Wisdom Weaving: Defending Ancestral Domains Through Integrating Indigenous People’s Practices with Philippine Laws

{videobox}89924938|Memories of Mountains, Memories of Gold||display=box, t_width=360, t_height=210, style="float: right; margin-left: 5px;"{/videobox}For too long, the traditional decision-making practices of the Indigenous People (IP) have come into direct conflict with the governing laws of the Philippines, especially when it comes to determining their rights with respect to and the use of their lands. Despite much talk of having control over their Ancestral Domain, mining companies and other extractive industries and agribusiness used existing laws to encroach upon and exploit the lands and resources of the Indigenous Peoples of the Philippines, often leading to violent confrontation.

On February 28, 2014, tribal leaders, advocates, government officials and friends from Northwestern Mindanao, Philippines, celebrated a sign of hope upon completing  a two-year Resource-Based Conflict and Peacebuilding Training Program of the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute Foundation, Incorporated (MPI) conducted in partnership with Ecosystems Works for Essential Benefits, Inc. (EcoWEB) and Pikhumpongan Dlibon Subanen, Inc. (PDSI). Fifty tribal leaders and advocates, including 26 Subanen and 23 Higaonon men and women leaders gathered together for a graduation ceremony of this two-year program (watch a video of the MPI, EcoWeb, PDSI Training Program above). The Subanen leaders who completed the program came from the Ancestral Domains in Bayog, Kumalarang and Lakewood in Zamboanga del Sur and Sindangan in Zamboanga del Norte.  The Higaonon leaders were from the Ancestral Domains of Bayug Iligan in Lanao del Norte and Dulangan in Misamis Oriental (click here to see a map).

Prior to the training program, extractive industries entered into the ancestral domains of tribal communities in Northwestern Mindanao with few legal hurdles, though at times they met with local protests. Companies would reach agreements with some groups and not with others, which often created splits among and between tribal communities according to Mr. Carino “Rockrock” Antequisa, CAFOD Philippine Accompanier,  who is also the chairperson of the Board of Trustees of MPI.

Antequisa said, as a result, even the local political structures of the government, especially at the barangay level, were compromised by companies, receiving favors in return for facilitation of permission to enter ancestral domains. This only aggravated conflicts in the communities.

MPI's Resource-Based Program Office Abel Moya (Center) during a training activityTo address this problem, MPI started the Resource-Based Conflict and Peacebuilding Training Program in January 2012. MPI was able to begin their work thanks to the generous support of Bread for the World-Protestant Development Services in Germany, the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD) from the United Kingdom, and the United Methodist Church in the United States. The Training Program was conducted in collaboration with MPI's partners, EcoWEB and PDSI.

MPI designed the training program to integrate traditional indigenous practices with existing Philippine laws. Despite the existence of laws to protect the rights of the IPs, particularly the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA)[1] of 1997, few tribal leaders knew how to advocate for themselves or how these laws could complement their own indigenous decision-making practices.

The first module of the training program was Engaging the Mining Industry, Policies and Other Stakeholders (EMIPS). Resource people included speakers and facilitators from the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples; the Department of Environment and Natural Resources; a speaker from small-scale miners; Onsino Mato, a Subanen leader; a representative from TVI Resource Development Philippines Incorporated, an affiliate of the Canadian-based mining firm TVI Pacific, Inc.; and from DIOPIM Committee on Mining Issues or DCMI which is “primarily an advocacy group, which works with mining affected communities in order to protect their families, land and livelihoods from the destructive effects of mining.”

Conflict Resolution Skills and Facilitation Enhancement Training (CRS-FET) followed EMIPS. The objective of CRS-FET was that the skills and facilitation ability of the participants in resolving conflict in the community would be improved.

The third module was Strengthening Indigenous Governance, Leadership and Resolution of Conflict (SIGLARC). This module focused on tracing the Indigenous People’s Structure and Organization, a methodology for constructing their family tree or genealogy. This is a key process in determining the rights to a particular Ancestral Domain.

Participants working on mapsThe fourth module was Ancestral Domain Conservation and Resource Assessment through Participatory 3-Dimensional Mapping (CRATP-3DM). Participants learned how to construct 3-Dimensional maps. With community participation, they made actual 3-Dimensional maps of their Ancestral Domains, another essential aspect to ensuring the rights to their Ancestral Domains.

Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) was the next module. It  dealt with the recent occurrence of different calamities that affected many of their communities. It focused on community participatory disaster assessment and identification and planning preparedness.

The last module was on Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). Perhaps the most important module, it was designed to educate the tribal leaders on understanding the meaning of FPIC. The module included the steps in the  process of determining whether they would grant access to their land by various companies for exploration or business and how to work with the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) FPIC team to assure that any utilization of their land would not violate their customs and traditions as well as the law and its guidelines.

