Indigenous Peoples: More Marginalized, Impoverished Under GMA

Indigenous peoples’ rights

The enactment of the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA) of 1997 was supposed to serve the purpose of protecting indigenous peoples’ rights to self-determination, economic and social well-being, and cultural integrity. The IPRA, in particular, includes several provisions on the protection of ancestral domain and land rights, as well as the requirement of indigenous communities’ free and prior informed consent (FPIC) for any project to be implemented within their territories, particularly those which may affect them adversely.

Shortly after its enactment, the IPRA’s constitutionality was challenged before the Supreme Court. In 2000, the High Tribunal – then led by Chief Justice Hilario Davide, Jr. – ruled in favor of the IPRA but affirmed the State’s “prior right” over natural resources while giving indigenous peoples stewardship “rights” over their land and resources.

Meanwhile there are laws that run contrary to indigenous peoples’ rights. The Mining Act of 1995 allows 100-percent ownership of land even in indigenous areas, paving the way for displacements. The National Integrated Protected Area Systems (NIPAS) imposes restrictions on indigenous communities in their own territories. The Forestry Code of the Philippines declares lands with 18-percent slope as “public lands” – making many indigenous peoples “squatters in their own land,” as the document submitted by IPR-Monitor, Tebtebba Foundation, and PIPLinks to the UPR puts it.

Militarization and killings

Mangumalas said that the destructive effects of what he described as “pseudo-development projects” are aggravated by militarization. Militarization, he said, facilitates the implementation of “development” projects that adversely affect indigenous communities. “The military are normally used to quell any sign of local opposition,” he said.

“The entry of these so-called development programs is facilitated by military deployment and operations,” he explained. “The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) even resorts to recruitment for paramilitary troops from among IP civilians, just to ‘secure’ the current government’s economic targets in the rural areas,” he said.

In not a few cases, militarization in furtherance of “development” projects have led to the killings of indigenous people who have dared to resist for the sake of preserving their way of life.

KAMP has documented a total of 130 indigenous people killed since 2001 – when Arroyo was catapulted to power through a popular uprising. Thirty-six of them are massacre victims, Mangumalas said, while eight are leaders of indigenous communities.

“Most of these killings happened in Mindanao, where there are a lot of ‘development’ projects,” Mangumalas said. “Several of these killings also occurred in Cordillera, where there are many large-scale mining projects.”


The Philippines’ indigenous peoples – who comprise some 15 percent of the population and who are among the country’s poorest – have become more marginalized and impoverished under the Arroyo administration, Mangumalas said. He said this leaves them no choice but to unite with other sectors pushing for Arroyo’s removal from office.

“We are not saying that her removal would immediately change things,” he said. “But that could pave the way for changing things, for the improvement of the lot of indigenous peoples and the rest of the population.” (

*The UPR is a new mechanism that was established under General Assembly Resolution 60/251, which established the UNHRC (United Nations Human Rights Council) on March 15, 2006. The said resolution provides that the UNHRC shall “undertake a universal periodic review, based on objective and reliable information, of the fulfillment by each State of its human rights obligations and commitments in a manner which ensures universality of coverage and equal treatment with respect to all States; the review shall be a cooperative mechanism, based on an interactive dialogue, with the full involvement of the country concerned and with consideration given to its capacity-building needs; such a mechanism shall complement and not duplicate the work of treaty bodies…”

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