Dumagat, Remontado and Mangyan indigenous peoples from Southern Tagalog picketed the office of the National Commission Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) in Quezon City where they held a traditional blood-letting ritual of a native chicken. The protest action was to condemn the enactment and seven-year implementation of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) which they say is the “most-deceptive and anti-indigenous peoples law.”
By MAY VARGAS
On Oct. 23, Dumagat, Remontado and Mangyan indigenous peoples from Southern Tagalog picketed the office of the National Commission Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) in Quezon City where they held a traditional blood-letting ritual of a native chicken. The protest action was to condemn the enactment and implementation of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) or Republic Act 8371, which they say is the “most-deceptive and anti-indigenous peoples law.” IPRA is now on its eighth year.
Decrying the appalling state of poverty suffered by the indigenous peoples in the country, Mangyan leader Tony Calbayog pointed to the systematic and worsening cases of landgrabbing as one of the major reasons. He said that IPRA together with the NCIP is being used by the government to swiftly entrench mining and other business corporations in their ancestral lands.
Calbayog, who is also chair of the Bigkis at Lakas ng mga Katutubo sa Timog Katagalugan (Balatik, literally indigenous people’s power in Southern Tagalog), said foreign-owned development projects like mining and mega-dams are seen by the state as the way out of the fiscal crisis. But, he said, “the indigenous peoples are going to bear the brunt of the further liberalization of these industries and will only lead to the further plunder of our natural resources.”
More than 10,000 Agta, Remontado and Dumagats are bound to be displaced due to the reconstruction of the ADB-funded Laiban Dam in Rizal province. More than 2,000 Igorot IP’s have been similarly displaced upon the operation of the Japanese bank-funded San Roque Multi-purpose dam project in Pangasinan.
“When has the IPRA law ever upheld our rights and protected us from aggravation? Never. Instead, it has been totally toothless in defending indigenous peoples’ rights,” said Calbayog.
Part of the IPRA law is the issuance of Certificates of Ancestral Domain Titles (CADTs) to indigenous groups who applied for recognition. But according to many indigenous communities like the Balatik who refuse to apply for CADTs, this feature of the law alone already violates their inherent rights to their ancestral lands.
In a statement, the indigenous tribes said pretty stationeries (‘magagarang papel’ lin their language) are inutile once foreign corporations come to dig and mine their lands or when they inundate communities and rivers with mega dams.
“With the titling of ancestral lands through the CADT of IPRA, ancestral lands become privately owned, destroying our traditional communal practice of ownership and land use. With private ownership, foreign companies can easily coerce or entice IPs to sell their ancestral lands, because instead of getting the consent of the whole community, only the consent of the individual the CADT is named after is needed,” they said.
IPRA is indeed a viable tool for the government to facilitate the entry of foreign projects in the indigenous peoples’ ancestral lands “leaving us as squatters in our own lands, threatened every now and then to be displaced. Worst it breeds animosity and disunity among our people causing tribal wars over land disputes. Such disputes were always easily resolved before through traditional settlements but not during the IPRA implementation,” they also said.
Calbayog said that while the IPRA empowers the state to control and supervise exploration, development and utilization of natural resources, it disempowers the indigenous peoples from freely using the resources in their ancestral lands.
Stressing this point further, Calbayog cited the case of the Subanons of Mt. Canatuan in Siocon, Zamboanga Del Norte, southern Philippines who are now threatened to be displaced by the reactivation of the mining operations of Toronto Ventures Inc., a Canadian-Filipino owned mining company. On June 12, 2003 President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo announced the granting of the massive 8,213 hectares of CADT to the Subanons.
Calbayog said that the Subanons’ case of Mt. Canatuan is a glaring example among the many that proves that the IPRA is but “an empty rhetoric and a most fraudulent law at that.”
On his mission report from the Philippines on December 2-11, 2002, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of the Indigenous Peoples, Prof. Rodolfo Stavenhagen said the right of the indigenous peoples to their ancestral domains and lands and natural resources found in IPRA is in fact limited by Section 56 which provides that property rights within the ancestral domains already existing and/or vested shall be recognized and respected.
“Thus, mining companies licensed by the Government under the 1995 Mining Act continue to operate in these domains despite opposition by indigenous communities and organizations,” Stavenhagen said.
The UN rapporteur further warned, “the controversial Section 56 of RA 8371 has practically defeated all purposes of land ownership and protection for the indigenous peoples which the law ostensibly adheres to.”
On the same breadth, the Kalipunan ng mga Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (KAMP), the national federation of indigenous peoples organizations in the country, has expressed staunch opposition to the IPRA law.
“IPRA is not the solution to the Indigenous Peoples’ problems,” KAMP national coordinator Nonoy Gobrin said. “Stripped of its avowed principles of Free and Prior Informed Consent, we see nothing more in its substance and much less in the manner it is being implemented. The seven -year implementation of IPRA did nothing to help the Indigenous Peoples’ sorry plight. And seven years is more than enough – experiences and lessons dictate that as a matter of course, IPRA deserves to be scrapped.”
The author is with the National Minority Resource Center of the Tunay na Alyansa ng Bayan Alay sa Katutubo (TABAK).