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It is estimated that 12-15 million indigenous people inhabit the Philippines (approximately 15-
20% of the total population), speaking around 170 different languages and belonging to 110
ethnic communities. According to the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP),
the majority (61%) of indigenous peoples in the country live in Mindanao, while a third (33%)
are in Luzon, and the remaining (6%) population are in Visayas.

Republic Act 8371, commonly known as Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA), enacted in
1997, sets out the legal framework for the rights of indigenous peoples. The law mandates the
Philippine government to recognize and promote the rights of indigenous peoples/indigenous
cultural communities (ICCs) within the framework of national unity and development and to
protect the rights of ICCs to their ancestral lands to ensure their economic, social and
cultural well-being.

The ILOs involvement with indigenous peoples in the country started in 1994 through the
former INDISCO project that implemented several pilot projects in ICCs. Currently, the ILO
Office in Manila is supporting the following initiatives in the Philippines:

Community Development Initiatives and Management of Ancestral Domains by Indigenous

Peoples Support to Poverty Reduction and Promotion of Human Rights among the IPs in
the Philippines in the Context of Ancestral Domain Development and Protection is a three-
year project funded by the Embassy of Finland in Manila and is being implemented in Lake
Sebu, South Cotabato, Mindanao. Its objective is to contribute to enhancing the capacity of
indigenous peoples, both women and men, in the context of self-reliance to protect their
rights and to take the initiative to reduce poverty within the framework of the development
and protection of their ancestral domain.

Policy Support, Capacity Building, Information Dissemination, Advocacy and Promotion of IP

rights These include continued promotion of ILO Convention No.169 and assistance for the
review and better implementation of existing enabling policies and laws such as the IPRA and
the countrys medium term development plans covering indigenous peoples. These will deal
with issues related to discrimination, cumbersome land titling procedures for ancestral
domains, poverty, poor governance structures and other concerns affecting the empowerment
and strengthening of ICCs. Case studies, research, workshops and trainings may be
organized in this regard. The celebration of the International Day of the Worlds Indigenous
People in the Philippines has been organized every year since 2006 by the ILO in
collaboration with other UN agencies, intergovernmental and governmental institutions, in
order to raise awareness of indigenous peoples rights, issues and concerns.

Indigenous Peoples in the Philippines: Continuing Struggle

Rey Ty

The Spanish and American colonialization of the Philippines institutionalized the

distinction among peoples in the country into mainstream Christian/Muslim and
peripheral tribal/minority/ indigenous populations. Through laws, the tribal/
minority/indigenous communities were deprived of the right to their ancestral
domains. Through so-called development activities, they were dispossessed of the
land they till for their livelihood. Their marginalization, dispossession and other
forms of injustices continued long after colonial rule had gone.
This article briefly traces the historical development of the legal measures that led to
the oppression of the indigenous peoples in the Philippines, as well as discuss the
current measures that address the problem. To prepare for the article, the author
reviewed the major laws as well as the political systems from the colonial period to
the present, and analyzed materials related to the training programs at the Northern
Illinois University that contain critical refl ections that arose from the focused group
discussions among representatives of indigenous peoples from Luzon, Visayas, and
Mindanao who attended the programs.

Indigenous Peoples Today

Indigenous peoples in the Philippines belong to different ethnic groups and reside in
different parts of the country. There are more than one hundred indigenous
communities (NCIP, 2010), about 61% of whom are in Mindanao, 33% in Luzon, and
6% in the Visayas. The indigenous peoples in the Cordilleras in Northern Luzon are
called Igorot. They belong to different ethnic groups, such as Bontoc, Ibaloi, Ifugao,
Isneg, Kalinga, Kankanaey, and Tingguian. The Gadang, Ilongot, and Ivatan are found
in the Cagayan Valley, Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya, and Quirino. The Negrito groups are
found in North, Central, and Southern Luzon. They include the Aeta and Dumagat.
The Mindoro island has seven distinct Mangyan groups. Palawan islands have the
Batak, Palawana, and Tagbanwa. The indigenous peoples in Mindanao, collectively
called Lumad, do not consider the Bangsa Moro and the Christianized Filipinos as
indigenous peoples in view of their adoption of non- indigenous religions. The
major Lumad groups are (1) the Monobo, (2) the Bagobo, Blaan, Tboli, and Teduray
groups, (3) the Mandaya and Mansaka groups, (4) the Subanen, and (5) the

