standing distortions of history and culture in school curricula, textbooks and the mass media have not been rectified, thus allowing misconceptions and discriminatory attitudes against indigenous peoples to persist. Valuable aspects of indigenous culture are being lost, or distorted and commercialized, thus undermining the cultural integrity of indigenous peoples.

Indigenous women are typically hit the hardest by poverty and militarization, both of which tend to fuel more violence against women. Due to worsening poverty and a lack of livelihoods, a growing number of indigenous peoples (mostly women) are turning to overseas contract work; it is estimated that more than 50,000 indigenous women are now working abroad.


Ponciano L. Bennagen.Tribal Filipinos. Center for Holistic Community Development, Inc. Quezon City, Philippines

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