Cablegate: Indigenous Peoples in the Philippines: A Snapshot

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (U) This message is Sensitive but Unclassified -- Please
handle accordingly.

2. (SBU) Summary: The approximately six million plus
indigenous persons in the Philippines are marginalized and
lag far behind the general population in most social and
economic indicators. They also suffer disproportionately
from armed conflicts, including displacement from their
homes. The Philippine government has been slow to implement
landmark laws like the Indigenous Peoples Rights' Act,
primarily because of resource constraints as well as
opposition from some commercial interests, but some limited
progress has been made. Grants of certificates of title for
ancestral lands to IPs have the potential to ensure land
tenure rights and improve economic security as long as other
supporting programs are in place. Further engagement of IPs
in the political process -- negligible at this point --
could also help improve their status. End Summary.


3. (U) Known primarily for their colorful clothes and
unique customs, Indigenous Peoples (IPs) live throughout the
Philippines but mostly in the mountainous areas of northern
and central Luzon and in Mindanao. They are divided into
approximately 110 ethnolinguistic groups. The largest IP
tribes include the Ifugaos, Ibalois and Aetas in Luzon; and
the Manobos, Matigsalogs and Higaonons in Mindanao. There
are few statistics on IPs, and estimates of their population
vary significantly. The 2000 National Census estimated that
there were 6.3 million IPs in the Philippines, or more than
8 percent of the country's total population. However, the
National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP), using
statistics from 1998, estimates that IPs now account for
approximately 12-13 million or 14-15 percent of the
population, with over 60 percent of the total in Mindanao
and 38 percent in Luzon. Most observers agree that these
latter figures are probably on the high side.

4. (U) Internal migration, intermarriage, and national
population growth have greatly reduced the proportion and
influence of IPs. For example, a study published by
University of the Philippines found that whereas IPs (or
"lumads", as they are popularly known) comprised 28 percent
of the Mindanao population in 1918, this had fallen to 5
percent in 1995. Social and cultural discrimination,
combined with a lack of access to basic health services as
well as vulnerability to internal conflicts, have taken a
severe toll on IPs. Some tribes now number in the hundreds
or less.

5. (U) Although no specific laws discriminate against IPs,
they have poor access to basic services because of the
mainly remote locations that they inhabit. Because of their
low educational status and unique social and cultural norms,
they have been subjected to historical discrimination and
exploitation, which prevents their full integration into
society. Indigenous children suffer from lack of basic
services, health, and education. Some NGOs estimate that up
to 70 percent of indigenous youth drop out of or never
attend school because of the prejudice they encounter.

Legal Framework

6. (U) Until 1986, there was no express legal recognition
of indigenous peoples' rights in the Philippines. It was
only the 1987 Constitution which declared that the GRP
"recognizes and promotes the rights of indigenous cultural
communities within the framework of national unity and
development." The Constitution also states that the GRP is
obliged to "protect the rights of indigenous cultural
communities to their ancestral lands to ensure their
economic, social, and cultural well-being".

7. (U) The landmark 1997 Indigenous Peoples' Rights Act
(Republic Act 8371, or IPRA) established the National
Commission on Indigenous People to implement the
Constitutional provisions to protect IPs. The Office of the
Northern Cultural Communities and the Office of the Southern
Cultural Communities, established in 1987, were merged to
form the NCIP. In 2004, President Arroyo made the NCIP an
attached agency of the Department of Land Reform.

8. (U) The IPRA recognizes, protects, and promotes IPs'
rights to: (a) ancestral lands; (b) self-governance; (c)
social justice and human rights; (d) protection and
preservation of their culture, traditions and institutions;
and (e) basic services. The law supports the right of IPs
to use their own judicial systems, conflict resolution
mechanisms and other customary laws and practices within
their respective tribes or communities.

9. (U) The IPRA grants certificates of title for ancestral
domains to IPs who can prove their historical claim to the
lands in question, but falls short of granting IPs full
ownership over the natural resources. However, the IPRA
recognizes the preferential right of IPs to manage and
benefit from the resources within their lands, and requires
any institution, company, or individual that would extract
resources from ancestral domains to acquire the Free and
Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) of the concerned IP community.

