THERE are over 14 million Indigenous People (IPs) in the Philippines, most of whom are in Mindanao. Tribal groups are found nationwide: Apayao, Isneg and Tinggian in the Cordillera; Aeta, Gaddang, and Ibanag in Cagayan Valley; Pinatubo and Baluga in Central Luzon; Hanunoo and Iraya in Mindoro; Batak, Ke-ney, and Tagbanua in Palawan; Ati and Sulod in Western Visayas; Ata, Bagobo, Badjao, Bilaan in Mindanao; and Dulagan-Manobo and Aruman-Manobo in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
The Constitution mandates the State to recognize, respect, and protect the rights of IPs to preserve and develop their cultures, traditions, and institutions. Republic Act 8371, the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (AFRA) of 1997, guarantees the rights of IPs to ancestral domain, self-governance and empowerment, social justice and human rights, education and cultural integrity. IFRA is modelled on the 2007 United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Peoples' Rights.
On May 8, 2012, a multisectoral project, titled "Recognition of the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao for their Empowerment and Sustainable Development," will be launched by the Cotabato-based Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG), in partnership with non-governmental organization Development Consultants, Inc., and the Berlin-based Konrad-Adenauer Stiftung (KAS), supported by the European Union.
The project will take up issues and concerns such as IP participation in peace agreements. There will be information exchange on the proposed Bangsamoro sub-state to replace ARMM, discussions on how IPs can retain their close links with cultural traditions and religious beliefs, how to provide indigenous communities basic services such as education, health and shelter, and measures to alleviate poverty.
The government as well as multisectoral groups continue to support moves, such as this project in Mindanao, that seeks to help marginalized indigenous peoples in their quest for cultural preservation, and empowerment. Dialogues and consultations to effectively advance their welfare and give them a venue to express their needs and aspirations, are continuing. MABUHAY!