The Indigenous World 2021: 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 been released yet. 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.
COVID-19 response and impacts
The Philippine government was caught unprepared by the COVID-19 pandemic. Even as cases were rising from January to February, the country remained open to travellers from China and other countries. Belatedly, the government imposed a total lockdown and enhanced community quarantine starting on 15 March 2020. This meant the cancellation of flights, restriction of movement in almost all provinces and cities, stoppage of work, closure of schools, 24-hour curfew, home quarantine for all except key workers, and the suspension of public transport except for emergency cases. Using a militarist approach to address the health crisis, the government mobilised the military and police to enforce health and security protocols and arrested alleged 177,540 violators of “quarantine violations”, including 52,535 detained as of 21 May 2020.
This situation affected Indigenous communities in the country and disrupted the peoples’ economic, political and social lives. Many lost their livelihoods, some were stranded in communities and cities with limited access to food supplies, basic health services or testing for COVID-19. Indigenous organisations responded to the pandemic by conducting relief operations, producing information materials on the virus and how to protect oneself, and marketing local products to provide a source of income for farmers. These efforts were undermined by the military in some areas where they dropped flyers from helicopters warning people not to avail themselves of relief goods being distributed by alleged “front organisations” of communist terrorists. The use of Indigenous knowledge and practices such as traditional community quarantine and herbal remedies was also reported.
The pandemic came in the midst of a worsening human rights situation under the administration of President Duterte. The COVID-19 crisis has accelerated the shrinking of democratic space in the country. In a push to implement its neo-liberal economic programmes and end the communist insurgency by 2022, the government has continued its so-called “war on drugs”, intensified its counter-insurgency operations, and heightened political repression.
Legislation affecting Indigenous Peoples
On 24 March 2020, the Philippine Congress passed the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act (Republic Act No. 11469) declaring a state of national emergency, creating an inter-agency task force to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, imposing penalties for violations of the law, and granting the President additional authority to appropriate funds in order to finance stimulus packages and development projects. The Bayanihan Act was shortly followed by Republic Act No. 113,32, creating guidelines for Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ). Together, these two laws were used to push Duterte’s development agenda while inhibiting public mobilisation and protest. Indigenous organisations criticised the law for its provisions, which facilitated further violations of the people’s civil, political and socio-economic rights.
On 4 June 2020, the Accelerated Recovery and Investments Stimulus for the Economy of the Philippines (ARISE Philippines) was passed. The law allotted a PhP 1.3 trillion stimulus package, of which PhP 650 billion was allocated to enhance the government’s Build Build Build infrastructure programme. There are over 100 Build Build Build projects, many of which are to be constructed on Indigenous Peoples’ territories.
This was followed on 27 July 2020 by the passage of the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (Bayanihan Act 2) “providing for COVID-19 response and recovery interventions and establishing mechanisms to accelerate recovery and bolster the resilience of the Philippine economy”. President Duterte is using his executive powers under these laws to divert and appropriate funds for the COVID-19 response as well as to fund infrastructure projects that will receive stimulus support.
On 3 July 2020, Republic Act No. 11479 or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 was passed by Congress and signed into law by the President. The law’s vague definition of terrorism is so broad that it covers all acts intended to cause violence, destroy or kill. It violates the right to speech and prohibits legitimate grievances, without due process. It sets severe penalties for possible acts of terrorism, such as life imprisonment without parole. It sets up an Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) composed of cabinet officials, which is authorised to “designate” individuals and organisations as terrorists. The ATC can order the arrest of persons designated as terrorists without formal warrant, and their detention in unspecified facilities without formal charges for between 14 and 24 days. As a whole, the law is unconstitutional and violates the principle of the separation of powers of the different branches of government. It is designed to stop and prevent legitimate protest by curtailing fundamental freedoms and human rights. As of September 2020, a total of 34 petitions had been filed in the Supreme Court by various groups, including the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and Indigenous Peoples’ organisations questioning the constitutionality of the law.
