• 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.

The Indigenous World 2023: Philippines

The population census conducted in the Philippines in 2010 for the first time included an ethnicity variable although 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 per cent 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 on 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.


2022 national elections

The 2022 national presidential elections resulted in Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., the son of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr., winning the presidency while Sara Duterte, former President Rodrigo Duterte’s daughter, was elected as the new Vice-President. The election results sparked protests among various groups in the country as they claimed the polls were tainted by fraud.[1] Election watchdog Kontra Daya (Against Fraud) claimed there was a lack of transparency in the automated election system, massive and systematic disinformation favouring President Marcos’ deception of the electorate, rampant and unchecked vote-buying, and the harassment, intimidation and red-tagging or terrorist-labelling of the opposition.[2]

The 2022 elections also witnessed overwhelming support for an opposition candidate, with millions of Filipino volunteers rallying behind the presidential candidacy of Vice-President Leni Robredo, a known critic of the Duterte administration and against the return to power of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ family. This is only the second time in Philippine history, after Filipinos supported the presidential candidacy of Cory Aquino against Ferdinand Marcos Sr. in 1986, that such an outpouring of support has been shown for an outsider candidate. A significant number of Indigenous Peoples were among those who supported Robredo. On 6 April 2022, a broad coalition of Indigenous Peoples known as 1Sambubungan signed a covenant with Robredo and vice-presidential candidate Kiko Pangilinan, with the two promising to ensure the protection of Indigenous Peoples’ rights, including the reflection of Indigenous Peoples in the 2025 national census, should they win the election.[3]

Indigenous Peoples fear that the new administration ruled by a Marcos/Duterte tandem will further aggravate the human rights violations, land grabbing, resource plundering, and other violations of Indigenous Peoples’ rights amidst a worsening political, economic and climate crisis. The previous Duterte administration had already laid the groundwork for the continuity of its tyrannical rule and natural resource plundering through laws and policies that were among the culprits of the widespread and systematic violations of all people’s human rights, including Executive Order 70,[4] which created the National Task Force: End Local Communist Armed Conflict, the 2020 Anti-Terrorism Act, and Executive Order 130,[5] which lifted the moratorium on new mining permits.


Land rights and conservation

The Philippines is one of 17 megadiverse countries in the world, with more than 52,177 described species.[6] According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), a megadiverse country needs to have at least 5,000 of the world’s plants as endemic species and a rich marine ecosystem within its border.[7] The Philippines is also one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots with at least 700 threatened species, thus making it one of the top global conservation areas.[8]

Having been stewards of lands and natural resources since time immemorial, Indigenous Peoples have enabled the conservation and protection of ecosystems and biodiversity. Contrary to the State’s concept of public lands and natural resources as belonging to the State and practically at its disposal, for Indigenous Peoples, land is life, with their culture and identity intrinsically tied to it. Defence of ancestral lands from threats of destruction and plunder combined with the Indigenous Peoples’ governance and knowledge systems and practices of protection and sustainable use and management of resources have greatly contributed to biodiversity conservation. 75% or 96 out of 128 Key Biodiversity Areas in the country are within ancestral domains.[9] An area of 5.26 million hectares or 75% of the country’s remaining forests are also found in Indigenous territories.[10]

The Indigenous Peoples’ practice of biodiversity conservation also plays a critical role in mitigating the impacts of climate change. A 2021 assessment of 10 Indigenous Peoples’ Community Conserved Territories and Areas (ICCAs[11]) conducted by the Philippine ICCA Consortium found that the ICCAs store 10.5 million tons of carbon, which is equivalent to the gas emissions of at least seven million cars per annum.[12]

The government’s biodiversity conservation strategy is to declare Protected Areas under the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 1992 and the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 2018. Since 2018, 240 protected areas have been established, covering 5.45 million hectares or 14.2% of the country’s territory. On 8 April 2022, former President Duterte signed into law five measures declaring five more sites as protected areas.[13] However, protected areas have historically suffered constraints ranging from a lack of representation of communities, policy conflict and a lack of funding, which hamper decision-making.[14] Conflicts between State and customary laws persist due to the government-imposed “Core Zones” and “Strict Protected Zones” of Protected Areas, where Indigenous communities are prohibited from the access, use, control and management of their sacred sites, watersheds, hunting grounds and forests that sustain their culture and livelihoods.[15] The restrictions imposed by Protected Areas could lead to the displacement of Indigenous communities from their territories and the criminalization of traditional access to and use of resources within their territories.[16] For instance, the rescue of a Philippine Eagle[17] by the Manobo Indigenous people was not commended by the government but they were instead accused of illegal hunting of wildlife.[18]

