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Commentary

Securing land for IPs to help them fight poverty

/ 05:00 AM September 29, 2018

Land is at the core of the unique identity and very existence of the country’s indigenous peoples (IPs). Unfortunately, in spite of laws that protect their rights to their ancestral domain, many IPs today remain unable to claim and utilize the land and resources they need to lead the kind of lives their culture dictates.

Republic Act No. 8371, or the Indigenous Peoples Act of 1997, recognizes and protects the rights of IPs to their ancestral domain, i.e., the lands, inland waters, coastal areas, and natural resources of their lands and territories. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Undrip), which has been adopted by UN member states for over 11 years now, also recognizes these rights.

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In the face of these legal recognitions, why do IPs continue to be vulnerable and threatened by displacement?

The Aeta from Zambales, for instance, were relocated to neighboring provinces like Pampanga and areas near the Sierra Madre mountain ranges. There are also the attacks on the “lumad” in Davao, and the displacement and migration of the Sama-Badjao from war-torn Zamboanga. These stories paint a picture of the IPs’  constant struggle against being removed from the land that generations of their people have lived in.

The uncertainty of having no land they can call their own has made it difficult for IPs to trace back their roots and picture their future. Land is linked to their identity and their very existence. Without land, erecting homes, raising families, practicing their customs and traditions, and building stable livelihoods become very difficult for IPs.

The collective movement Zero Extreme Poverty PH 2030 (ZEP) recognizes that IPs are one of the most marginalized and impoverished groups in the Philippines. As such, ZEP’s special mission is to help address the need of IPs to reclaim their ancestral domain, so that they may lead dignified and productive lives as members of the greater Filipino community. Like the rest of the Filipino citizenry, they should be protected by the same rights equally.

ZEP has created a cluster dedicated to bringing poverty alleviation interventions from partners within its coalition to the IP communities. These interventions correspond to the other clusters within ZEP, namely education, health, livelihood, environment, agriculture and fisheries, housing and shelter. ZEP believes in taking a multisectoral approach in order to achieve collective impact toward eradicating poverty and instituting social justice. While preserving and respecting the IPs’ customs and traditions, ZEP and its partners offer, among others, alternative learning schemes, health programs, water systems, and learning sessions on cultivating appropriate crops and livestock.

ZEP recently met with about 70 leaders of indigenous communities from Antipolo, Apayao, Boracay, Davao, Guimaras, Palawan, Pangasinan, Negros Occidental, Occidental Mindoro, Tarlac, Zamboanga del Norte and Zamboanga del Sur, and learned from them about the major challenges they face in attaining land security. A training session was facilitated to equip indigenous communities with the knowledge and grasp of the legal and administrative resources they have at their disposal.

ZEP guided them on how to navigate the process of applying for certificates of ancestral land/domain titles, including delineating and recognizing ancestral domain—how to measure the boundaries of their lands, do 3D mapping, write application letters, and converse with various agencies from the local and national governments for the implementation of their Ancestral Domains Sustainable Development and Protection Plan.

Securing certificates of ancestral land/domain titles can prove difficult due to several issues: the proximity of communities to offices of concerned government agencies, the capacity of IP organizations to comply with the requirements, contradictory and inconsistent data documentation, conflicting laws in terms of recognizing the IPs’ right to own the land, and, not least, political and social pressures.

These challenges cannot be acted on alone. ZEP urges the government and relevant civil society organizations to take part in collective efforts to help the IPs break free from their marginalized status, and be able to uphold their culture and traditions as indigenous Filipinos.

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For centuries, many IP groups have been displaced, evicted and forced out of the lands that are integral to their survival. Many have been rendered helpless in securing the domains that are rightfully their own. Through the capacity-building measures of ZEP 2030, these communities may have a chance to thrive and sustain their way of living for generations to come.

Benjamin Abadiano, a 2004 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Emergent Leadership, has done volunteer work and social development initiatives, including work for indigenous peoples, for over 25 years. He is the head of secretariat for Zero Extreme Poverty 2030 (ZEP 2030), a collective movement of civil society organizations working together on poverty alleviation programs nationwide. Formed in 2015, ZEP 2030 is on a mission to uplift one million Filipino families from extreme poverty to self-sufficiency by 2030.

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TAGS: ancestral lands, culture, IPs, Undrip
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