Human Rights Violations

The indigenous peoples, to a large extent forgotten by the government, are in the
midst of problems. Physical isolation does not shield them from being caught in the
crossfi re in the on- going armed confl icts in the country, many suffered as internally
displaced persons (IDPs) and some killed or detained and tortured as suspected
members of the armed opposition groups. Lack of access to basic social services,
education, sustainable livelihood, farm-to-market roads, and health services
contribute to their continuing poverty. In many cases, the onslaught of
commercialism and modern culture came at the expense of maintaining their own
culture and tradition (and thus their identity).
The Copenhagen-based International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs 8 noted that
the Philippine government approved the Certifi cates of Ancestral Domain Title
(CADT), which now help indigenous communities to assert control over their
territories and they create the incentives to sustainably manage and protect their
forest and other natural resources. Indeed, in some indigenous communities, such as
the Subanen, indigenous leaders were able to participate in local government as
well as titling of ancestral domains as part of the overall goal of strengthening
self-governance of ancestral domains.
However, there are other issues that have remained unresolved. Reports by various
human rights organizations show human rights violations relating to mining
operations in ancestral lands, while other human rights of indigenous peoples
continue to be violated in general. 9

Lumads in Mindanao

Indigenous participants from Mindanao of the two batches of Northern Illinois

Universitys Philippine Minorities Program held in 2010 and the program titled
Cultural Citizens and the North-South Dialogue held in 2008 reported several cases
of violations of the rights of the Lumads. Common problems include non-
representation at all levels of society, lack of education, poverty, and discrimination.
Their struggles against development aggression, which lead to loss of ancestral
domain and self-determination as well as to environmental destruction, are met with
harassment and human rights violations, including political killings.
A Talaandig woman from Bukidnon reported that their ancestral domain was grabbed,
despite their efforts to fight against it through legal means. In the process, a leader
and other community members were killed. Many Talaandigs ended up working as
laundry maids or domestic help in neighboring barangays (communities), sugarcane
plantation workers, and laborers.
A Manobo teacher from Surigao del Sur reported on the existence of illegal logging
and mining that caused loss of farmlands as well as fl ash fl oods. A Teduray
community organizer from Maguindanao said that his tribe fell victim to internal
displacement due to recurrent armed confl icts. In addition, illegal logging caused
environmental destruction. Due to poverty, many go abroad, specifi cally to the Middle
East, to work as domestic help.
A Tagacaulo from Sarangani said that his community was worried about the intrusion
of settlers into their ancestral lands. Corrupt politicians aggravate their problems, as
the politicians receive payoffs from parties having interest on the ancestral lands and
support the latters actions. A Blaan agriculturist said that the operations of a
multinational pineapple company were destroying not only the environment of South
Cotabato but also jeopardizing the health of the people who work and live in the
plantation and its surrounding areas. Hazardous chemicals are extensively used as
fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. Children and adults inhale these chemicals,
and fall ill. As they lose their ancestral lands, they leave the highlands and seek
economic opportunities in the lowlands.


Each indigenous community is different. But all indigenous communities struggle for
the right to self-determination and to their ancestral domain. Pursuant to the
stipulations of the 1987 Constitution, IPRA undertakes to improve the situation of
indigenous peoples. But laws, such as IPRA, have to be effectively implemented in
light of the existence of other laws that violate the rights of indigenous peoples.
Finally, the resolution of the problems of the indigenous peoples relates to the
elimination of the deep- seated discrimination against them, a task that remains
difficult to achieve.

Mr. Rey Ty works at the International Training Office, Northern Illinois University,
DeKalb, Illinois, U.S.A.