Protected Areas and ICCAs are also areas where resource exploitation occurs. Since 2014, 772 large-scale mining permits covering 1.9 million hectares, half of which is in ancestral domains, have made Indigenous communities vulnerable to natural disasters and human rights violations.[19] As of June 2022, 83 out of a total of 410 Environmentally Critical Projects (ECPs[20]) listed by the Environmental Management Bureau in 2022 are situated in Indigenous territories, covering 501,205 hectares of Indigenous lands. Mining and other extractive industries account for 51% of all documented ECPs within areas registered under Certificate of Ancestral Domain Titles (CADTs), the formal tenurial instrument for ancestral lands under the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act.[21]

Indigenous Peoples maintain that conservation approaches will only be effective if there is genuine recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ land rights, traditional governance, meaningful participation, natural resource management systems and other Indigenous knowledge systems and practices.


Development aggression and FPIC violations

Despite the persistent struggles of Indigenous communities against the entry and renewed operations of destructive projects in their resource-rich territories, their right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) continues to be constantly violated.

In the case of the China-backed New Centennial Water Source-Kaliwa Dam Project, the project holder, Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS), is pursuing the project using a railroaded Memorandum of Agreement signed on 28 January 2022 between MWSS, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) and a group of individuals who do not represent the affected communities.[22] Meanwhile, Indigenous communities opposing the South Korea-funded Jalaur mega-dam project continue to suffer militarization following the infamous Tumandok massacre in December 2020.[23] In the Cordillera region, the Isnag Indigenous people filed criminal and administrative complaints against the NCIP in January 2023 for manipulating the FPIC process for the Gened 1 dam project, the first in a series of six mega-dams (Gened Dams or Apayao Dams) of the Pan Pacific Renewable Power Philippines along the Abulog-Apayao River in Apayao province.[24] The Kaliwa, Jalaur and Gened dam projects are among the numerous mega-dam projects in Indigenous territories that formed part of the Duterte administration’s Build! Build! Build! (BBB) Programme.[25]

During his first State of the Nation Address in July 2022, President Marcos vowed not only to continue but also to expand former President Duterte’s controversial BBB Programme. He also plans to increase the country’s use of renewable energy sources such as hydropower, geothermal, solar and wind as a solution to help slow down the effects of climate change.[26] Moreover, in his bid to address the rising inflation and public debt that hit the country’s economy badly in the first six months of his presidency, Marcos is turning to more foreign investments, including large-scale mining.[27] All of these, however, mean that resource extraction and the plundering of Indigenous Peoples’ lands and resources will only intensify under Marcos’ administration.


Human rights and the Universal Periodic Review

Philippine Indigenous Peoples took part in the processes for the 4th cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the Philippine government’s human rights record under the administration of former President Duterte from 2017 to 2022. The UPR was seen as an important venue to tackle the situation of Indigenous Peoples, especially at a time when the democratic space is shrinking in the Philippines and the justice system has not been working effectively, further resulting in unabated human rights violations.[28] The issues and recommendations of various Indigenous Peoples’ organizations were put forward through joint reports and participation in the 41st Session of the UN UPR Working Group.

State violence and impunity during the Duterte administration was the worst in history since the Marcos dictatorship from 1972-1986. In many cases, human rights violations occurred as a result of the government’s response to the struggles of Indigenous Peoples against the plundering of their ancestral lands and resources.

Data from Indigenous alliance groups Panaghiusa[29] and Sandugo[30] revealed that human rights violations against Indigenous Peoples between 2016 and 2021 included 126 extrajudicial killings, 160 frustrated extrajudicial killings, 227 illegal arrests, 478 illegal detentions, six enforced disappearances, and 97,118 victims of forced displacement. On top of this, numerous Indigenous leaders faced trumped-up charges, terrorist-labelling, abductions and shoot-to-kill orders.

