Land is central to the unique identity and very existence of the country’s Indigenous Peoples (IPs). Unfortunately, despite laws that protect their rights to their ancestral domain, many IPs today remain unable to claim and use the lands and resources they need to lead the kind of life their culture dictates.
Republic Law No. 8371 or the Indigenous Peoples Law of 1997 recognizes and protects the rights of IPs over their ancestral domain, i.e. land, inland waters, coastal areas and natural resources. of their lands and territories. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Undrip), adopted by UN member states for over 11 years now, also recognizes these rights.
Faced with these legal recognitions, why do IPs remain vulnerable and threatened with displacement?
The Aeta de Zambales, for example, have been relocated to neighboring provinces like Pampanga and areas close to the Sierra Madre mountain ranges. There are also the attacks on the “lumad” in Davao, and the displacement and migration of the Sama-Badjao from war-torn Zamboanga. These stories paint a picture of the IPs’ constant struggle against their eviction from the land on which generations of their people have lived.
The uncertainty of having no land they can call their own has made it difficult for IPs to trace their roots and imagine their future. The land is linked to their identity and to their very existence. Without land, building houses, raising families, practicing their customs and traditions and building stable livelihoods become very difficult for IPs.
The collective movement Zero Extreme Poverty PH 2030 (ZEP) recognizes that IPs are one of the most marginalized and impoverished groups in the Philippines. As such, ZEP’s special mission is to help meet the need of IPs to reclaim their ancestral domain, so that they can lead dignified and productive lives as members of the larger Filipino community. Like the rest of Filipino citizens, they should be protected by the same rights equally.
ZEP has created a cluster dedicated to bringing poverty reduction interventions from partners within its coalition to IP communities. These interventions correspond to other groups within the PTA, namely education, health, livelihoods, environment, agriculture and fisheries, housing and shelter. ZEP believes in adopting a multisectoral approach in order to have a collective impact towards the eradication of poverty and the establishment of social justice. While preserving and respecting the customs and traditions of IPs, ZEP and its partners offer, among others, alternative learning programs, health programs, water supply systems and learning sessions on cultivation of appropriate crops and livestock.
ZEP recently met with around 70 leaders of indigenous communities in Antipolo, Apayao, Boracay, Davao, Guimaras, Palawan, Pangasinan, Negros Occidental, Occidental Mindoro, Tarlac, Zamboanga del Norte and Zamboanga del Sur, and learned from them the main challenges they face in achieving tenure security. A training session was conducted to equip indigenous communities with knowledge and mastery of the legal and administrative resources at their disposal.
ZEP guided them on how to navigate the process of applying for certificates of title to ancestral lands / domains, including delineation and recognition of ancestral domain – how to measure the boundaries of their lands, do 3D mapping, write letters of request and converse with various agencies of local and national governments for the implementation of their Plan for sustainable development and protection of ancestral domains.
Obtaining certificates of title to ancestral lands / domains can be difficult due to several issues: proximity of communities to the offices of relevant government agencies, ability of intellectual property organizations to comply with requirements, documentation contradictory and inconsistent data, contradictory laws in terms of recognition of IPs’ right to own land and, above all, political and social pressures.
These challenges cannot be met alone. ZEP urges the government and relevant civil society organizations to participate in collective efforts to help IPs break free from their marginalized status and be able to defend their culture and traditions as indigenous Filipinos.
For centuries, many IP groups have been displaced, evicted and forced to leave the lands that are integral to their survival. Many have been rendered powerless to secure the areas that are rightfully theirs. Through the capacity building measures of ZEP 2030, these communities may have a chance to thrive and maintain their way of life for generations to come.
Benjamin Abadiano, winner of the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2004 for Emerging Leadership, has been involved in volunteering and social development initiatives, particularly for Indigenous peoples, for more than 25 years. He is the executive director of Zero Extreme Poverty 2030 (ZEP 2030), a collective movement of civil society organizations working together on nationwide poverty reduction programs. Formed in 2015, ZEP 2030’s mission is to move one million Filipino families from extreme poverty to self-sufficiency by 2030.
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