Legal Overview of Philippine Indigenous Peoples Rights

Throughout Philippine history, the political attitude towards indigenous peoples and their
rights have undergone many changes. During the colonial period, from 1521, indigenous
peoples who were not assimilated into Christianity were then called and identified as the
non-Christian[1] or savage tribes,[2] and thus are the less enlightened minorities of our
Since the declaration of Philippine independence in 1898, it was only in the 1973
Constitution[4] where indigenous peoples found their place in the countrys national
framework. The provision in the Philippine Constitution was intended to authorize special
treatment of those Filipinos comprising the cultural minorities in the country. The clear
intent, in the context of the Constitution viewed in its entirety, is to create an exception to
uniformity of treatment under law mandated under the standard of equal protection of the
laws.[5] The policy of the Government was to integrate into the mainstream of Philippine
society certain ethnic groups who seek full integration into the larger community, and at the
same time protect the rights of those who wish to preserve their original lifeways beside that
larger community.[6]
The ratification of the 1987 Constitution saw the change in government policy from one of
integration to recognition of indigenous peoples rights. As a matter of policy, the State
recognizes and promotes the rights of indigenous cultural communities within the framework
of national unity and development.[7] To this end, the State shall protect the rights of
indigenous cultural communities to their ancestral lands to ensure their economic, social and
cultural well-being.[8] The recognition of IP rights are, however, subject to national
development policies and programs.[9]
One policy that the Philippines had not changed since its 1935 Constitution is the so-called
Regalian Doctrine. Under this doctrine, all lands of the public domains, and natural
resources are owned by the State. With the exception of agricultural lands, all other natural
resources shall not be alienated. The exploration, development, and utilization of natural
resources shall be under the full control and supervision of the State.[10] This legal doctrine
recalls the time when all titles were valid only when it could be shown that it originated from
a grant or sale from the Crown, or its conceptual heir, the State. Thus, even in those rare
cases where indigenous peoples communities have managed to secure documents of title to
their lands, they do not, by virtue of that title acquire ownership or control of the natural
resources found within the titled land. This problem is further complicated by the fact that
the governments awards of resource rights through licenses, leases or permits, or current
production sharing, joint-venture or co-production agreements are given to persons, natural
or juridical, who are not residents of the area, thereby setting the stage for social conflict at
the community level.[11] The declaration of ownership of the State of all lands of the public
domain and all natural resources, from the 1935 to the 1987 Constitution could not mean
absolute ownership simply by operation of law, as this would place such State in direct
contradiction to the guarantee of due process as against actual owners, as interpreted
in Cario.[12] Thus, despite ancestral domains being now understood as including natural
resources, the application of the laws and the interpretation of the 1987 Constitution have
limited the indigenous peoples ownership of these natural resources to mere preferential
rights to exploit, develop and use.[13]
Thus, the United States Supreme Court decision in the case of Cario v. Insular
Government[14] in 1909 was a breakthrough in the recognition of indigenous peoples rights
to their ancestral domains. The Cario doctrine stated that when, as far back as testimony or
memory goes, the land has been held by individuals under a claim of private ownership, it will
be presumed to have been held in the same way from before the Spanish conquest, and never
to have been public land. Yet, despite this pronouncement, the struggle to gain recognition
and respect for indigenous peoples rights has been long and arduous and sometimes, even
To date, there is no accurate count of the number of the indigenous peoples in the
Philippines. The standard percentage that is being used to estimate is 10% of the over-all
population. A possible basis for this 10% is the census of 1915 conducted by the US colonial
government, which was published in 1916. In this document, the counts of the population
described as tribos independientes infieles and the like constituted around 10% of the
total population in the Philippines at
that time.[15]

The government uses pecentage higher than 10% (13%-15%), though there is no clear basis
of this percentaging as well. This is a clear indication of the level of serious interest the
government has in identifying the Indigenous Peoples, and the lack of programmatic
approach in identifying the various forms of discrimination they experience the lack of basic
services and appropriate economic development projects, the overlapping of almost two-
thirds of extractive projects with ancestral territories, and the state of poverty of indigenous
communities. Indigenous peoples are also victims of continuous and systematic human rights
violations, including community displacement, torture and extrajudicial killings.

