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Home NEWS Filipiniana Indigenous Peoples and Land

Indigenous Peoples and Land

indigenousThe Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997 identifies indigenous peoples (IPs) as “homogeneous societies…who have continuously lived as organized community on communally bounded and defined territory…or who have, through resistance to political, social and cultural inroads of colonization, non-indigenous religions and cultures, become historically differentiated from the majority of Filipinos.” Indigenous cultural communities/indigenous peoples (ICCs/IPs) also include cultural groups that have been displaced from their ancestral land and have resettled in another territory while still maintaining their social institutions.

The social empowerment of IPs is determined by their cultural identity, which is formed by their environment and is deeply rooted in their ancestral land. But the IPs’ social empowerment has continually been challenged ever since Spanish colonization, when the possession of Philippine territory was claimed by the king and, later, by the state. ICCs/IPs wrestle with displacement and limited or no access to their land and resources, brought about by infrastructure development (like the dams in the Cordilleras); lack of education; and insufficient income. Having been left with no choice but to find employment in cities, IPs become alienated from their clan and culture.

A report by the Asian Development Bank recommends that managing and protecting the ancestral domain, mainstreaming the delivery of basic services, capacity building for ICCs/IPs, and institutionalizing development programs will help empower indigenous peoples in the Philippines. But institutions must take into consideration that the IPs’ view of land differs from the mainstream regard for it as the property of the national government. As the Tinggian chieftain Macli-ing Dulag said in 1974, when a team of government engineers came to Kalinga to dialogue with the people regarding the building of the Chico Dam:

You ask if we own the land. And mock us. “Where is your paper title?” When we query the meaning of your words you answer with taunting arrogance. “Where are the documents to prove your title?” Title. Documents. Proof. Such arrogance of owning the land. When you shall be owned by it. How can you own that which will outlive you? Only the race owns the land because only the race lives forever.



Asian Development Bank. Indigenous Peoples / Ethnic Minorities and Poverty Reduction – Philippines., accessed October 12, 2010.

Ateneo Human Rights Center. Human Rights Treatise on Ancestral Domains. Makati City: Ateneo Human Rights Center, 1996.

Republic Act No. 8371. “The Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997.”