• Indigenous peoples in Philippines

    Indigenous peoples in 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.

Indigenous World 2019: Philippines

The population census conducted in the Philippines in 2010 for the first time included an ethnicity variable but no official figure for indigenous peoples has yet come out. The country’s indigenous population thus continues to be estimated at between 10% and 20% of the national population of 100,981,437, based on the 2015 population census.

The indigenous groups in the northern mountains of Luzon (Cordillera) 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 island of Mindoro as well as smaller, scattered groups in the Visayas 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 primarily in their areas, making them continuously vulnerable to development aggression and land grabbing.

The Republic Act 8371, known as the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA), was promulgated in 1997. The law has been lauded for its support for respect of indigenous peoples’ cultural integrity, right to their lands and right to self-directed development of those lands. More substantial implementation of the law is still being sought, however, apart from there being fundamental criticism of the law itself. The Philippines voted in favour of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), but the government has not yet ratified ILO Convention 169.

Indigenous peoples (IPs) in the Philippines experienced intensified violations of their human and collective rights in 2018 with the declaration of martial law in Mindanao and all-out war against so-called terrorists. A crackdown by the government against political dissenters followed the declaration of the New Peoples’ Army (NPA) and Communist Party of the Philippines as terrorist organizations. The government of the Philippines unilaterally suspended peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, continued its counter-insurgency program Oplan Kapayapaan, and implemented other policies that threaten peoples’ rights. 2018 was another year of impunity in the country, where IPs and human rights defenders experienced unbridled attacks under the tyrannical rule of President Rodrigo Duterte. Indigenous human rights defenders were criminalized for protecting their rights to their lands and resources from plunder and destruction by so-called development projects, and for fighting against human rights violations and tyranny. 

Terrorist tagging, illegal arrests and detention

IPs all over the country are facing a trend of criminalization, especially those who are vocal in criticizing government policies that undermine their democratic rights. The filing of trumped-up charges against IPs and human rights defenders was further systematized through the formation of the government’s Inter-Agency Committee on Legal Action (IACLA) in October 2017. The Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights (KARAPATAN) national alliance of human rights organizations claims that IACLA will legitimize the criminalization of dissent and serves as an instrument of political repression.2

The National Alliance of Indigenous Peoples Organizations in the Philippines (KATRIBU) documented 183 cases of illegal arrest of IPs since July 2016. Of this number, 42 remain in detention for crimes they did not commit.3 The trumped-up charges filed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) against IPs include murder, frustrated murder and illegal possession of firearms and explosives. In Mindanao, Datu Jomorito Goaynon of the Higaonon people and chairperson of the Kalumbay Regional Lumad Organization was illegally arrested and detained in July, together with 12 participants of a project assessment meeting led by the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) Diocese of Libertad.4 Goaynon is just one of many Lumad indigenous leaders in Mindanao who are facing trumped-up charges.

In the Cordillera region, Rachel Mariano, a health worker, and four other women human rights defenders are facing trumped-up charges of 14 counts of frustrated and attempted homicide. In February 2018, they presented themselves to the courts and posted bail to prove their innocence. In September 2018, Mariano was again charged with another set of trumped-up charges of murder and eight cases of frustrated murder, alleging that she is a member of the NPA. Because a case of murder is non-bailable, Mariano was detained when she submitted herself to the court and she remains in jail as of this writing.5 Three other Cordillera IPs were illegally arrested and detained in July 2018. Trumpedup charges of multiple murder were filed against siblings Edmond and Saturnino Dazon, linking them to the encounter between the AFP and the NPA where some AFP soldiers were killed, which transpired in the area five days before their arrest.6 In Abra province, Cordillera Peoples Alliance Abra (CPA-Abra) member Ceasario Baluga was illegally arrested and detained during the conduct of military operations.7

The terrorist tagging of indigenous human rights defenders and activists has also intensified. These were done through the circulation of text messages, social media posts and distribution and posting of flyers with names of activists tagged as terrorists. Worse, indigenous human rights defenders are outrightly being labeled terrorist by the government through the judicial court.