Over generations, the indigenous peoples have been engaged in various forms of struggles
organizing into community organizations, to national formations representing different
indigenous communities; there were groups who were part of the armed struggle, there were
intense international solidarity work, and there were those who engaged the government and
got involved in policy advocacy work. There were groups, the Indigenous Peoples groups and
the advocates, who were strategically involved in all of these forms of struggle, at different
levels and intensity.

The struggle to have a law that recognized indigenous peoples rights to their lands was not
an easy one. At first, the draft law that was submitted to Congress sought to remove from the
public and private commercial domain the lands of indigenous peoples. At that time, different
indigenous organizations were consulted. The dictator Marcos was just overthrown, and it
was under the Presidency of Corazon Aquino when the draft law was first submitted. While
the draft was still pending, an administrative order was issued by the Department of
Environment and Natural Resources that recognized claims by communities, and thus, their
territories were delineated from other lands.

The Promises of IPRA

In 1997, after ten years of lobbying and campaigning, the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act
(IPRA) was passed by the Philippine Congress. The IPRA was meant to be a corrective
legislation, meaning, it sought to address historical injustices perpetuated against indigenous
peoples, and thus contained four significant aspects: (1) the articulation of the recognition of
the right to self-governance; (2) the recognition of the bundle of rights held by indigenous
peoples, (3) the establishment of a process for the formal recognition of land rights through
the introduction of the Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) or Certificate Ancestral
Land Title (CALT); and, (4) the establishment of the National Commission on Indigenous
Peoples (NCIP), the agency mandated to protect the interest of indigenous peoples. The IPRA
more importantly, translated and applied into law the Supreme Courts decision
in Carino and the recognized the legality of native titles.

Expanding this list, IPRA therefore provided, first, the articulation of numerous rights that
should be afforded to indigenous peoples, which includes:

1. right of ownership over land and natural resources;

2. right to develop lands and natural resources;

3. right to stay in territories;

4. right in case of displacement;

5. right to regulate the entry of migrants;

6. right to safe and clean air and water;

7. right to claim parts of reservations;

8. right to resolve conflicts;

9. right of redemption;

10. freedom from discrimination in labor;

11. freedom from conflict,

and many more.

This list of rights, as well as other rights found in different laws, have been used by
communities and non-government organizations to protect indigenous peoples rights from
encroachment. In this way, IPRA was a sentry that delayed or hampered the entry of
unwanted projects into ancestral territories.

IPRA was also the only legislation that specifically provided for the right of indigenous
peoples to determine their own development, even if there was a qualification in the 1987
Constitution that such development of communities must be in accordance with national
development. The law specifically states The State recognizes the inherent right of ICCs/IPs
to self-governance and self-determination and respects the integrity of their values, practices
and institutions. Consequently, the State shall guarantee the right of ICCs/IPs to freely pursue
their economic, social and cultural development. Ideally, this would mean that indigenous
peoples do not only have the power to participate in decision-making processes of the State,
but going beyond that, they themselves have the power to determine the fates of their
territories and their lives.

Another introduction of the IPRA that remains to be used as a strategy to secure land security
is the establishment of a formal system that will recognize ancestral territories. Though in the
past land laws in the Philippines, reference is made to the territories of cultural minorities,
these laws have always given restrictions on ownership on territories.[16] Some land laws do
not even recognize indigenous ownership, instead, considers the land as part of agrarian
reform or resettlement reservations. Others would impose limits on the size and expanse of
ownership. With IPRA, communities can apply for a formal title that can be as much as tens of
thousands of hectares, as long as the community can prove time immemorial possession.

The last, and maybe the most controversial element, of IPRA is the creation of the National
Commission on Indigenous Peoples or NCIP. The NCIP has the mandate to protect and
promote the rights of communities. It has the power to formulate policies and regulations for
the proper implementation of IPRA. It was supposed to be an independent agency whose
members were representatives of indigenous peoples themselves. It also had the power to
determine cases that involved indigenous peoples.

