Empowering the indigenous peoples

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By Ver F. Pacete

As I See It

Saturday, February 15, 2014

First of Three Parts

IN NEGROS Occidental, we have identified our indigenous peoples (IPs) as Agta, Ati and Bukidnon. The 1987 Constitution (Article 16, Section 12) recognizes the traditional rights of indigenous peoples in their communities. The Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA) or Republic Act 8371 gives them bundle of privileges.

IPRA as a law is recognizing, promoting, and protecting the rights of the indigenous peoples (before they were known as cultural minority). The law covers their ancestral domain; cultural integrity; self-governance and empowerment; human rights and social justice and self-determination. Our government sees to it that the IPs enjoy their rights to ancestral domain. The Atis of San Carlos and Isabela, the Agtas of Calatrava, and the Bukidnon of Silay and Kabankalan, and the other IPs in our province are closely supervised by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples.


The local governments have enlightened them of their right of ownership. The IPs should not be strangers on their own land. They have the right to farm and have access to natural resources. They should not be displaced for political reason. They should be given participation in the affairs of the barangays and should avail the programs on education, rural electrification, and potable water. Their cultural preference should not be exploited for the sake of nature tourism.

The IPs have inherited the will of their ancestors to resolve conflicts with the intervention of the council of elders. Self-governance and self-determination are very dominant in the tribe. Their justice system is based on respect and they always avail of peace building processes in the resolution of conflict. In several instances, I was able to observe that tribe members always take a role in decision-making. Just like in the days of their ancestors, they determine and decide priorities for development. I think Congress should learn from them.

We know that sometimes it cannot be avoided that during armed conflicts their ancestral domains are involved. LGUs should pass ordinances (or stronger laws) to convert their habitat into zone of peace. At all cost, their cultural integrity should be considered sacred. The fourth or the fifth generation of the IPs have tried to protect their forefathers’ indigenous culture, traditions, institutions, educational system, and cultural diversity. The community intellectual rights should be given esteem. The cultural sites and ceremonies should not be made an attraction to promote commercial show.

What belongs to the IPs should be preserved and conserved but it doesn’t mean that the LGUs and the other national agencies will no longer provide assistance for archaeological and historical sites. Tourism should come in to provide cultural mapping. Science research institutions should provide them biological and genetic resources while the Department of Agriculture should encourage them to go with sustainable agro-technical development.

The territory of our IPs should be their ancestral domain. They would always want to worship in the old ways . . . chanting with the frogs to ask for rain, talking to the spirits of nature to provide them good harvest, or offering the best food to please the fairies. There should be a center of learning (other than school) where the parents could talk about the heroic deeds of their progenitors, of traditions, and beliefs in the after-life. The area of governance is not just on Philippine laws. It could even include the wisdom of the precursors, attitude at home and defense.

Their culture maybe anchored on ancient beliefs, and the acquired knowledge systems, the customary laws process to be effective, and the indigenous leadership demonstrated by the council of elders. We do not wonder if they practice traditional health and use medicines provided by the environment. The Atis have their cure-all “lanahan” and would even cover business success and public relations. Their resource management system may be different from ours. Their community stock would be dictated by the seasons and the movement of heavenly bodies.

Empowering our indigenous people is not a prestidigitate display of modern technology. It is the understanding of all things in good time; or the understanding of good time in all things. You have to be an IP in order to understand what it is to be an IP.*To be continued

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on February 15, 2014.


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