Government Actions and Programs

10. (U) By the end of 2004, the NCIP had awarded
Certificates of Ancestral Domain Title (CADTs) covering over
604,000 hectares of land and benefiting over 198,000
indigenous persons. It awarded these certificates on the
basis of communal ownership, impeding sale of the lands by
tribal leaders. The law assigns indigenous groups the
responsibility to preserve their domains from
environmentally and socially inappropriate development, and
the NCIP assists them to develop Ancestral Domain
Sustainable Development and Protection Plans (ADSDPP).

11. (U) The NCIP drafted the 2004-2008 Medium-Term
Philippine Development Plan for IPs (MTPDP-IP) to complement
the national 2001-2004 MTPDP, on which it is based. The
plan identifies the particular disadvantages and needs of
IPs in order to promote and protect IPs' rights while
formulating social and economic development programs.

12. (SBU) The IP Sectoral Council, comprised of the NCIP
and secretaries from different government departments, is
supposed to meet once every two months with the President to
discuss issues facing IPs and to recommend appropriate
government interventions. The NCIP's Executive Director
Rosalina Bistoyong told poloff, however, that there have
been no meetings in recent months due to the political

13. (U) According to the NCIP, it has now established, in
cooperation with the Assisi Development Foundation (ADF) and
with European Union funding, 59 regional consultative bodies
of IP leaders, in order to achieve the IPRA goal of improved
IP representation. The President has formally recognized
these representative bodies, and the NCIP's next step will
be to set up a similar national consultative body to advise
-- and represent IPs to -- the NCIP and other government
departments at the national level.

14. (U) The NCIP also manages an educational assistance
program in order to improve IPs' access to education (see
Para 15). During the 2003-2004 school year, the program had
11,222 grantees, 83 percent of whom were college students.

Problems and Challenges

15. (U) Displacement and Loss of Livelihood: Indigenous
people suffer disproportionately from armed conflict,
including displacement from their homes, because they often
inhabit mountainous areas also favored by guerrillas. Their
lands are often the sites of armed encounters, and various
parties to the fighting have recruited many indigenous
people, including children. According to the Department of
Social Welfare and Development, 110,635 persons were
displaced in Central Mindanao and the Autonomous Region of
Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) as of August 2005, mostly due to
armed conflict. A sizable number of those orphaned are IPs.
In the absence of formal property ownership rights and
titling of ancestral lands in the past, large-scale
agribusiness, mining, logging (legal and illegal), dams,
special economic zones, and migrant settlers have also
generally contributed to displacement and loss of
livelihoods among IPs.

16. (U) Socioeconomic marginalization: An Asian
Development Bank study in 2002 concluded that there was no
substantial improvement in the economic condition of IPs in
the Philippines between l988 and l997. According to the
2000 National Census, IPs had a literacy rate of 70 percent,
but only 46 percent finished their elementary education,
while 7 percent finished college. Benjamin Abadiano, IP
Program Coordinator at ADF, told poloff that because IPs
experience cultural bias and social discrimination from
birth they suffer from extremely low self-esteem and self-
confidence, which set them up for underperformance and
failure in any setting -- whether the classroom or the
boardroom. In 2003, the Department of Education pledged at
an IP Sectoral Council meeting that it would establish 60
new schools (5 each in 12 different regions) staffed by 20
teachers each specifically targeting underserved IP
communities. However, it has so far only set up about 10 of
these schools, with 40 teachers.

17. (U) IPs lack basic health services primarily because
of: (a) the inaccessibility of many areas they inhabit; (b)
the lack of peace and security due to internal conflict; (c)
government financial resource constraints; and (d) the lack
of a targeted Department of Health program for IPs. One NGO
source estimates that in some areas infant mortality in
indigenous communities is as high as 50 percent. The UNDP
reports that malaria prevention and treatment is also
sporadic in IP communities.