The passage of IPRA was indeed historical. It is a progressive law, moving away from the
regalian doctrine the state control and ownership of land and other resources. Thus, IPRA
received broad support, with a lot of indigenous communities and advocates being hopeful
that this law can actually have positive impacts on the lives of the indigenous communities.
There were, some, however, who remained cynical and suspect of how this law, a product of
long and hard negotiations and compromises, can actually effect meaningful and fundamental
changes in the political, economic and social conditions of the indigenous peoples.

In the course of its lifetime, the IPRA has met some very serious challenges, one of which was
the contest to its constitutionality filed by a former Supreme Court Justice. A year after its
passage, in 1998, Justice Isagani Cruz claimed that the IPRA was contrary to the Regalian
Doctrine contained in the Philippine Constitution, specifically because the IPRA states that
indigenous peoples own the natural resources found within their territories. The Supreme
Court reached a split decision in the case in December 2000. And by virtue of this ruling
deadlock, the IPRA remained to be constitutional. It is the position of our organization,
however, that it is not IPRA that is at the core of this case. Nor the rights of indigenous
peoples, as these rights have not ceased to exist, and are only awaiting societys ability to
recognize them. What is on trial was the willingness of the State and its people to finally rid
themselves of prejudices and misplaced fears.[17]

Aside from this legal challenge, IPRA faces other challenges which can be categorized into
two: that at the policy-level, and at the implementation level.

At the policy level, government has issued a number of administrative regulations on the
implementation of IPRA. As the years pass, we have seen in particular, the executive
department systematically watering down the rights of indigenous peoples, especially that of
the right to self-determination.

Part and parcel of the right to self-determination is the right to free, prior, and informed
consent (FPIC). Since 1997, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples or NCIP has
revised the rules on FPIC twice, with the underlying objective to make the entry of extractive
projects easier and faster. The 2006 FPIC Guidelines, for example, was issued to give way to
the commitments made under the Mineral Action Plan of the Philippines, facilitating the rapid
and easy entry of mining projects in ancestral domains through the so-called harmonization of
IPRA with the Philippine Mining Act of 1995. In fact, as of February 2008, almost 60% of
projects that have required FPIC were mining projects, thus, making mining a very relevant
issue for communities.

The government has even further provided for sub-categories within the indigenous peoples
sector that has resulted to more discrimination. FPIC, for example, is not a right that is
afforded to all indigenous peoples. Immigrant IPs, by default, are not afforded FPIC, for the
simple reason that they cannot claim the land as their ancestral territories. Such is the
struggle of the Ifugaos in Didipio, Nueva Vizcaya, when their FPIC was not taken upon the
entry of a mining project by the simple fact that they are immigrants.

Meanwhile, despite the introduction of the CADT/CALT as mere paper or formal recognition
of indigenous right to land, indigenous peoples still suffer from tenurial insecurity. This is
partly due to the fact that there is either a real or perceived conflict of land laws and policies,
and most often than not, these laws and policies are interpreted in favor of big businesses,
the rich, and the powerful despite IPRAs requirement that any doubt or ambiguity in the
application of laws shall be resolved in favor of the indigenous communities.[18].
Throughout Philippine history, various land laws were passed that resulted to a systematic
taking of ancestral territories. The underlying cause of such laws was to rid government and
transnational corporations of communities that were roadblocks to more profit. As Prof. Owen
Lynch[19] pointed out, land laws were passed during the American era because, Taft and
Worcester were, first and foremost, eager to lure capital into the colony. They believed that
this required them to have total control over the allocation of legal rights to natural
resources. The key elements of their hidden agenda were to keep the estimates of public
land occupants low and ensure that the processes for recognizing and allocating legal rights
to land resources were inefficient and bureaucratically cumbersome. Section VI of the PLA
(Public Land Act) went even further. It provided the regime with a mechanism for rolling back
recognition of private rights granted during the Spanish era for failure to secure proper
official records or documents or to comply with necessary conditions [CA 141, Sec. 54, par.
8]. Thus, these laws mandated that failure for communities to register or file a formal claim
over these lands would operate as a loss of real rights by virtue of prescription. Ancestral
territories were thus, with one stroke of the pen, have been classified as forestlands,
protected areas, agricultural lands or mineral lands, depriving communities their right to due
process. The strategy employed by our colonizers to take lands of communities has
unfortunately been used up until present by the Philippine government.

