Indigenous peoples’ (IP) culture and survival are connected with their land and resources. Through their knowledge and sustainable practices, they preserved the richness of their vast territories, ensuring the needs of the next generation. However, the past and present administrations have treated the IP’s ancestral domains and lands as resource-based. Laws and policies that favored the government’s development thrust and corporate interests have undermined the IP control over their ancestral domains.

The Philippine Task Force for Indigenous Peoples Rights (TFIP) provided realities on the ground that fuels the massive rights violations and continuing resistance of indigenous peoples. The group gave a glimpse of the situation in the Philippines in the Regional Consultation on International Standards on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples held on November 13-15 in Bangkok, Thailand.

TFIP executive director and Ibaloy-Igorot Jacqueline K. Cariño said that state laws and policies regarding land and natural resources disfavor indigenous peoples. Among those she mentioned are the Forestry Code, Philippine Mining Act of 1995, and the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act (NIPAS).

STATE OF IP RIGHTS. Jacqueline Cariño (center) gave a detailed situation on the respect and protection of IP rights in the Philippines from the information she gathered in the meeting with IP organizations in the country on November 6-7 in Quezon City. Photo courtesy of Sarah Dekdeken/CPA

She underscored that the doctrine, which declares that, “most of the indigenous peoples’ ancestral lands are considered part of the public domain” is the culprit. These lands may be disposed of by government agencies for their use or by private corporations for so-called “national development,” she explained.

The scion of Ibaloy chieftain Mateo Cariño likened indigenous peoples’ land, territories, and resources to “a huge mango orchard, laden with ripe fruits” that are up for picking.

Her great grandfather sued the American for intruding in their native Ibaloy lands in the old Baguio City at the US Supreme Court and won. The ruling is now known as the “native title doctrine,” obligates the government to recognize IP land rights

“After indigenous peoples planted the seeds, tended and grew the trees since time immemorial, the fruits, the trees and even the land on which they stand are coveted and now up for grabs by State and corporate interests,” she said

Problematic state policies

According to Cariño, the current Philippine administration’s 10-point Economic Agenda and the Philippine Development Plan for 2017-2022 has set the policy framework for the grabbing of indigenous peoples’ land, territories, and resources. The policies contained in the plan, according to her, violates the right to self-determination of indigenous peoples’ in the country.

“Government policies and programs in mining, energy development, plantations, forestry, special economic zones, and infrastructure are marking a clear trend towards widespread dispossession and displacement of indigenous peoples from their ancestral territories,” she added.

TFIP chief noted that even with the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA), violations of IP rights continue in the country. She also expressed disappointment with the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP). She said the agency has “fallen far way below and even violated its own mandate of protecting indigenous peoples’ rights.”

IPRA contains provisions that provide for the issuance of Certificates of Ancestral Land and Ancestral Domain Titles (CALT / CADT). It also mandates the conduct of Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) for projects in IP territories. Passed in 1995, the international community considers the IPRA as landmark legislation to recognize and protect IP rights.

The group said that even with the IPRA, “many mining companies, plantation owners and other private corporations have gotten away without genuine FPIC process with indigenous communities.”

According to her, this became possible “through bribes given to leaders and influential members of communities causing division and internal disunity, coercion through the use of military, paramilitary and private armed groups, misinformation on supposed benefits leaving out potential disadvantages and adverse impacts, and manipulation of the FPIC process by the NCIP.”

She pointed out that energy projects have gotten away without the FPIC. She attributed this to the loophole in the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA), which does not provide for the consent of host indigenous communities as a requirement to build and operate.

Rubbing salt to injury, Carino said, even laws on conservation such as the NIPAS “remove the rights of indigenous peoples to undertake economic activities.” Under the law, “farming and gathering of forest products such as medicinal plants, timber, and animals from parts of their territories” are prohibited in NIPAS areas inside IP territories. Meanwhile, the Integrated Forestry Management Agreement (IFMA), Pasture Lease Agreements, Timber Licensing Agreements permitted the large-scale exploitation of Philippine forests and conversion of forests and agricultural lands to plantations, ranches and pasture land by private corporations. These areas, she explained, are mostly in IP ancestral domains. She cited the coffee plantation of Silvicultural Industries, Inc. in Lake Sebu, rubber plantations for the use of giant tire manufacturers such as Goodyear and Yokohama, the oil palm plantations in Mindanao, and Palawan, the Yulo King Ranch in Coron, Palawan, and among others.

NOT CRIMINALS. The case of Rachel Mariano was cited among the cases of criminalization against indigenous peoples in the Philippines in the panel and plenary on human rights defenders. Photo courtesy of CHRA.

Worse, Cariño said, is the “criminalization of Indigenous Peoples defending land, territories, and resources.”

Indigenous peoples’ rights defenders are being targeted and accused of being communist fronts while IP organizations members are vilified as terrorists, she narrated.

Among the violent attacks against IP communities she cited is the massacre of eight T’boli-Manobo in Lake Sebu by state forces. The Armed Forces of the Philippines claimed those killed in the incident were members of the New People’s Army. However, independent probes by different groups point to the failed attempt of Silvicultural Industries, Inc. to come to an agreement with Datu Victor Danyan and his group to continue its operations as the motive.

Development aggression

Cariño said that corporate and government projects like energy facilities, dams, and water supply projects violated provisions of the IPRA and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). She cited the Duterte administration’s priority projects like the Chico River Pump Irrigation Project in Kalinga and the New Centennial Water Source-Kaliwa Dam project in Rizal and Quezon provinces.

She said the projects are both “being built in indigenous communities with detrimental effects” and “funded by onerous Chinese loan agreements disadvantageous to the interest of the Filipino people.”