Department of Justice (DOJ) terrorist proscription petition

In February 2018, the DOJ filed a petition in the Regional Trial Court Branch 19 in Manila, which seeks to proscribe the NPA and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) as terrorist organizations. It listed 649 names of alleged NPA and CPP officers and members, includ-

ing at least 31 indigenous leaders. Named in the list are UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, the Co-Convener of the UN IP Major Group on the UN Sustainable Development Goals Joan Carling, former member of the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of IPs Atty Jose Molintas, and leaders of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance. The petition is pursuant to the Human Security Act of 2007. Under this law, once organizations are judicially considered as terrorists, warrantless arrests, surveillance and freezing of assets are legally allowed against a person who is merely suspected of committing terrorist acts or conspiring to commit terrorist acts.

Philippine IPs criticized the petition as malicious and baseless, with intent to vilify, harass and intimidate the people struggling for their democratic rights and indigenous communities fighting for their rights to their ancestral lands and self-determination.8 It was widely criticized and condemned by the international community, including UN agencies and government bodies. In a statement, US Senator Patrick Leahy said, “The problem with this “terrorist list” is that the government is apparently using it to persecute people who have nothing to do with terrorism, but who have engaged in legitimate, peaceful dissent and protests in opposition to government policies that threaten their way of life.”9

Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, Jose Molintas and two others listed in the petition were cleared in August 2018. On 3 January 2019, the DOJ amended its petition and trimmed down its list to only eight names, which the agency wants to declare as terrorists.10 However, DOJ Secretary Menardo Guevarra said that the dropping of names of several individuals in the amended petition does not mean that they are no longer linked to terrorism cases in the country.11

Extrajudicial killings

Extrajudicial killings remain rampant in the country. In July 2018, Global Witness reported that the Philippines is the most dangerous country for environmental defenders in Asia in 2017, with 47 defenders killed – the highest number ever documented in an Asian country.12 KATRIBU meanwhile documented at least 51 IPs killed from July 2016 to October 2018.13 Most of the victims were accused of being members or supporters of the NPA. These are on top of the victims of Duterte’s infamous War on Drugs, which has reportedly claimed the lives of more than 20,000 people and yet the problem of illegal drugs persists.

Many of the victims of extrajudicial killings among IPs were leaders and members of communities and grassroots organizations who protested destructive projects such as large-scale gold mining, agribusiness plantations, mega-dams and energy-generation projects. Ricardo Mayumi of the Ifugao Peasant Movement, who was shot dead on 2 March 2018, was known for leading the opposition against the hydro power project of Santa Clara Power Corporation in his home town in Ifugao province.14 ASEAN Members of Parliament condemned this killing in their 12 March 2018 statement, which stated that the killing highlights the increasingly hostile climate faced by activists in the Philippines.15 On 15 September 2018, 23-year old Rex Hangadon was killed in Caraga Region allegedly by members of the Philippine Army’s 23rd Infantry Battalion.16 

Martial law and forced evacuation

In December 2018, the congress has, for the third time, approved the request of President Duterte for the extension of martial law in Mindanao up to the end of 2019. Mindanao has been under martial law since 23 May 2017, during which time KARAPATAN documented at least 346,940 people affected by bombings of communities by the military.17 This is in addition to the cases of extrajudicial killings, illegal arrests and detention, and the continuing attacks against schools set-up by the Lumad IPs in partnership with non-governmental organizations.