Registration, which is a foreign concept for indigenous peoples, has been unfortunately
projected by different groups to be equivalent to land security, when the same has been
shown to be seldom true. The Subanons of Mt. Canatuan, in Zamboanga del Norte were
among the first communities to be issued a CADT in 2003. The instrument, however, was only
registered in 2008. Despite the existence of the CADT, their leaders could not even enter his
own lands because of the operations of TVI Resource Development, Inc., the subsidiary of
Canadian TVI Pacific Inc. The Subanons have brought their case in 2007 to the United
Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination for redress, failing to get any
from domestic remedies.

The lack or absence of appropriate legal mechanisms for indigenous peoples to regain their
lands has also greatly limited the corrective characteristic of IPRA. This is added to the fact
that IPRA mandates indigenous peoples to respect vested titles, with the burden of proof to
prove otherwise on these poor communities. The struggle for recognition of ancestral
domain has been bureaucratized reduced to paper submissions, fulfillment of forms and

Judicial rulings have also glaringly favored the interests of the mineral industry over those of
indigenous peoples, which have been labeled as parochial claiming that mining is an
industry for the publics benefit.[20] Customary laws, meanwhile, remain to be at the
outskirts of the legal fora, waiting for recognition from the legal community.

These are only some of the policy issues that continuously plague indigenous peoples. The
implementation of IPRA is altogether a different matter.

Government claimed that the constitutional challenge to IPRA greatly delayed the
implementation of the law. It uses this reason as an excuse for the numerous criticisms on the
delay in the delivery of services and delineation of ancestral territories. For example,
ancestral territories are estimated to cover 7.5 million hectares out of the 30 million hectares
that make up the Philippines. After eleven years since the passage of IPRA, as of May 2009,
only 38% of these territories were delineated, representing 107 CADTs and 207 CALTs. Out of
these 107 CADTs, only 24 have been formally registered.
It has come to a point that communities themselves have questioned the relevance of the
National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), the institution that was created
supposedly to protect the rights of indigenous peoples. NCIP has recently been called as
inutile and self-serving.[21] Some groups and communities have called for the abolition of the
agency because of the real and perceived corruption of some of its officers and workers. It
has time and again been criticized as toeing the line of transnational corporations,
implementing the law differently in different communities, depending on the demands of
these corporations. NCIP, in the cases of the Mangyans in Mindoro and the Subanons of
Zamboanga del Norte, among many others, have created non-traditional leadership
structures to ensure the entry of mining.

The NCIP itself, on one hand, has made it easy for transnational corporations to exploit
indigenous communities, while on the other, made it difficult for communities to secure their
territories and to access justice. It has issued regulations that are difficult, unwieldy and
almost impossible for communities to comply with. The regulations that are supposed to
facilitate the enjoyment of communities to their rights are the same ones that hamper and
hinder community development. Some of these regulations would include the Rules on
Pleadings and Practices, the Delineation of CADTs/CALTs, and the FPIC Guidelines.

The NCIP has been shown also to be weak in asserting its political will. As an agency that has
been tossed around the bureaucracy for a number of times, first being attached to the Office
of the President, then to the Department of Agrarian Reform, then to the Department of
Environment and Natural Resources, then back again to the Office of the President, it has not
proven its integrity and independence on issues that challenge the jurisdiction of other
government offices, despite the fact that IPRA has already given primary jurisdiction to the

These things are all made possible because it is evident in the law that, not only does its
implementation depend on the initiatives of the NCIP, but it has made the NCIP a superbody
which enjoys not only executive powers, but also quasi-legislative and quasi-judicial as well.