18. (U) Titling and FPIC Implementation: NGOs have also
criticized the slow pace of titling of ancestral domains, as
well as the inconsistent application of FPIC (approvals for
extractive industries) in cases involving titled lands.
Some NGOs assert that the process for proving ancestral land
claims is overly burdensome and lengthy. The Tebtebba
Foundation, an advocacy NGO for IPs, claims the NCIP is
under pressure to revise FPIC guidelines to make it easier
for mining firms to extract minerals from IPs' lands.
According to Tebtebba, it has conducted six cases studies
that all show poor FPIC implementation. Tebtebba has
accused the NCIP of at times facilitating the creation of
illegitimate or non-representative tribal councils to grant
FPIC to contentious projects.

19. (SBU) Executive Director Bistoyong admitted to poloff
that the NCIP has been slow in processing claims for
certificates of title, but says that the NCIP is resolving
the problem. She told poloff that she expects that the NCIP
will award many additional CADTs (certificates for land)
before the end of the year, including perhaps 11 during the
next month. There are currently 212 pending CADT
applications covering over 2.7 million hectares, mostly in

20. (U) Financial Constraints and Political Pressures: The
NCIP has a budget of $7.37 million (P405 million) for 2005,
a decrease of over 20 percent from P536 million in 2004.
Due to budget limitations, the NCIP attempts to leverage NGO
and international donor assistance wherever possible. NGOs
have also expressed concern that making the NCIP an agency
attached to the Department of Land Reform shows that the GRP
is only committed to IPs' rights to the extent these do not
conflict with its interest in attracting foreign investment
and promoting economic growth. NGOs also allege that there
is political pressure on the NCIP to compromise its
regulatory procedures in order to allow extractive
industries to more easily enter and operate in IPs'
ancestral lands.

21. (SBU) IPs and the Mindanao Peace Process: NGO
advocates complain that IPs have been overlooked in the
peace process. These NGOs say that recognition and
implementation of the IPRA by ARMM officials and the MILF
lacks governmental support in that region, and that the GRP
and MILF may be reluctant -- for political reasons -- to
allow IPs in Mindanao rights and veto power over lands where
there could be significant mineral deposits. According to
the NCIP, there are over 300,000 indigenous persons in the
ARMM (roughly 12 percent of the total population). The NCIP
says that it has been unsuccessfully trying to set up IP
liaison officer desks in military units operating in
Mindanao in order to mitigate the displacement and other
problems encountered by IPs during military operations.

22. (SBU) As noted previously, warring parties in the
country's internal conflicts have recruited many IPs.
Indeed, a small minority of IPs have traditionally been
sympathetic toward the Communist Party of the
Philippines/New People's Army (CPP/NPA). To the extent that
land titling ensures land security and contributes to
economic security, recent developments have the potential to
increase support among IPs for the GRP. NCIP's Rosalina
Bistoyong believes that granting CADTs is helping to erode
IP support for the Communists. However, there is no
consensus on this. The ADF's Benjamin Abadiano, for
example, told poloff that he does not think that titling is
improving support for the GRP, and suggests that future
potential conflicts over mining and land utilization (as the
area covered by ancestral land titles grows) might increase
IP support for the CPP/NPA.


23. (SBU) So far, the NCIP has focused on land titling - an
important step in ensuring IPs' rights to their ancestral
lands and resources -- but neglected economic and social
development. This neglect seems to be primarily due to the
NCIP's limited resources. In order to ensure long-term
success and avoid further disenchantment of IPs with the
GRP, progress in obtaining land tenure rights needs to be
translated into real economic and social gains through the
continued implementation of the ADSDPPs and MTPDP-IP
development goals, which will require increased program
spending by the GRP. Model laws like the IPRA and the GRP's
development plans, if implemented fully and consistently,
hold promise for improving the condition of IPs. The
recently established consultative bodies could also play a
significant "pressure valve" role in representing and
advocating the concerns of IPs at the local and national
levels. Further engagement of IPs in the local and national
political processes -- negligible at this point -- could
also help raise their status.


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