IP Scholars, dignitaries and guests at the graduationThe commencement exercise was held at the Plaza Alemania Hotel, Iligan City, where NCIP Regional Director of Region 9, Macasalong Sungod, and Region 10 lawyer Pinky Grace Pabelic graced the ceremony. Victoria “Vicky” Manding Cajandig, Executive Director of Pigkumpongan D’libon Subanen, Incorporated (PDSI), a Subanen women’s institution in Pagadian City; Ms. Regina “Nanette” Salvador Antequisa, Executive Director of Ecosystems Work for Essential Benefits (EcoWEB), Incorporated in Iligan City; and Mr. Carino Antequisa also joined the affair. Almost 100 guests and participants coming from the different communities and other non-government organizations, together with press, witnessed the graduation ceremony (see more pictures from the graduation here).

Bae[2] Marjorie Paulin emotionally thanked the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute and its partners for developing the training program, which also helped in shaping the Subanen women’s future and resulted in their feeling empowered  to effect decisions with respect to their ancestral domain. “Through the training, we developed our wisdom and were then recognized by the male elder leaders of the tribe as having voice in the council of leaders and could make decisions. They realized that we are not just there to prepare coffee and food for the elders. Rather we have talents that can be used for development,” Bae Joy exclaimed.

Higaonon leader Datu MampinuhanHigaonon leader Datu Mampinuhan (Norberto Puasan), a current member of the Sangguniang Bayan of Opol, Misamis Oriental, represents his tribe under the mandatory representation of IPRA. He is also the 2010 Bayaning Pilipino Awardee of ABS-CBN and head claimant of the Dulangan Ancestral Domain for the Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title. He lauded the program for its promotion of the empowerment of the IP. “Being a person with a disability, constantly using a wheelchair, I appear to be a useless man. But because I care for my tribe, I am forced to lead my people. Yet the training given to us by MPI and its partners inspired me to do much more and gave me confidence to pursue our Ancestral Domain until we win.”

The training program provided the opportunity and venues for the Higaonon and Subanen communities to share their common aspirations for self-governance and determination, as well as their respective experience in pursuing these aspirations, said Ms. Cajanding of PDSI. “The youth had an opportunity to show the elders their ability to help in determining their ancestral domain areas by assisting in making the participatory 3-Dimensional maps in different ancestral domains. Now, the elders consider them as skilled and the opinion of the youth is strengthened in the governance process in their territory,” Cajandig proclaimed.

Ms. Antequisa of EcoWEB described the program as an appropriate way of providing additional knowledge and skills to the tribal leaders so that they could assert their rights over their ancestral domains. “In the ancestral domains where we work, when some investors, like those from the extractive industries, enter their ancestral domains, the leaders now have the confidence to face the challenge by asserting their traditional processes, which are supported by the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act.”

NCIP Region 9 Director Sungod said that through this training and the daily practice by the communities, the people now have greater expertise than even the NCIP personnel who should have this knowledge and these skills. “In your quest for self-governance, the NCIP is always behind you to make it a reality for the tribe.  The knowledge and skills that you acquired from the training must not be wasted and you must use it and even share it with your brothers and sisters,” Director Sungod advised.

NCIP Regional Director of Region 10 lawyer Pinky Grace Pabelic giving an inspirational address to the graduatesNCIP Director Pabelic of Region 10 shared that she has limited time left in the region and may be transferred to another region soon. However, she was pleased with the program of MPI that assisted the tribal leaders, and she hopes they would practice what they learned in their respective territories. “Now you have skills and more knowledge. All I  can say is you must use the tools in the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act, which includes the Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), because that’s when you can include development of your ancestral domain and the crafting of agreements. This is your time whether to give or to pose non-consent during the process.”

MPI Director Christine Vertucci, in her welcome message at the graduation ceremony, expressed her gratitude to those in attendance and affirmed the commitment of the scholars. “To MPI, this occasion is very significant because it symbolizes the perseverance, dedication and commitment of the scholars to gain the knowledge and acquire the skills needed to resolve conflict and build peace in order to facilitate genuine development in their respective ancestral domains.”

In the end, the graduation ceremony for these scholars from the MPI training program was not just a typical commencement exercise, but rather a celebration of the weaving together of traditional practices with existing Philippine laws. The IP leaders and scholars learned what it means to use new tools, such as 3-Dimensional mapping, developed a greater appreciation of the value of women and youth in community affairs and integrated what they learned with their indigenous decision-making practices. There are many struggles ahead, but the IP communities in Northwestern Mindanao now face them with a renewed sense of self-worth and empowerment. Now, they are the ones who will make the decisions over the use of their lands.

Tito Natividad Fiel is Program Assistant of the Resource-Based Conflict and Peacebuilding Training Program of the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute Foundation, Incorporated.


[2] Female Subanen leader

 


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