The challenges that communities face with regard to the implementation and interpretation of
the law comes from the fact that they hold the key to so-called national development. As
mentioned earlier, development projects overlap with about 60% of ancestral territories; and,
in a country that offers unabashedly its natural resources for investments, it does not wish to
compromise the economic opportunities that foreign investments bring because of something
as simple as the free, prior and informed consent.


Despite the weaknesses of the law, civil society has nevertheless tried different strategies to
protect the rights of indigenous peoples some of which did not necessarily involve the use of
IPRA, but instead, the other spaces for engagement and participation. Change is constant,
and therefore, more often than not each situation calls for a different strategy and use of the
tools that are available.

We have used different strategies to either push for change or protect the rights of
communities by maintaining the status quo. We have engaged the local government units, the
national government, and the international forum. We have issued statements, position
papers and critiques on executive orders. Recently, we have filed a draft law in Congress on
the mineral industry to take the place of the current mining law. We have also filed policy-
determining cases before the courts to challenge unjust policies and laws. Interestingly
enough, though, we have not filed a case that used the IPRA.

Movement building remains to be an important component in any advocacy. Thus, we need to

network and campaign to maximize the efforts of all the groups concerned.

Moving forward

What are some of the lessons that we have learned from the passage of IPRA?

First, IPRA, though progressive, was far from a perfect law. There are so many community
stories which tell the tale of NCIP or the IPRA being used to facilitate the violation of
indigenous peoples rights. For some, IPRA became the instrument by which rights were
manipulated to suit the demands of the global market for raw materials. The formal processes
that IPRA introduced became the same processes that were used to violate indigenous
peoples rights while legitimizing the encroachment of big businesses something that has not
changed since Spain settled on our lands. This was possible because law is susceptible to as
much as many people that would want to interpret it and use it for their benefit.

Second, the institution that IPRA created, the NCIP, was not so different from the institutions
that it abolished because it was composed of the same people and thus used the same culture
of corruption and bureaucracy.

Third, the IPRA, though it contained a long list of rights and provisions which sought to
protect the rights of the communities, was hardly used in cases before the courts. Instead,
other laws were used to challenge violations of indigenous peoples rights.

Fourth, the titling and registration of lands sometimes distracted the communities in
achieving genuine land security.

Fifth, community cohesion and organization has achieved more ground than the mere
passage of the law. We have seen communities assert their rights with or without IPRA, and
instead have looked at laws as only part and parcel of the political context.

And finally, the advocacy of indigenous peoples rights do not end with the passage of a law. It
is a continuous struggle to rid our countries the discrimination introduced by colonizers. It is
about changing mindsets and prejudices.

For us from the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center, we have always seen the law as
either a tool of opportunities or challenges and the IPRA is no different from other laws. The
law and its implementation, are, after all, influenced by the political, socio-economic context
of a country. In the words of Dean Marvic Leonen, one of the founders of the Center, The
IPRA, perhaps even if fully implemented, could not be the last word on the recognition of IP
rights. Writing and legislating policy has been significant but definitely not enough for the
communities that still struggle for genuine recognition, and full and authentic participation.
In the end, it is our collective ability to reflect and act on our experiences that will really
matter.[23] The IPRA has definitely been used for the good and for the bad by different
parties, as is the nature of law.

Thus, after more than a decade from the passage of IPRA, it is timely that a comprehensive
assessment be made on IPRA. It is imperative that we hear the experiences, reflections and
lessons from the communities who actually engaged and used the law in their assertion of
rights, as well as from those who have maintained distance from the law and have continued
in their struggle for their land, and against encroachment. For us advocates, it is critical at
this juncture that we take a deep breath and look how has the law been relevant to the lives
of the communities? How has the law been able to correct the historical injustices it meant to
address? Or has there been too much hope pinned on a law, when we all know that the
passage of IPRA does not automatically translate into justice and change, instead, it is the
collective struggle, at the community level all the way at the national level that achieves
justice and catalyze fundamental changes in the lives of the indigenous peoples, and in our

Thank you.