Attacks on Indigenous Peoples
Following the issuance of Executive Order 70 by President Duterte in December 2018, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) accelerated the government’s counter-insurgency programme in 2020. Under the leadership of the National Security Adviser and the Chair of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), the NTF-ELCAC aims not only to crush the armed resistance in the countryside but also to stop the alleged support coming from city-based progressive legal organisations. In the process, NTF-ELCAC is actively labelling Indigenous Peoples’ organisations and non-government organisations as legal fronts of the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People’s Army (CPP-NPA). Indigenous Peoples’ rights defenders safeguarding their ancestral domains from plunder are among those targeted and branded as communist fronts, their members vilified as terrorists through social media and the distribution of propaganda materials by the NTF-ELCAC.,
Based on military intelligence reports, Indigenous communities are among the main supporters of the CPP-NPA. The military is thus implementing an “IP-centric” approach in its Whole-of-Nation counter-insurgency strategy. The NTF-ELCAC is actively red-tagging Indigenous organisations, their leaders, support NGOs and advocates, resulting in a marked increase in violations of the individual and collective rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Comprehensive campaign to discredit & delegitimise Indigenous organisations
The government is targeting Indigenous Peoples’ organisations using a combination of various strategies through the judicial, legislative and executive branches. State laws and institutions such as the military, courts, police, local government units and national government agencies are weaponised to attack Indigenous Peoples’ human rights defenders and deny them access to justice. Reports from the field show that development NGOs are vilified as alleged terrorists or leftists and are being denied access to communities for the delivery of relief and other services. In addition, the AFP has been deceiving and forcing members of local Indigenous Peoples’ organisations to “clear” their names as supporters of the NPA and to renounce their membership of red-tagged organisations.
Terrorist-tagging worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic and is expected to intensify with the implementation of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020. The military has been using numerous Facebook accounts to spread lies, sow intrigue and destroy the reputation of Indigenous leaders who are good-standing citizens. One example is the case of Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) Chair Windel Bolinget, who has been a victim of numerous malicious social media posts against him and his family. In addition, tarpaulins, posters and leaflets maligning him and other CPA leaders and members have been scattered, in addition to death threats received by text, phone call and mail. The AFP is conducting a disinformation campaign in barangays referring to the CPA as a front organisation of the CPP-NPA-NDF.
The AFP and the DILG are aggressively pushing local government units to issue resolutions declaring CPA persona non grata and to post tarpaulins announcing this. All these moves point to a systematic campaign by the military to discredit and delegitimise CPA and to deprive the organisation of access to communities in the Cordillera region. There have also been attempts to deny the historical role of CPA in the Indigenous Peoples’ movement. This was done through a series of Facebook posts by the Mayor of Sadanga municipality, spreading false information about the Cordillera people’s movement and the CPA. Moves were also instigated by the Police Regional Office in the Cordillera (PRO-COR) to demolish the heroes’ monument in Tinglayan, Kalinga, which was established by CPA and the local Butbut community to honour their valiant defence of the land from being submerged by the proposed Chico River dams during the 1970s and 80s.
In Mindanao, attacks against Lumad schools continued even during the lockdown. From March to May 2020, the Save Our Schools (SOS) Network documented 32 attacks on Lumad schools, including forced closure, illegal arrest of students and aerial bombings. The latest count is 178 Lumad schools that have been forced to shut down since 2016, denying 5,500 students of their right to education. Furthermore, under the “new normal” system of online classes and distance learning, Indigenous children are particularly disadvantaged since there is hardly any access to electricity, much less the Internet, in remote Indigenous communities.
Criminalisation, trumped up charges, killing
Republic Act No. 10,591, or the Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act, has been used to falsely accuse, criminalise, arrest and detain Indigenous Peoples. No distinction is made between combatants and civilians. Trumped up criminal charges are being filed against Indigenous leaders and members through illegal searches, planting evidence of possession of firearms and explosives in order to file criminal charges, illegal arrest and detention, and denial of due process. Among the recent victims is Beatrice Belen, a staunch leader from Uma, Kalinga, active in the fight against the Chevron geothermal project in their community. She was arrested on 25 October 2020 after an illegal search on false charges of illegal possession of explosives. In Mindanao, Gloria Tumalon, a Manobo Indigenous activist and opponent of mining projects, was arrested in the Surigao del Sur. Tumalon was one of 468 people accused of being an NPA member.
In Zambales, four Indigenous Ayta community members (two male farmers and two female minors) were illegally arrested and subjected to torture such as force-feeding of faeces by the military. Japer Gurung and Junior Ramos were arrested while evacuating with their families from their ancestral land due to ongoing military operations. Criminal charges were filed against them including illegal possession of firearms, ammunitions and explosives. This case is the first publicly known criminal charge filed using the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.
