The Philippines is leading the world in terms of recognizing and protecting the rights of Indigenous People (IP)”, beams the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP).
Lawyer Norberto “Jong” Navarro, Ethnographic Commissioner of the NCIP, during the virtual presscon of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) on Wednesday in celebration of Indigenous People’s Month this October said, this achievement was made possible through the creation of NCIP which is mandated to implement the Indigenous People’s Rights Act or the IPRA Law and promote IP’s rights “in their own perspective” and over their “ancestral domain”.
The NCIP made processes and validations of all IP’s claims easy to implement, Navarro explained, as shown by the 43 policy guidelines issued by the Commission that are responsive to the needs of every IP community.
NCIP has already identified 948 IP communities located and living in roughly 13 million hectares of land, 27 percent of which were already given land titles estimated to be 5.8 million hectares of land. “Wala akong alam na ibang bansa na nakagawa nito,” Navarro said, noting that even the United States had only “reserved” lands for their own IPs.
Navarro pointed out that besides the cultural celebration, the country is also commemorating the 24th year of the signing of the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act with this year’s theme: “Ang Paglalakbay ng mga Katutubong Mamamayan para sa Tunay na Pagkilala, Paggalang at Sariling Pamamahala.”
“Hindi lang kulay at saya ng kultura ang ating dapat ise-celebrate ngayong buwan ng Indigenous Peoples o ng Katutubong Pilipino, ngunit pati na din ang adbokasiya sa kanilang pagkilala at gayun din ang pagprotekta sa kanila,” Navarro said, adding that “Dapat po natin itong pag-ingatan, sapagkat ito ay nagbibigay ng kulay sa Pilipinas, sa kulturang Pilipino. Ito ay pagpapahalaga, hindi lang sa katutubo lalo na sa lahat ng Pilipino.”
Through the NCIP, the IPs are being assisted and empowered to have their own representation and air their concerns in every government program and project affecting their communities. These are now 5,006 IP Mandatory Representatives (IPMRs) in the local government councils across the country, the official said.
“We’re talking here of barangays, municipal and even city levels,” Navarro said, pointing to the “empowerment” given to IPs by the Filipino people to help advance their interests.
“Kapag may ancestral domain o significant ang number ng IPs, kailangan may IP representation diyan sa community. That is a big accomplishment (of the NCIP), imagine mo the direct influence of the IPs in the policies and programs of every local government unit (LGU) and these are not chosen in the general elections but are chosen by the IPs themselves,” he said.
The NCIP also boasts the 235 IP Cooperatives organized, 32,094 IPs assisted through its Educational Assistance Program, 51 given with Merit-based scholarships,143 Memorandum of Understanding signed with other government agencies and civil society organizations (CSOs) aimed at advancing the rights of the IPs, and 975 projects implemented for IPs across the country.
Navarro also said that during the 20th Session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues held last April, the NCIP through its Chairperson, Secretary Allen Capuyan, emphasized the importance of the Permanent Forum as a platform for exchanging views and developing partnerships with IPs especially during the Covid 19 Pandemic.
The NCIP official added that the NCIP will continue to create programs and review its guidelines to strengthen the protection and promotion of the rights of the IPs, especially from exploitative groups such as the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF).
Meanwhile, the Executive Director of the Mindanao Indigenous Peoples Council of Elders (MIPCEL) Datu Bawan Jacob Lanes, from the Mandaya, Manobo Tribe in Monkayo, Compostela Valley explained the exploitation of IPs by the CPP-NPA-NDF in their terrorist activities.
Lanes said the Communist Terrorist Groups (CTGs) are using the IP communities and their ancestral domain to supplant traditional leaders, establish a stable base of operations, corrupt IPs traditional culture, recruit the IPs in their armed group, the NPAs, and obtain international funding.
Lanes also said the IP tribes and their lands are essential to the CPP-NPA-NDF because, primarily, they can use it as a sanctuary for NPA building because of its remoteness from the center of development of LGUs. The NPA recruit the IPs effortlessly because IPs are looking for alternatives to their current estate and with their illiteracy and ignorance, IPs can be easily swayed by NPA propaganda. Also, the NPA can use the location of IPs as a mobility corridor – an escape route to another province or region. These areas are environmentally suited or a favorable terrain for guerilla warfare.
“Ibig sabihin palitan ang mga tradisyonal na lider at palitan ng mga kanilang rebolusyonaryong lider na kontrolado nila at sinisira din nila ang kultura ng tribo upang ito ay iderekta sa armadong pakikibaka. Sa mga ancestral domains din nila tinatayo ang kanilang mga stable base areas, at dito sila nagpapalakas vertically, mula sa maliit na unit o squad size hanggang mapalaki nila ito sa platoon or battalion size,” he said.