Under Duterte’s martial law in Mindanao, bombings, military encampment of communities, forced evacuations, mass illegal arrest and detention, harassment and intimidation are continuously committed with impunity. Twenty-four out of the 51 victims of extrajudicial killings of IPs were committed under martial law.18

Lumad IPs continued to forcibly evacuate their communities due to militarization, military operations and human rights violations committed by the Philippine army and paramilitary groups. Under the Duterte administration, KATRIBU documented 67 incidents of forced evacuation of communities, affecting a total of 38,841 individuals belonging to IPs.19

In July 2018, 1,600 residents of Lumad communities in Lianga and San Agustin, Surigao del Sur, were forcibly evacuated due to military operations in their communities. At the evacuation center, they suffered from lack of water and tight security measures by the military who were reportedly pressuring them to return to their homes despite their anxiety and fear for their safety. Members of the Magahat-Bagani paramilitary group, which was implicated in extrajudicial killings of IPs, were also stationed in front of the evacuation center and, through a public address system, accused the evacuees of being supporters of the NPA.20 The Andap Valley, which is occupied by the evacuees, is where five coal mining companies are reportedly set to operate. The valley is among the areas that President Duterte has said he wanted to open up to investments. Hence, the Lumad IPs believe that the purpose of militarization in their ancestral lands is to silence any opposition against coal mining projects. 

Mining and energy projects in indigenous lands

Indigenous territories remain a target for destruction and plunder by the state and private corporations through large-scale mining, energy projects, agribusiness plantations and infrastructures. Under Duterte’s “Build! Build! Build!” economic development program, at least 29 contract agreements between the Philippine government and the government of China have been signed in November 2018 alone.21 These include the Chico River Pump Irrigation Project in the provinces of Kalinga and Cagayan, and the New Centennial River Dam Project or Kaliwa Dam in the provinces of Rizal and Quezon. Both projects lack the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of the affected indigenous communities.

Both projects will also favor China, including high interest rates on the loans (US $62 million for the Chico Project and at most $234 million for the Kaliwa Dam Project), which will be an added burden that the Filipino masses will carry on their backs. In 2018, the government passed and implemented the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law, which is aimed at raising money for projects under the “Build! Build! Build!” program. Combined with high inflation rates, the TRAIN law resulted in soaring prices of basic goods and commodities that impact greatly on the poor and marginalized IPs.

Under the regime of President Duterte, the construction of mega-dam projects in indigenous territories continue to threaten indigenous lands and resources. These include the Agus-Pulangi Dams22, Jalaur Dam23, Balog-Balog Dam24, Alimit Hydro Complex25, Karayan Dam26 and other hydropower projects.

Coal Operating Contracts issued by the Department of Energy are encroaching hundreds of thousands of hectares of ancestral lands in the Andap Valley Complex and several provinces in Mindanao.27

On large-scale mining, at present there are 230 out of 447 approved mining applications that are located in ancestral territories. These cover 542,245 hectares of ancestral lands, comprising 72% of the total land area covered by all of the approved mining applications in the country.28 In September 2018, at least 97 people died in Benguet Province after being buried alive in massive landslides when typhoon Ompong hit northern Philippines. Local residents believe that the largescale underground mining operations of Benguet Corporation since 1903 have aggravated the instability of the soil thereby causing massive landslides during typhoon season.29

Indigenous peoples’ response

IPs, joined by various civil society groups, have staged numerous protests condemning the Duterte regime’s attacks against them. They also called for the government to resume its peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines to address the roots of the armed conflict.

In May 2018, representatives of IPs in different regions gathered for a National Consultation with UNSR Vicky Tauli-Corpuz. The event included documentation of IP rights violations, followed by an online dialogue and submission of cases to the UN Special Rapporteur.30

Representatives of KATRIBU, CPA and Lumad IP participated in the International Peoples Tribunal (IPT) on the Philippines, which was held in Belgium in September 2018. They provided testimonies on community bombings, criminalization and other human rights violations perpetrated by state security forces, and the economic issues related to these, such as mining and dam projects. The IPT concluded that the Duterte regime is guilty of gross violations of human rights, international humanitarian law and self-determination.31