The most recent heinous incident happened in Panay Island on 30 December 2020 where nine unarmed, non-combatant Indigenous Tumandok leaders were massacred during a joint operation by the Philippine National Police, Army, and Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in Tapaz, Capiz. Family members of Eliseo Gayas were ordered out of their house. Armed operatives then entered and killed him outright with four gunshots. Meanwhile, Mario Aguirre’s and Roy Giganto’s houses were forcibly entered by operatives who then shot them both dead in their sleep, in the presence of their families. In the same operation, 16 other Indigenous Tumandok from different barangays in Calinog, Iloilo and Tapaz, Capiz were arrested using search warrants signed by a judge in Metro Manila. Those arrested had firearms and explosives planted on them as evidence and were charged with violating Republic Act 10,591 (Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act of 2020) and RA 9,516 for illegal possession of explosives. Those killed and arrested were respected Indigenous leaders in their respective barangays who were strongly resisting the construction of the destructive Jalaur Mega and Pan-ay dams. Their ongoing fight to defend Indigenous Peoples’ rights was the reason why they were tagged by the military as members of rebel groups.
Continuing development aggression
Mining operations and other aggressive development projects were continuing in Indigenous territories even during the community quarantine. In July 2020, Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI), developer of the US$ 5.9 billion Tampakan copper-gold project located in Indigenous B’laan territory in South Cotabato, “reacquired” its environmental compliance certificate (ECC), one of the requirements needed to proceed to the commercial production phase. The ECC of SMI, which was cancelled in 2017, was restored by the Office of the President (OP). In a later welcome development, a court upheld a ban on open-pit mining in the province of South Cotabato.
Another example is the Kaliwa, Kanan and Laiban dams in Quezon and Rizal provinces, which will displace thousands of Indigenous Dumagat and Remontado in order to supply water to Metro Manila. Construction of the access road to the project site continued during the lockdown. Another emblematic case is New Clark City in Central Luzon, which is displacing Indigenous Ayta from their ancestral land to make way for a Sports Complex, an airport and special economic zone for foreign investors.
Quarantine protocols were used to criminalise community members defending their land from mining operations by OceanaGold on ancestral lands. On 6 April 2020, around 100 police officers in full battle gear escorted company trucks bringing in fuel supplies for the mining operation and violently dispersed the barricade set up by Tuwali-Ifugao in Barangay Didipio, Nueva Vizcaya. The barricaders were trying to stop the continued destructive open-pit mining operation of OceanaGold given that its Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement with the government had already expired. The incident led to the arrest of Rolando Pulido, chair of Indigenous organisation Didipio Earth Savers Movement Association (DESAMA), along with 14 others who were charged with violating the guidelines for Enhanced Community Quarantine and resistance to and disobedience of a person in authority. At least three women Indigenous barricaders were injured during the violent dispersal. After a series of typhoons hit Luzon in October 2020, the tailings pond of OceanaGold overflowed spilling toxic mine waste on rice fields, gardens and streams. Also in October, around 30 elements of the PNP from Nueva Vizcaya escorted 50 security guards from the mining company to deliver fuel to the mining site. Local barangay officials and environmental groups tried to prevent the illegal entry but the police allegedly threatened protestors with arrest.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources also reportedly plans to advance mining and river dredging in order to spur on the country’s economic recovery programme. Large-scale mining in the Philippines is highly destructive and is widely protested by affected Indigenous communities and environmental defenders in many parts of the country.
Further, the Department of Agriculture (DA) and National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) jointly proposed implementing the Plant, Plant, Plant programme in Mindanao by targeting the ancestral lands of the Lumad as idle lands. The government’s plan is to take over ancestral lands for development by investing in commercial agriculture, palm oil plantations, mining, special economic zones, and other aggressive development projects. This poses a threat to Indigenous traditional farmers in their ancestral domains, as well as those who rely on the forests for their sustenance.
OHCHR report to the UN Human Rights Council
In response to resolution 41/2 of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) presented a comprehensive report on the situation of human rights in the Philippines during its 44th Session in Geneva on 6 June 2020. The report described the human rights situation in the Philippines as marked by an overarching focus on public order and national security, including countering terrorism and illegal drugs. The Philippine state was seen to have violated human rights in its response to countering terrorism and conflicts. Further, “red-tagging” or labelling of individuals and groups as communists or terrorists was seen as a persistent and powerful threat to civil society and freedom of expression.