According to her, ongoing and planned hydropower projects in IP ancestral lands across the country would displace more than 100,000 individuals from at least 106 villages. Four of the projects she identified are in Northern Luzon. These are the Ilaguen Dam in Isabela, Diduyon Dam in Nueva Vizcaya, Alimit Hydro Complex of the SN Aboitiz in Ifugao, and Karayan dam in Kalinga.

The government and corporate sector are also exploring the installation of geothermal plants and coal mines inside IP domains. North of Manila, geothermal energy will be harnessed in the projects of American firm Chevron and local company Aragorn Power and Energy in Kalinga province and the PRC Magma in the provinces of Benguet, Mt. Province, and Ifugao.

Cariño added that mining is still the main threat faced by many indigenous groups in the country. At present, she said that 230 of the 447 approved mining applications are in ancestral territories, “encroaching” in at least 542,245 hectares of ancestral lands. According to her, these comprise 72% of the 748,590 hectares covered by all the approved mining applications. She claimed that the ancestral lands and resources of the Igorot people in Benguet, Mt. Province, Ilocos Sur are endangered by ongoing mining operations. Currently, huge commercial mining firms like Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company and Philex Mining Corporation are in the area. There is also the application of Nickel Asia subsidiary, Cordillera Exploration Company, Inc. covering several provinces in the Cordillera and Ilocos Sur.

REPORTING. United Nations Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples Rights Vicky Tauli-corpuz received the reports from the delegates during the consultation that tackled key issues on the right to self-determination of indigenous peoples, as well as their collective rights to their territories and resources. Photo courtesy of Sarah Dekdeken/CPA

The TFIP chief also noted that Australian mining giant OceanaGold Philippines, Inc. applied for another 25 years to operate its mine in Didipio, Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya. On June 20, the company’s Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) with the Philippine government expired. The Ifugao indigenous people in Didipio protested the entry and operation of OGPI. They continue to oppose the application for the renewal of its FTAA together with the people and local government of Nueva Vizcaya.

Meanwhile, local and foreign agribusiness corporations occupy at least 130,000 hectares of ancestral lands for their monocrop plantations of banana, pineapple, oil palm, bioethanol, coffee, and other crops. These plantations have worsened the loss of livelihood, hunger, and human rights violations suffered by the indigenous peoples, especially in Mindanao and Palawan, Cariño said. 

According to her, monocrop plantations continue to use banned pesticides such as carbofuran (Furadan) and glyphosate. This practice has inflicted indigenous peoples living close to these plantations with respiratory, skin, and gastrointestinal diseases, she added.

Cariño also noted that agribusiness corporations implement exploitative wage system to their farmworkers, which includes indigenous peoples.  She cited the case of the Sumitomo Fruit Corporation (SUMIFRU) that implements the piece-rate system, described by critics as the “worst exploitative” wage system

The TFIP pointed out that new agreement of the Philippine government with Malaysian and Indonesian entities opened up at least 120,000 hectares of land for more oil palm plantations in Mindanao and Palawan. She also noted the massive land grabbing of David M. Consunji, Inc. (DMCI) for its logging and Integrated Forestry Management Agreement (IFMA) covering at least 102,954 hectares of ancestral lands in the sacred Daguma Mountain Range in the South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Saranggani provinces. and logging concessions covering

She also cited the New Clark City (NCC), previously called as Clark Green City, another priority in Pres. Rodrigo Duterte’s “Build, Build, Build” program yet posing adverse effects to IP communities. The NCC covers more than 9,400 hectares of land, including Ayta territories in Tarlac. The project includes the building of geothermal and dam energy projects that would cover up to 59,000 hectares of ancestral lands. The government will also maintain its control over the 17,000 hectares Crow Valley Military Complex for US Military exercises in Pampanga, Tarlac, and Zambales, she added.


Cariño said when it comes to protecting the land and environment, indigenous peoples for centuries have been practicing alternatives. These practices, according to her, are opposed to the “destructive development aggression” by the government and large corporations.

STRUGGLE CONTINUES. Indigenous peoples’ rights activists from the Philippines who attended the consultation vowed to face the challenges head on and continue the struggle for self-determination. Photo courtesy of CHRA

She argued that IPs proved through the years that traditional knowledge, values, and innovations adapted to the local culture and environment are viable and sustainable. She noted that these ensured the survival of present and future generations. The executive director added, “Innovations in renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, climate adaptation, and other initiatives have been developed.”

Citing the Cordillera IP practices on the utilization and management of natural resources within their ancestral domain, she said the knowledge also benefits modern industry and agriculture.

She identified traditional forms of forest and watershed management such as lapat, muyong, and batangan. Also mentioned were the traditional types of communal irrigation and water management like the lampisa and sebbeg. Tuping, she said, is an effective way of stonewall building for land stabilization while panag-usok is environmentally-sound traditional small-scale mining practices. There is also the Holok system of pest management that utilizes the various parts of more than 25 plants to produce a pesticide against worms and other rice pests.

According to Cariño, IP values in the region such as inayan and lawa that prohibit one from doing what is taboo or harmful to the community, also contribute to sustainable resource management. She noted about ayyew or simple, thrifty and unwasteful living and kasiyana, a positive view of the future despite many obstacles. Ther is also the different forms of community cooperation like ub-ubbo and binnadang are that foster solidarity and volunteerism.

Underpinning these positive values is the worldview of Indigenous Peoples that Land is Life that needs to be nurtured and protected for the sake of the past, present, and future generations, Cariño explained.

Experts from different international IP organizations and institutions also provided insights and recommendations. # nordis.net

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