Members of the indigenous communities in the country continue to suffer injustices despite the over two-decade-old Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA) that was supposed to protect their basic rights, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said.
“Twenty-three years after its (IPRA) signing, the supposed landmark law continues to confront setbacks in fully realizing the human rights and freedoms of indigenous Filipinos,” CHR Spokesperson Jacqueline De Guia said in a statement on Thursday, Oct. 29, as the country commemorates the 23rd anniversary of the passage of IPRA.
De Guia said IPRA, which was enacted in 1997, made the Philippines the first country in Asia that recognized the struggles and aspirations of its indigenous peoples by way of a legal instrument.
Among the key highlights of the law is its adoption of the concept of “free and prior informed consent” (FPIC) as a means to protect indigenous rights and interests and give them a voice in matters that affect them.
Through this, the FPIC requires that indigenous communities be provided with adequate and accessible information, that consensus is determined by indigenous peoples’ customary laws and practices, and that it should be free from any external manipulation or coercion.
“Unfortunately, even with strong legal provisions in place, indigenous peoples have faced considerable challenges in upholding their right to give or withhold FPIC,” De Guia said.
Citing the Commission’s experiences on the ground, De Guia emphasized that most of the human rights violations perpetrated against indigenous peoples are land-related harassment, attacks, and killings.
Some also endure state repression when caught in conflict situations, while others experience continuing discrimination in accessing basic social services, she added.
“The resources lying within the indigenous peoples’ ancestral territories are being extracted for profits by a few but [cause] disruption in the lives of many communities. Such projects are usually couched in the language of development and are contrary to the best interest of the people,” De Guia explained.
“Not only does this [leave] indigenous peoples displaced, militarized, or exploited for cheap labor, but this also leaves environmental destruction in its wake,” she said.
Also in time with the commemoration of the National Indigenous Peoples Month this October, CHR has welcomed the renewed commitment of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) to correct injustices suffered by the indigenous communities.
NICP was the agency created through IPRA to be the primary government agency that formulates and implements policies for the recognition, promotion, and protection of the rights of the indigenous peoples.
“Twenty-three years has been a long time to test the teeth of IPRA and to assess the milestones and gaps of its implementation. At this point, we need to revisit if the existing formal mechanisms, including other laws and policies that may pose threats to the rights of indigenous people, are still responsive to the goal of delivering social justice, and if it is really effective enough to hold perpetrators to account,” De Guia pointed out.
The Commission further urged the government to ensure that indigenous peoples have genuine participation and representation in various governance processes.
“As a nation, we have the moral responsibility to rectify the long-held marginalization and denial of rights against our indigenous brothers and sisters brought about by various social institutions,” she added.