|Wednesday, 31 May 2000
20 million indigenous peoples (IPs) are scattered throughout seven
ethnographic regions in the country. And except for a few who have gone to
school and made it beyond the poverty line, practically this entire
population live below the poverty level.
__In the hope of decreasing the number of poor IPs, as well as poor upland dwellers and fisherfolk, the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) has designed a program that will entail respect for, protection and management of ancestral domains. A total of P1.4 billion has been set aside to achieve that goal.
__This is how the Commission explains why giving the indigenous communities the rights to ancestral lands is considered a prerequisite to poverty alleviation in this particular sector: "Mainstream (statutes) do not recognize their traditions and their spiritual relationship to their lands and ecological boundaries," such that they continue to be driven out of their ancestral lands, thereby limiting their capacity to exercise their rights over indigenous resources.
__To the IPs themselves, giving them rights over their ancestral lands is what President Estrada’s means when he says, quite often, that "without asset reform, no poverty alleviation program will succeed."
__NAPC’s environment and ancestral domain program, one of the seven sectoral programs it is undertaking, covers indigenous peoples, upland dwellers and fisherfolk. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) leads the other implementing agencies, such National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, and the Office of Muslim Affairs.
__While the government’s anti-poverty program is a source of optimism for the indigenous peoples, non-government organizations working with IPs are concerned that the program does not address the other, equally important, issues confronting the sector.
__According to Dave de Vera, executive director of the Philippine Association for Inter-Cultural Development, an NGO, indigenous communities have to deal with other problems in their areas such as militarization, displacement, big-time logging, and mining explorations. To top these concerns is the government’s "propensity to compromise" because of the difficulty in applying for certificates of ancestral domain claims or CADCs.
What body represents them?
__In fact, there is a very basic problem concerning the programs for IPs that the government is unable to resolve until now—the question of which body really represents the IPs: the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples or the People’s Task Force on Ancestral Domains. "Sino ba talaga?" De Vera stressed on the rift between the two bodies when he served as resource person of the ancestral domain workshop group during a consultation organized by the NAPC on May 24 and 25.
__De Vera said a total of 234,188 hectares of ancestral lands certificates and/or agreements have been issued to indigenous communities. In sharp contrast, a total of 3.64 million hectares are covered by existing corporate agreements for mining explorations. Mining applications alone cover some 10.6 million hectares that reportedly include ancestral lands, compared to only 2.7 million hectares covered by claims to ancestral domain.
__But even if all pending applications for ancestral domain certificates are approved, De Vera stressed that there is still the question of what to do with the CADCs. "What good are these if not converted to titles?" he asked. He revealed that except for a 1,020-hectare community title issued in Sultan Kudarat during the Marcos administration, none of the CADCs issued have become titles.
__As if to reinforce suspicion that the government is not at all serious about giving the IP the rights to their ancestral lands, only P3.813 million of the P1.4 billion allocated for NAPC’s ancestral domain program for this year has been set aside for the "delineation, survey and titling of ancestral domains, including conversion of CADCs to CADT." Needless to say, P3.813 million, critics dismissed, is "only a pittance."
Tomorrow: NAPC’s programs involving social services