Notes and references

  1. See The Indigenous World 2018, p. 281
  2. See Bulatlat, “Is ‘White December’ next as military-concocted Red October fizzles out? Rights defenders ask” at http://bit.ly/2T7dKxp
  3. TIBALYAW Official Publication of Katribu Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (KATRIBU), December 2018
  4. Karapatan Monitor. Two Years of Duterte: Overture to a rapid political and economic decay. Published by KARAPATAN Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights, July to September 2018
  5. See Cpaphils, “Urgent Appeal to Support Indigenous Human Rights Defender Rachel Mariano” at http://bit.ly/2Eg1al1
  6. See Takderkordi, “Alert: Illegal Arrests and Detention in Besao and Other Violations by the 5th and 7th ID of the AFP” at http://bit.ly/2EfeAhg
  7. See cpaphils, “Stop the attacks of the 24th IB against indigenous communities in Abra” at http://bit.ly/2EsClTl
  8. See Civicus, “Cordillera Peoples Alliance” at http://bit.ly/2Ec1Bg8
  9. See “US Senator Patrick Leahy Statement on Defending Indigenous Activists in the Philippines” at http://bit.ly/2Ej6h48
  10. See Rappler, “DOJ trims terror tag list of Reds from over 656 to 8” at http://bit.ly/2EmKg4y
  11. See Manila Bulletin News, “Individuals excluded from list of communist rebels not yet off the hook” at http://bit.ly/2Elr6vT
  12. See Global Witness, “Deadliest year on record for land and environmental defenders, as agribusiness is shown to be the industry most linked to killings” at http://bit.ly/2EfWRGy
  13. cit. TIBALYAW
  14. See Rappler, “Ifugao environmental activist shot dead” at http://bit.ly/2EjTiPx
  15. See IPMG, “ASEAN MPs condemn murder of indigenous activist in the Philippines, call for protection of environmental rights defenders region-wide” at http://bit.ly/2EfRreB
  16. See Inquirer News, “Lumad killed in Agusan Del Norte” at http://bit.ly/2EjVK8B
  17. See “Karapatan on another martial law extension in Mindanao” karapatan.org
  18. cit. TIBALYAW
  19. Ibidem
  20. See Philstar Global, “Lumad evacuees face harassment, lack of water and food” at http://bit.ly/2Ek9LTI
  21. See Sunstar, “Philippines, China sign 29 agreements” at https://www.sunstar.com.ph/article/1774942
  22. See BusinessWorld, “Agus-Pulangi rehab named priority among China-funded projects” at http://bit.ly/2T510ra
  23. See PNA, “NIA, Korean firm ink deal for P11.2-B Iloilo mega dam construction” at http://bit.ly/2T8Paw0
  24. See Inquirer.Net, “Tarlac mega dam project starts” at http://bit.ly/2T3Wr09
  25. See Philippine Information Agency, “Ifugao officials, SNAP approve hydropower agreement” at http://bit.ly/2T6mAeM
  26. See Rappler, “Locals protest Duterte admin’s Chico River project” at http://bit.ly/2T5Wrgi
  27. cit TIBALYAW
  28. Ibidem
  29. See Cpaphils, “Hold Benguet Corp accountable for the lost lives and livehood! Stop man-made disasters caused by large-scale mining!” at http://bit.ly/2T7l8Jf
  30. See GMA News Online, “Indigenous groups, UN rapporteur Tauli-Corpuz discuss Lumad killings, harassment” at http://bit.ly/2Eit0xf
  31. See The International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL), “International People’s Tribunal on the Philippines Issues Verdict on Duterte and Trump” at http://bit.ly/2EfSbQV

Sarah Bestang K. Dekdeken is a Kankanaey Igorot from the Cordillera region in northern Philippines. She is the current Secretary General of the Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance, a federation of progressive people’s organizations, mostly grassroots-based organizations among indigenous communities in the Cordillera region.

Jill K. Cariño, an Ibaloi Igorot, is the current Vice Chairperson for External Affairs of the Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance, and Convenor and Executive Director of the Philippine Task Force for Indigenous Peoples’ Rights (TFIP), a network of 11 non-governmental organizations in the Philippines advancing the cause of indigenous peoples.



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Indigenous World

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