A recent study has shown the many problems and issues associated with the ancestral land of indigenous peoples (IP). Some of these are Philippine laws, pronouncements, and administrative orders that conflict with the needs and practices of IPs. The recognition and protection of the rights of Indigenous peoples has been part of the struggles fought hard for countless years today.
As the struggle continues, our government should defend the rights of indigenous peoples by developing a policy for the full recognition and inclusion of IPs in the national and local agenda. Instead of blocking them for many years, national policies that protect and defend their rights must be consistent and strengthened.
The policy brief, “The Struggle Continues: Uphold the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” published by the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung in 2011, stated: “In the Philippines, the adoption of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (Ipra) on October 29, 1997, caused a similar jubilation that reverberated to the farthest peripheries of Philippine society, home to an estimated 14 to 15 million indigenous people subdivided into 110 ethnolinguistic groups. The common understanding was then finally a national law to protect and uphold the rights of indigenous peoples has finally come.
Ipra enabled the creation of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), which by law is charged with “protecting and promoting the interests and welfare of ICPs/IPs with due regard to their beliefs , customs, traditions and institutions. .”
However, on at least one occasion, NCIP ignored an IP protest and played loud music instead. The action of NCIP and the use of the instrument of IP to deflect attention from the protest was unwelcoming and led to questioning the implementation of Ipra: is the law itself efficient ? The PAs themselves have demanded the abolition of the Ipra because it does not offer protection against illegal procedures.
IPs need good governance and legitimate laws that will ensure their hold on ancestral lands and domains, not those that offer only false hopes. Among the bills introduced to protect IPs and their land rights is Bill 639 or the Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities Conservation Areas Bill. Among other things, the bill seeks to strengthen IPs by recognizing their contribution to biodiversity conservation and establishing the National Register of Indigenous Community Conserved Areas. The ancestral territory of the Tagbanuas in Palawan is an example of such an area, and they honor its importance to them by using only traditional fishing methods.
Today more than ever, the government must recognize the role of indigenous communities as partners in the conservation of protected areas. Besides the abolition of Ipra, the immediate adoption of real laws protecting their ancestral lands should be a priority. We must not allow foreign capitalists and dominant powers to exploit their resources. Let’s listen to them and give IPs the chance to speak for themselves.
Abdul Hafiz T.Malawani, Mindanao Marawi State University
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