PRA Law aims to prevent the neglecting of the the Indigenous Peoples
The Philippines is home to 110 ethno-linguistic groups, accounting for around 14-17 million of the total Filipino population1. Despite this number, these communities remain to be one of the most marginalized sectors in the country today. Moreover, 61% of these indigenous peoples (IP) settle in Mindanao and they are subject to further burden brought about by the region’s political dynamics, particularly in the process of creating an autonomous region.
In the course of crafting the BBL enabling laws, the role of IPs have recently been tackled in a conference under the European Union-funded project Democratic Party Development Bangsamoro (DEPAdev). Mayor Ramon Piang of Upi, Maguindanao lamented the lack of representation of IPs in dialogues and consultations on the matter. This is clearly unfavorable to the IPs as group who have their own set of rules, customs, and tradition.
One legislation that is supposed to prevent the neglecting of the IPs is the Indigenous Peoples' Rights Act of 1997 or IPRA Law. This 1997 law is aimed to acknowledging and safeguarding of the rights of IPs and to these rights in the formulation of national laws and policies. In Section 16 of the law, it says,
ICCs/IPs have the right to participate fully, if they so choose, at all levels of decision-making in matters which may affect their rights, lives and destinies through procedures determined by them as well as to maintain and develop their own indigenous political structures. Consequently, the State shall ensure that the ICCs/IPs shall be given mandatory representation in policy-making bodies and other local legislative councils.
But its implementation leaves a lot to be desired. In the past, IPRA has been criticized by various group for failing to fulfill its mandate2. In 2011, KAMP, the National Alliance of Indigenous Peoples Organizations in the Philippines, assailed the law as a “tool to deceive and appease the indigenous people’s struggles for land and self-determination.”3 Just last June during the 32nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council, Ms. Nora Polie-Sukal from the Bla’an community, a tribal Filipino group in Mindanao, delivered a speech calling for the truthful implementation of the IPRA Law that coheres with their customary laws.4 Its implementing agency, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, was also criticized for allegedly “entertaining fake tribal leaders, favoring mining companies over indigenous communities and superseding laws to benefit big corporations over the welfare of IPs.”5
With no legislative power empowering and including the IPs in political decision-making, these groups will continue to be in the sidelines once an autonomous region is created. These indigenous communities will remain marginalized as long as influential political actors, be it in the national level or in the Bangsamoro, remain blind to the concept of inclusivity.
Photo courtesy of Travel Authentic Philippines