A Choice for Indigenous Communities in the Philippines
Human Rights Dialogue 2.11 (Spring 2004): Environmental Rights Maurizio Farhan Ferrari, Dave de Vera
April 27, 2004
In the 1990s, the Philippine legislature passed two groundbreaking laws recognizing the rights of indigenous peoples and ensuring their participation in protected area management and decision-making: the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Act of 1992 and the Indigenous People’s Rights Act (IPRA) of 1997. The earlier law, NIPAS, institutionalized the participation of indigenous and local communities in the land management process by providing for the establishment of Protected Area Management Boards composed of government officers, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and local community representatives. IPRA allowed for the granting of collective and individual rights to land to indigenous peoples through certificates of ancestral domain and land titles. The rights provided for by these two laws give indigenous people a choice of approaches for regaining some control over their lands: a participatory approach through NIPAS or a rights-based approach through IPRA. The story of the Calamian Tagbanwa of Coron Island, who chose to follow the IPRA course, demonstrates that the rights-based approach can provide more protection than participating in a process over which indigenous peoples often have little control. The Calamian Tagbanwa inhabit the beautiful limestone Coron Island, one of the Calamianes Islands of North Palawan, which is surrounded by water once rich in marine resources, the main source of their livelihood. In the 1980s, declining fisheries in the adjoining Visayas islands and southern Luzon coasts triggered the movement of fishers westward into Calamianes waters, which resulted in over-fishing, illegal fishing, and an increased human population. By the mid-1980s, the waters surrounding the island were being degraded at an alarming rate by dynamite, cyanide, and...
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