2022 was no different, with the extrajudicial killings of Lumad teachers Chad Booc[31] and Jojarain Alce Nguho III, the abduction of Stephen Tauli,[32] weaponization of the laws and trumped-up cases against Cordillera Peoples Alliance leaders, as well as the use of the Philippine Anti-Terrorism Law in a trumped-up criminal case[33] against five nuns and volunteers of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines whose work involved empowering Indigenous communities.

Despite this intensification of State attacks, Indigenous Peoples are striving to rise up against development aggression and rights violations. Given the continuing tyrannical nature of President Marcos’ government, however, Indigenous Peoples are expecting a situation of relentless rights violations in the next few years. Indigenous Peoples and their advocates thus intend to continue to engage the international community for support as they continue their work on the ground.



Sarah Bestang K. Dekdeken is a Kankanaey Igorot from the Cordillera region of 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 the Indigenous communities of the Cordillera region.


This article is part of the 37th 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 2023 in full here.



Notes and references

[1] Gregorio, Xave. “Asserting ‘poll fraud’, protesters reject Marcos victory at Comelec HQ.” PhilStar, 10 May 2022, https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2022/05/10/2180086/asserting-poll-fraud-protesters-reject-marcos-victory-comelec-hq

[2] Bordey, Hana. “Kontra Daya claims fraud in Eleksyon 2022.” GMA Network, 19 May 2022, https://www.gmanetwork.com/news/topstories/nation/832256/kontra-daya-claims-fraud-in-eleksyon-2022/story/

[3] Subingsubing, Krixia. “Robredo, Pangilinan sign covenant with Indigenous Peoples.” Inquirer.net, 6 April 2022, https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1578833/robredo-pangilinan-sign-covenant-with-indigenous-peoples#ixzz7roDyhgMP

[4] Romero, Alexis. “Duterte signs ‘whole-of-nation’ EO vs insurgency.” PhilStar Global, 11 December 2018, https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2018/12/11/1876093/duterte-signs-whole-nation-eo-vs-insurgency

[5] Chavez, Leilani. “‘Complete turnaround’: Philippines’ Duterte lifts ban on new mining permits.” Mongabay, 15 April 2021, https://news.mongabay.com/2021/04/complete-turnaround-philippines-duterte-lifts-ban-on-new-mining-permits/

[6] Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center. “State of the Indigenous Peoples Address: 2022 Report.” 4 November 2022, https://www.lrcksk.org/post/sipa-2022-report-launched-half-of-ancestral-domains-found-under-environmental-threat

[7] Alvaro Limos, Mario. “The Philippines Is One of Only 17 Megadiverse Countries in the World.” Esquire, 23 June 2021, https://www.esquiremag.ph/long-reads/features/17-megadverse-countries-in-the-world-philippines-a00293-20210623

[8] Convention on Biological Diversity. “Country Profiles. Philippines – Main Details.” https://www.cbd.int/countries/profile/?country=ph

[9] Reyes, Giovanni. “Land Rights, ICCAs and Climate Struggle: the case of Ikalahan and Egongot Indigenous Peoples Community Conserved Territories and Areas.” 2023.

[10] “SIPA 2022 Report launched: Half of ancestral domains found under environmental threat.” Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center, 4 November 2022, https://www.lrcksk.org/post/sipa-2022-report-launched-half-of-ancestral-domains-found-under-environmental-threat

[11] ICCAs are defined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as “natural and/or modified ecosystems, containing significant biodiversity values, ecological benefits and cultural values, voluntarily conserved by Indigenous Peoples and local communities, both sedentary and mobile, through customary laws or other effective means”; See: “Bio-cultural diversity conserved by indigenous peoples & local communities – examples & analysis.” Companion document to IUCN/CEESP Briefing Note No. 10, 2010, https://www.iied.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/migrate/G02786.pdf

[12] The Philippine ICCA Consortium. “The Philippines: A national analysis on the status of territories of life.” https://report.territoriesoflife.org/national-and-regional-analysis/philippines/

[13] Gita-Carlos, Ruth Abbey. “Mt. Pulag, 4 others declared protected areas.” Philippine News Agency, 28 April 2022, https://www.pna.gov.ph/articles/1173177

[14] The Philippine ICCA Consortium.

