Typhoon Yolanda hit the Philippines on November 8, 2013. That day the elderly woman Biong of the indigenous Tagbanua community on Coron Island saw the ocean rise into 7 meter high waves that smashed the Tagbanua community’s boats to pieces. Their small fishing boats used to provide food were completely destroyed and the community’s three large boats for tour operations were severely damaged.
Indigenous peoples in the Philippines
The number of the Philippines’ indigenous peoples remains unknown, but it estimated to be between 10 per cent and 20 per cent of the 102.9 million national population. The Philippines has adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Yet, indigenous peoples in the Philippines generally live in geographically isolated areas with a lack of access to basic social services and few opportunities for mainstream economic activities, education or political participation.
UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples adopted
The Philippines voted in favour of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on 13 September 2007.
It has not yet ratified ILO Convention 169, an international legal instrument dealing specifically with the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples.
The Republic Act 8371, known as the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA), was promulgated in 1997. It has been lauded for its support for indigenous peoples’ cultural integrity, right to their lands and right to self-directed development of these lands. More substantial implementation of the law is still being sought.
The Igorot, the Lumad and the Mangyan
The latest census from 2010 included an ethnicity variable for the first time. However, an official figure for the indigenous peoples of the Philippines has yet come, and the country’s indigenous population continues to be estimated to between 10 per cent and 20 per cent of the national population, which is currently around 102.9 million.
The indigenous groups in the northern mountains of Luzon are collectively known as Igorot while the groups on the southern island of Mindanao are collectively called Lumad. There are smaller groups collectively known as Mangyan in the central islands, as well as even smaller, more scattered groups in the central islands and Luzon, including several groups of hunter-gatherers in transition.
Indigenous peoples in the Philippines have retained much of their traditional, pre-colonial culture, social institutions and livelihood practices. They generally live in geographically isolated areas with a lack of access to basic social services and few opportunities for mainstream economic activities, education or political participation.
In contrast, commercially valuable natural resources, such as minerals, forests and rivers can be found mainly in their areas, making them continuously vulnerable to development aggression and land grabbing.
Main challenges for the Philippines’ indigenous peoples
Indigenous peoples engaged in the electoral process by fielding their own political party “Sulong Katribu” to represent their interests in the 2016 national elections. Their attempt to gain seats in Congress via the party list system failed not because of insufficient votes, but because the Commission on Elections and the Supreme Court refused to accredit Sulong Katribu to participate in the elections.
The disqualification of the party’s list was condemned by many indigenous peoples, who filed appeals asserting that all the requirements for party list accreditation had been complied with and that the disqualification of Sulong Katribu was a move to further marginalize and discriminate against indigenous peoples. However, these appeals were likewise denied.
Potential progress for the Philippines’ indigenous peoples
In commemoration of International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples on 8 August 2016, indigenous peoples from different regions of the Philippines held a rally and submitted a six-point indigenous peoples agenda to President Duterte containing their longstanding demands for justice, peace and respect for indigenous peoples’ rights.
They demanded that the new administration resume peace negotiations and release political prisoners, promote the right to ancestral lands and self-determination, stop the plunder of natural resources in indigenous territories, provide free and sufficient social services, livelihood and support to victims of natural calamities, respect and promote human rights; and hold former President Benigno Aquino III accountable for the violation of indigenous peoples’ rights.
Case: Expansion of monocrop plantations
The aggressive expansion of plantations in recent years has led to many cases of human rights violations against farmers, plantation workers and indigenous peoples. Community members from the municipalities of Bataraza and Española in Palawan reported how their rights had been violated by several companies that continue to expand their palm oil plantations on community lands without their free, prior and informed consent.
The Palawan NGO Coalition Against Land Grabbing (CALG) and the Commission on Human Rights in the Philippines (CHRP) conducted a fact-finding investigation, which revealed a pattern of land grabs and forest destruction by palm oil companies and indicated the complicity of government officials in defrauding indigenous peoples of their lands.
Cordillera Human Rights Alliance denounces the extrajudicial killing of William Bugatti who was shot on March 25 around 7 in the evening. William Bugatti was a Tuwali and a human rights worker, a Regional Council Member of the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance-KARAPATAN, a Regional Council Member of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance representing the Ifugao Peasant Movement and the Provincial Coordinator of Bayan Muna partylist.
On April 4-7, 2014, a National Solidarity Mission was held in response to one of the gravest cases of human rights violation in the Cordillera region in recent years – the massacre of the Ligiws of Sitio Sucao, Barangay Domenglay, Licuan Baay, Abra. The National Solidarity Mission was organized to register concern over the recent spate of human rights violations due to heavy militarization of the communities of Abra in the Philippines.
In a statement from IWGIA's partner The Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) the organisation strongly denounces the massacre of the Ligiw family in Abra province, in Baay Licuan municipality alledgedly by the 41st Infantry Battalion of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Kin and tribesmen recovered the bound and gagged bodies of Edie Ligiw, Freddie "Fermin" Ligiw and their father Licuben Ligiw in a shallow grave on March 8. Edie, Fermin and their aging father were leaders of the anti mining campaign in Baay Licuan and members of CPA's chapter in Abra. In the statement CPA points to the fact that 41st Infantry Battalion has a track record of human rights violations in Abra province, especially where local opposition to destructive mining is strong.