IP treated as “invisible persons”

“They questioned why the NCIP, whose members include leaders of intellectual property groups, has been quiet about incursions by mining companies seeking gold, copper and nickel on their ancestral lands”

It is a crying shame that the indigenous peoples or IPs of the country have remained a grossly marginalized sector, a form of injustice which I hope will be rectified as soon as possible.

Despite politicians’ traditional campaign promises over decades, IPs have faced discrimination, abuse and neglect from authorities meant to protect their rights and improve their well-being.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the National Indigenous Peoples Commission have in many cases failed to enforce their rights to ancestral domains.

Republic Act 8371 or the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act states that the NCIP “shall protect and promote the interests and welfare of Indigenous cultural communities/indigenous peoples with due regard to their beliefs, customs, traditions and institution”.

IPs constitute 10 to 20% of the total population of the country. If we get 15% of the current population of 112 million, IP addresses would exceed 16 million.

Nearly five million are in the Cordilleras, more than 10 million throughout Mindanao, and the rest in the Visayas.

But just like endangered wildlife species, PAs have been driven from their natural habitat due to forest denudation, logging, mining, hunting and real estate development.

Natural calamities have also forced IPs to leave their settlements in the mountains, affecting their livelihoods.

Several members of an IP group, the Higaonon in Agusan del Norte, Caraga region, came to my office to present their complaint against the mining and quarrying operations on their ancestral lands.

They questioned the permits granted by the DENR to mining companies to carry out their operations in protected areas or areas conserved by indigenous communities.

A giant mining company with a permit from the DENR allegedly hired heavily armed thugs and forcibly evicted an entire Higaonon tribe from their settlement.

The Aeta, Manobo and Lumad tribes suffered the same ordeal in different parts of the archipelago.

Now you see them, now you don’t. APs descended from the original inhabitants of the islands were treated as “invisible people”.

In search of gold, silver and copper, mining companies, as well as night miners, have not spared Mount Apo, the highest peak in the country and home to the Manobos.

They also questioned why the NCIP, whose members include leaders of intellectual property groups, has been tight-lipped about incursions by mining companies seeking gold, copper and nickel on their ancestral lands.

The functions of the NCIP include, among others, “to issue appropriate certification as a condition precedent to the grant of any permit, lease, concession or other similar authority for the disposal, use , the management and ownership by any individual, corporate entry or any other government agency, corporation or subdivision thereof over any part or portion of the Ancestral Domain subject to the consensual approval of the applicable ICC/IPs.

Does this mean that NCIP itself or one of its officials has anything to do with the dubious licensing of mining companies?

I hope, as I said, that the country’s impoverished IPs get protection from relevant government agencies, like the DENR and NICP, with respect to their ancestral domain.

Apparently, the authorities give such importance to the concerns of IPs that up-to-date data on the approximately 110 ethnolinguistic groups is even readily available.

I hope change is in sight for the country’s more than 16 million invisible IP addresses.

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