Particular to the situation of Indigenous Peoples, the OHCHR report found that various controversial large-scale projects to which the Indigenous communities have not consented remain pending. Land and environmental rights defenders were among the documented killings of human rights defenders, with widespread impunity. Teachers and students of NGO-run Indigenous community learning centres were found to have been attacked and harassed.
Among the key recommendations for action by the Philippine government were to disband and disarm all private and State-backed paramilitary groups; review Executive Order 70 to ensure compliance with the rule of law and international human rights norms and standards; ensure full respect for the principle of free, prior and informed consent and meaningful participation at all stages of development projects that affect Indigenous communities; and ensure universal access of Indigenous children to quality education in line with their cultural identity, language and values. In response to the report, UNHRC passed a resolution during its 45th session on 7 October 2020 calling for “technical assistance and capacity-building” for domestic efforts on human rights and urging High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet to “provide support for the country in its continued fulfilment of its international human rights obligations and commitments”. The resolution likewise noted the government’s cooperation and participation with the UNHRC, including its “announcement of the creation of a review panel that would re-evaluate cases where deaths occurred during operations under the anti-illegal drugs campaign”. Rights groups expressed disappointment with the resolution “as it fell far short of the expectations of victims of human rights violations.”
In light of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic and the worsening human rights situation in the country, the general outlook for the coming year (2021) is bleak. Indigenous Peoples are bracing themselves for more difficult days ahead until the end of President Duterte’s term in 2022.
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 organisations in the Philippines advancing the cause of Indigenous Peoples.
This article is part of the 35th edition of The Indigenous World, a yearly overview produced by IWGIA that serves to document and report on the developments Indigenous Peoples have experienced. Find The Indigenous World 2021 in full here
Notes and references
 IBON International. “CPDG: Philippine CSOs denounce human rights violations and closing civic space amid COVID-19.” Last modified 26 May 2020. https://iboninternational.org/2020/05/26/cpdg-philippine-csos-denounce-human-rights-violations-and-closing-civic-space-amid-covid-19/
 Torres-Tupas, Tetch. “What you need to know when arrested for quarantine violation.” Inquirer, 22 May 2020. https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1279565/what-arrested-for-quarantine-violators-need-to-know
 UP sa Halalan. “A Primer Bayanihan to Heal as One Act 2020.” https://polisci.upd.edu.ph/resources/bayanihan-primer/
 Katribu. “Phil. IPs amidst Covid-19 pandemic.” Special Report, June 2020.
Cepeda, Mara. “House approves P1.3-trillion economic stimulus package vs pandemic.” Rappler, 4 June 2020.
 The Build Build Build programme of the Duterte administration was initiated in July 2018 as a flagship programme under the Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2017-2022.
 Eighteenth Congress of the Republic of the Philippines. Republic Act (RA) No. 11494, Bayanihan II Act. 27 July 2020. https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/downloads/2020/09sep/20200911-RA-11494-RRD.pdf
 Eighteenth Congress of the Republic of the Philippines. Republic Act (RA) No. 11479, Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020. 22 July 2019. https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/downloads/2020/06jun/20200703-RA-11479-RRD.pdf
Republic of the Philippines Department of Justice Anti-Terrorism Council. The 2020 Implementing Rules and Regulations of Republic Act No. 11479. 16 October 2020. https://www.doj.gov.ph/files/2020/news%20articles/IRR%20ATA%202020%20-%20CTC.PDF
 Buan, Lian. ”IBP files 34th petition: Hard to defend suspects under vague anti-terror law.” Rappler, 12 September 2020. https://www.rappler.com/nation/ibp-34th-petition-anti-terror-law
 Asia Democracy Chronicles. “New Normal, Old Crisis.” Last modified 10 December 2020. https://adnasia.org/philippine-task-force-for-indigenous-peoples-rights-on-the-human-rights-situation-of-indigenous-peoples-during-the-covid-19-pandemic/
 Katribu. “Phil. IPs amidst Covid-19 pandemic.” Special Report, June 2020. https://aippnet.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/IPs-and-Covid-19_-Katribu-Special-Report.pdf.
 According to Katribu, in a report submitted to the UPR, the Whole of Nation Initiative of the Philippine Army identifies IP communities, particularly the Lumad in Eastern Mindanao, as part of the New People’s Army (NPA). It states that in Eastern Mindanao “74% of the NPA are IP”, and that “90% of the NPA bases are in ancestral domains”.
