Indigenous peoples voice agenda to P.Noy

Published by rudy Date posted on August 15, 2010

MANILA, Philippines – Indigenous peoples are urging the Aquino administration to put an end to the marginalization of indigenous communities.

Thirteen years after the passage of the law protecting the rights of indigenous peoples (IPs) in the Philippines, many of them remain mired in poverty, lacking access to basic health and education. They lament the loss of their ancestral lands, the passing of their traditional practices, and how some of them have fallen victim to extra-judicial killings.

Last Monday, around 200 IP representatives marked Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
In an interview with ANC’s The Rundown, Jill Cariño, convenor of the Philippine Task Force for Indigenous Peoples Rights, says they came up with an agenda which they want the Aquino administration to address.

The battle over ancestral land

Foremost on the list: the rights of IPs to their ancestral land.

Cariño admits such goals remain unmet despite the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA) and the application for certificate of ancestral land and ancestral domain titles.

“Many have been complaining that 13 years after the IP Rights Act was passed, they still don’t have proof they have legal rights to the land, despite using the land since time immemorial as basis for their survival,” Cariño notes.

Cariño is a fourth generation descendant of Ibaloi Chieftain Mateo Cariño, who fought for land ownership during the American Period. Her great grandfather filed a case for the recognition of their right to land, which went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. As a result, they were able to acquire the doctrine of native title, which recognizes that they owned the land before the colonizers came.

Since then, she notes, even indigenous Indians have come to use the doctrine, while other indigenous people in Australia have used their case as precedent for the government to recognize the land as private property and not belonging to the colonizers.

But, Cariño laments, the effort has not gone far on the home front.

“The case of our family was won in 1909, but until today, the land that is the subject of the case has not been given to our family.”

Cariño notes a seeming conflict between the concepts of indigenous people on land and natural resources as something passed on through generations, and how the state uses titles to determine land ownership.

In the Cordillera region alone, Cariño says, much of their ancestral land has been taken over by private, government or business ventures.

“The total area of the Cordillera region is 1.8 million hectares. As of now, mining companies have filed claims for over 1.2 million hectares, which is more than 60% of the total land area of the region. This is the ancestral land of the Igorots. This is just an indication of how much of the land is being taken over.”

Pursuing peace

Cariño says peace talks is another point in their agenda, adding the IPs who were not recognized as an official party in the talks, hoped to have an appropriate mechanism through which they could be heard after the botched Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) during the Arroyo administration. The MOA-AD held up the peace agreement.

“The IPs in Mindanao or Lumads would want to be heard in the GRP-MILF [Government of the Republic of the Philippines-Moro Islamic Liberation Front] peace talks because the area that would be included in the MOA-AD covers ancestral domains of indigenous peoples,” she says.

“They are not an official party, so while they may have treaties in indigenous communities and are recognized in the Bangsamoro area, this has not been officially recognized in the talks.”

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) says there are over 14 million to 17 million IPs in the country, majority of whom live in the southern Philippines where, the IPs say, they do not have sufficient participation in peace talks.

THE NCIP role

Cariño laments the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP), the government agency tasked to implement and regulate the law of IP rights under the Office of the President, falls short of meeting its mandate.

“Since the NCIP was set up, it seems it does not work for the interest of IPs as it is mandated to do. Rather, experience has shown, the NCIP has facilitated the encroachment of mining companies or other private interests into the indigenous territories.” –Caroline J. Howard, ANC

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