KASAMA Vol. 11 No. 3 / July-August-September 1997 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

The Indigenous People of Cotabato City welcome the IFFM, 8 Dec 1996 (Photo: IFFM)

Extracts from "We Feel The Pain Of Our Mountain..." the report of the 1996 International Fact Finding Mission to Mindanao.

The Land

Thirty-four percent of the 300,000 sq km total land area of the Philippines is in Mindanao. Currently, there are six economic regions with 24 provinces, 14 cities, 400 municipalities and 13,000 barangays.

Mindanao's economy continues to be highly agricultural and export oriented. Its contribution to the national income comes from timber, mineral products like gold and nickel, aquatic resources, and agribusiness like bananas and pineapples. Others are rice, corn, abaca, coconut, livestock and rubber.

Ninety percent of the total timber production comes from Mindanao. Meanwhile, the island also contributes 48% of gold reserves, 63% of nickel stocks, 50% of aqua products, 65% of livestock, 62% of coconut, 67% of corn and 100% of banana, rubber and pineapple. Transnationals and big local business develop most of these and export them. (p.3)

Within the area targeted by WMCP is a place of great natural significance which is known as Bulol Lomot (Mossy Mountain). This mountain is particularly significant to the B'laans for whom it is a sacred site. It is also highly significant because it is one of the few areas yet to be impacted upon by humans.

Information provided to the IFFM by Filipino NGO's report that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) originally declared the Mossy Forest a protected area. But, this was revoked when WMCP was granted its FTAA.

The NGOs report that WMCP gave a verbal agreement that this area will be protected. However, this should be committed to in a formal agreement and the area should be returned to its previous protected status. (p.13)

The People

Particular to Mindanao is the existence of three types of people: the Lumads (indigenous people), the Filipinos (Christians) and the Moros (Islamised Lumads). Almost equally, they comprise 25% of the 65 million national population with the Filipino settlers as the more predominant.

The emergence of these types goes back to the Spanish colonisation period. Mindanao was, then, predominantly Muslim, who resisted the former Spanish colonisers.

In the late forties and the fifties the government opened up the island for homesteads. The influx of Filipinos from the other regions of Luzon and the Visayas pushed back the Lumads to the mountains and opened hostilities between the Moros and settlers. Finally, the Moros organised themselves into revolutionary groups like the MNLF and MILF. However, the MNLF signed a peace agreement with the government in 1996.

The poverty level in Mindanao is very serious, here there are 14 out of the 20 poorest provinces in the country.

A yardstick of the region's poverty is the departure of 2.4 million migrant workers to different parts of the world to work as domestic helpers. This figure continues to increase annually.

Regions predominantly occupied by the Lumads and Moros have a relatively lower literacy rate compared to that of areas dominated by Filipino settlers.

Fifty-four percent of the 400 municipalities have no doctors and 73% of the over 16 million population need safe drinking water. Yet, of the 19% national budget for social services, only 22% goes to Mindanao. (pp. 3-4)

The Lumads

Not considering the Moros, who are Islamised Lumads, there are 17 Lumad ethnic groups spread out in 19 provinces (according to the Lumad Development Center Inc). Of the 17, six have a population of 200,000 to 300,000. (Table below).

Lumad Ethnic Group Population:

1. Subanen 311,000

2. Mandaya/Mansaka 300,000

3. Manuvu 250,000

4. B'laan 250,000

5. T'Boli 227,955

6. Teduray 204,080

Since the Spanish colonisation, the Lumads of Mindanao played host to 226 development-generating projects that exploited all major resources of what the Lumads claim as their ancestral domain.

Considering 1980 records, there were 110 logging concessions, 92 grazing projects, eight mining concessions, four plantation corporations, four industrial tree plantations, four government reservations and four power generating plants. The Lumad Development Center Inc further claim that over 1,179 million hectares of Lumad ancestral domains have been converted to development projects. In sum, this covers about 11.6% of Mindanao's total land area. This excludes 31 projects and concessions of American and Filipino groups in Davao City that are of unknown coverage.