[15] Reyes, Giovanni. “Land Rights, ICCAs and Climate Struggle: the case of Ikalahan and Egongot Indigenous Peoples Community Conserved Territories and Areas.” 2023.

[16] The Philippine ICCA Consortium.

[17] The Philippine Eagle is listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN); See: Philippine Eagle Foundation. “The Philippine Eagle.” https://www.philippineeaglefoundation.org/philippine-eagle

[18] The Philippine ICCA Consortium.

[19] Reyes, Giovanni. “Land Rights, ICCAs and Climate Struggle: the case of Ikalahan and Egongot Indigenous Peoples Community Conserved Territories and Areas.” 2023.

[20] An Environmentally Critical Project (ECP) is a project or programme that has high potential for significant negative environmental impacts as defined under Presidential Proclamation 2146 (1981).

[21] Legal Rights and Natural Resources Centre. “State of the Indigenous Peoples Address: 2022 Report.”

[22] Cabico, Gaea Katreena. “MOA for China-backed Kaliwa Dam signed despite Dumagats’ protests.” PhilStar Global, 3 February 2023, https://www.philstar.com/headlines/climate-and-environment/2022/02/03/2158315/moa-china-backed-kaliwa-dam-signed-despite-dumagats-protests

[23] Cabico, Gaea Katreena. “Gov’t urged to stop ‘destructive’ mega dam projects.” PhilStar Global, 17 January 2023, https://www.philstar.com/headlines/climate-and-environment/2023/01/17/2238246/govt-urged-stop-destructive-mega-dam-projects

[24] Quitasolm Kimbelrie. “Apayao folk sue NCIP, local officials for FPIC process irregularities.” Northern Dispatch, 26 January 2023, https://nordis.net/2023/01/26/article/news/apayao-folk-sue-ncip-local-officials-for-fpic-process-irregularities/

[25] Rey, Aika. “Build, Build, Build: Mapping the Duterte administration’s infrastructure legacy.” Rappler, 28 June 2022, https://www.rappler.com/business/build-build-build-mapping-duterte-administration-infrastructure-legacy/

[26] Gita-Carlos, Ruth Abbey. “Renewable energy tops Marcos admin’s climate change agenda.” Philippine News Agency, 25 July 2022, https://www.pna.gov.ph/articles/1179678

[27] Penarroyo, Fernando. “Marcos bets on mining.” Philippine Resources, 8 November 2022, https://www.philippine-resources.com/articles/2022/11/marcos-bets-on-mining

[28] “Cordillera Peoples Alliance appeals to the United Nations to end impunity in the Philippines.” Cordillera Peoples Alliance, 12 November 2022, https://cpaphils.org/cpa-appeals-to-the-united-nations-to-end-impunity-in-the-philippines.html

[29] Panaghiusa Philippine Network to Uphold Indigenous Peoples’ Rights, https://www.panaghiusa.com/

[30] Facebook. Sandugo – Movement of Moro and Indigenous Peoples for Self-Determination, https://www.facebook.com/SandugoNatMin/

[31] Gallardo, Froilan. “Lumad teacher Chad Booc, 4 others slain in Davao de Oro – military.” Rappler, 25 February 2022, https://www.rappler.com/nation/lumad-teacher-booc-others-slain-davao-de-oro-military/

[32] Commission on Human Rights. “Statement of CHR Executive Director, Atty Jacqueline Ann de Guia, on the alleged abduction of an IP rights activist in Tabuk City, Kalinga.” 23 August 2022, https://chr.gov.ph/statement-of-chr-executive-director-atty-jacqueline-ann-de-guia-on-the-alleged-abduction-of-an-ip-rights-activist-in-tabuk-city-kalinga/

[33] Calleja, Joseph Peter. “Filipino nuns accused of ‘financing terrorism’.” UCA News, 16 August 2022, https://www.ucanews.com/news/filipino-nuns-accused-of-financing-terrorism/98411

Tags: Global governance



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