 Cordillera Peoples Alliance, 2020. “Appeal for Urgent Action on the Attacks Against the CPA and its Leaders.” Facebook, 11 May 2020. https://www.facebook.com/cpaphils/posts/3052051951498312
 Aspinwall, Nick. “Philippines: brutal crackdown on activists and environmental defenders amid spread of Covid-19.” Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, 6 April 2020. https://www.business-humanrights.org/en/latest-news/philippines-brutal-crackdown-on-activists-and-environmental-defenders-amid-spread-of-covid-19/
Torres-Tupas, Tetch. “Anti-Terror Law’s first hit: Two Aetas from Zambales – group.” Inquirer, 18 November 2020. https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1362348/anti-terror-laws-first-hit-two-aetas-from-zambales-group#ixzz6iZcLN5Mp
 Sarmiento, Bong S. “Environmental certificate for Tampakan project ‘restored’ by Office of the President.” Mindanews, July 11, 2020. https://www.mindanews.com/environment/2020/07/environmental-certificate-for-tampakan-project-restored-by-office-of-the-president/
 Sarmiento, Bong S. “Philippine court upholds open-pit mining ban in Mindanao.” Mongabay, 19 October 2020. https://news.mongabay.com/2020/10/philippine-court-upholds-open-pit-mining-ban-in-mindanao/
Beltran, Bernice. “Philippines’ ‘Smart City’ Threatens Tribal Displacement.” The Diplomat, 8 January 2020. https://thediplomat.com/2020/01/philippines-smart-city-threatens-tribal-displacement/
In a recent resolution, the Court of Appeal (CA) denied the petition of OceanaGold (Philippines), Inc., (OGPI) for an injunction allowing the resumption of its operations at Didipio mine in Nueva Vizcaya. The injunctive relief would have allowed the Didipio mine to keep operating pending its legal challenge against the 15 June 2019 order of Governor Carlos Padilla to shut down the mine in Barangay Didipio, Kasibu municipality. The closure order followed the expiry of a 25-year financial and technical assistance agreement (FTAA) on midnight of 20 June 2019.
Abogado. “CA won’t stop Didipio mine closure, but won’t let OceanaGold save face by withdrawing case.” Last modified 23 October 2020. https://abogado.com.ph/ca-wont-stop-didipio-mine-closure-but-wont-let-oceanagold-save-face-by-withdrawing-case/?fbclid=IwAR3PfASTyStfIIukYg3AZpUbh_UOVUahlo0RmvmMbcOEcL0Dh0QGI0f7Zxg
 Visaya, Vince Jacob A. “Police dismantle human barricade.” The Manila Times, 8 April 2020. https://www.manilatimes.net/2020/04/08/news/regions/police-dismantle-human-barricade/711197/
 Judy Pasimio, LILAK, November 2020. https://www.facebook.com/judy.a.pasimio/posts/10216017927274827
 Alyansa Tigil Mina. ”ATM Statement on illegal entry of fuel trucks in Nueva Vizcaya.” Last modified 26 November, 2020. https://www.alyansatigilmina.net/single-post/2020/11/26/ATM-Statement-on-illegal-entry-of-fuel-trucks-in-Nueva-Vizcaya?fbclid=IwAR3R21qi_aeZKaKGj5eOqRdHMhA0yklYmWY5pL_xle_uHkuGf3Xm6fL7_yo
 Magsino, Dona. “DENR eyes mining, river dredging to spur economic recovery amid COVID-19.” GMA News,10 June 2020. https://www.gmanetwork.com/news/news/nation/742025/denr-eyes-mining-river-dredging-to-spur-economic-recovery-amid-covid-19/story/
 DA Communications Group. “DA eyes idle ancestral lands as food prod’n areas.” Department of Agriculture, 16 April 2020. https://www.da.gov.ph/da-eyes-idle-ancestral-lands-as-food-prodn-areas/
 UN Human Rights Council. Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in the Philippines. 4 June 2020. https://reliefweb.int/report/philippines/report-united-nations-high-commissioner-human-rights-situation-human-rights
 Subingsubing, Krixia. ”UNHRC resolution: No drug war probe but support, cooperation for PH efforts on human rights.” Inquirer, 7 October 2020. https://globalnation.inquirer.net/191417/unhrc-resolution-no-drug-war-probe-but-support-cooperation-for-ph-efforts-on-human-rights#ixzz6iZ6aNQBv