More ancestral lands have opened up to local and foreign investors in the logging and mining industries. Recently, the government released 50,000 hectares of forest land to private investors through the Industrial Forest Management Agreement and another 86,000 hectares to Timber Licensing Agreement. (p.4)

The B'laan

The B'laan spiritual attachment to the land is well documented. They gradually lost their customary land and country through unscrupulous dealings. This included the Spanish system of encomiendas where large tracts of native lands were confiscated and worked as plantations with the proceeds being sent back to Spain.

With the Americans succeeding the Spanish as the next coloniser, more stringent and unfair legislation was passed. The Public Land Acts of 1913, 1914 and 1919 soon followed which allowed other settlers especially from Luzon and Visayas to own land already declared as public domain.

Others also negotiated separately with the B'laan, buying off their land with next to nothing and eventually displacing them. Unfortunately the colonisers and settlers were quick to take advantage of their perceived "primitiveness", of their way of life, free-sharing, shifting cultivation and their traditional nomadic life. This wanton exploitation caused unproportional loss of self-determination. (pp. 40-41)

Under the revised Mining Act of 1995, mining companies submitted 100 Financial and Technical Assistance Agreements (FTAA) nationwide. In Mindanao, Australian mining corporations are gaining an extensive foothold in the ancestral lands of the Lumads. Of the 100, four Australian mining firms have applied for FTAAs and two have been approved. The other two Australian companies have a pending application for a 700,000 hectare area.

Of the two approved FTAAs, the Western Mining Corporation Philippines (WMCP) started exploration activities in the 86,000 hectares for its (projected) open cut mining in the ancestral domain of the B'laans. (p.5)

In this context the International Fact Finding Mission of the Uniting Church of Australia joined with NGOs in the Philippines in December 1996 to look into the situation of the B'laans.

Ancestral Domain

Art. II, Sec. 22 of the Philippine Constitution states that, "The State recognises and promotes the rights of Indigenous cultural communities within the framework of national unity and development". Although the general concern of the state for the Indigenous Peoples is clearly expressed in this provision, there has been a problem on how to translate this into clear and definite terms. To date, there is a pending bill on Ancestral Domain being debated in the Philippine Congress.

Different lobby groups have been pushing for an appropriate law on the right to Ancestral Domain rather than just simply an indigenous right to the ancestral lands. The right to Ancestral Domain that is genuine, would imply the right to "all lands and natural resources owned, occupied or possessed by Indigenous Peoples, by themselves or through their ancestors, commonly or individually, relied upon and protected in accordance with their customs and traditions since time immemorial". Whereas, ancestral lands would only refer to the surface rights of the lands by the Indigenous Peoples.

Ancestral Domain for Indigenous Peoples means the LAND and the RESOURCES found there. In land is life. And life includes their culture and spirit. Only the Adwata (God) can claim ownership on it, while everybody collectively can only act as steward. From this perspective, individual absolute ownership of land is inconceivable.

Ancestral Domain for them is not only a question of land use. It also implies the milieu of their cultural and spiritual life. Thus, to take this domain from them, implies a serious deprivation of their life, a total erosion of their world of the sacred. (p.30)

The Indigenous Peoples have been struggling for the recognition of their Ancestral Domain. The issue goes beyond simply a question of land use. The manner by which the Indigenous Peoples relate to their land and resources deeply intertwines with their customs, culture and political practices. Thus, it is an issue of a peoples' life in its totality, and their struggle is an expression of their self-determination to carve their own destiny as a distinct people.

The absence of clear and definite legal provisions on Ancestral Domain has led them to become victims of exploitation and marginalisation by business people and corporations. It continues to deprive Indigenous Peoples from owning their land which they have been tilling since time immemorial. They are made extremely vulnerable to the massive intrusion of big business people and corporate groups.

The rate of exploitation and marginalisation imposed upon them by the big business people, lowlanders and transnational corporations have a far reaching effect in their life as a people. The issue then of Ancestral Domain is the issue of Indigenous People's rights to self determination.

The recent passage of Republic Act 7942, or the Mining Act of 1995, re-enforces the marginalisation of the Indigenous Peoples. This is especially so for the B'laan people located at the quadri-boundary of the provinces of south Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Davao del Sur and Cotabato. The Act further guarantees the legal machineries that violate Indigenous Peoples rights to their Ancestral Domain.

WMCP's development aggression into the Ancestral Domain of the B'laan threatens the latter's demands to be allowed to live in harmony with nature. (p.31)

Maps: compiled from IFFM Report