Situation of the Indigenous Peoples in the Philippines

THE PHILIPPINES is an archipelago and mountainous country approximately covering 30 million hectares of land surrounded by the Pacific, China and Celebes Seas.  It comprises 7,100 islands with major islands grouped into three major geographical regions: Luzon in the north, Visayas in the central region, and Mindanao in the south.

It is home to around 140 ethnolinguistic groups who comprise more or less 10 to 12% of the total population of approximately 72 million Filipinos.   Interchangeably, they are called “indigenous peoples” or “national minorities”.    Unlike other indigenous peoples of the world who were marginalized by the ever-expanding settlements of white colonizers, the national minorities of the Philippines suffered a different fate.  When the colonizers converted other communities of low-lying areas into their colonial subjects, the upland communities managed to resist and preserved their traditional socio-political and cultural structures.

Thus, a social dichotomy was born among the indigenous population.   The Filipino majority pertains to those who relate and adopted the imported ways of the colonizers while the Filipino minorities retain some if not all of their pre-colonial lifeways.

Geographical Distribution

MINDANAO:  The Indigenous Peoples of this island are called “Lumads.”  They comprise about 18 ethnolinguistic groups whom anthropologists refer to as Subanen, Manobo, B’laan, T’boli, Mandaya, Mansaka, Tiruray, Higaonon, Bagobo, Bukidnon, Tagkaolo, Ubo, Klagan, Banwaon, Dibabawon, Talaandig, Mamanua and Manguangan.  The lumads have the biggest number of National Minorities.  They live in the mountainous areas of Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur, Bukidnon, Agusan, Surigao, Zamboanga, Misamis Oriental, Misamis Occidental, Cagayan de Oro, North Cotabato, South Cotabato and Saranggani province.

CORDILLERA: Collectively known as the “Igorots” with about 1.8 million population, they can be found in the six provinces in the North-Central region of the Luzon island, namely: Abra, Kalinga, Apayao, Maountain Province, Ifugao and Benguet.  They are divided into 8 major groups: Bontoc, Kankanaey, Yapayao, Kalinga, Ibaloi, Tingguian and Isneg.  They have remained in relatively intact communities.

CARABALLO MOUNTAINS: With about 180,000 population, the communities of the Ibanags, Bugkalots, Ilongot, Gaddangs, Ikalahans and Isinais live within the Sierra Madre Mountain Range in South-Central Luzon area, the area of which traverses along the provinces of Nueva Viscaya, Aurora and Nueva Ecija.

SIERRA MADRE MOUNTAINS: The Dumagats, or “sea dwellers”, are found in the provinces of Nueva Ecija, Aurora, Quezon, Rizal and Bulacan.  They can be categorized into three sub-groups: the Agta, the Alta and the Remontado.  They have a total population of about 180,000.

MT. PINATUBO: Most “Aetas” can be found around the Mt. Pinatubo Mountain Range along the quadri-boundary of Zambales, Bataan, Pampanga and Tarlac provinces.  They approximately number to around 180,000.  After Mt. Pinatubo’s eruption, some of them were forced to resettle to other provinces.  Rehabilitation efforts by some non-governmental organizations, church and government sectors are not enough to sustain their livelihood.  Worse, some of them were forced to beg for alms in the main streets of Metro Manila and other adjacent cities.

PALAWAN ISLANDS: Six major ethnic groups are found in the South-Central island of Palawan.  They are the Tagbnaua, Batak, Kalamianes, Cuyonin, Ken-uy and Palawanis.  They number about 122,000.

MINDORO ISLAND:  “Mangyans” refer to the group of national minorities found in Mindoro.  They are divided into seven major ethnic groups—Alangan, Iraya, Hanunuo, Tadyawan, Buhid, Bangon and Gubatnon—approximately numbering to 113,000.  They usually dwell in the remote areas along mountain ranges and coastline communities of Oriental and Occidental Mindoro.  Some of the groups have managed to maintain their traditional writings and literature.

PANAY AND NEGROS ISLANDS:  “Ati” is the term usually used to refer to the group of national minorities of Panay and Negros islands.  They usually dwell in the mountainous areas and the privately owned lands of landlords.  The Atis of present day are now either hacienda peasants or farm-workers.  Their traditional territories have been expropriated by private corporations and hacienda owners.
Historical Oppression and Resistance
When political governance was finally turned over to the natives, the social structures that relegate the minorities into a disadvantaged position did not change.   The founding of a Filipino State only aggravated and institutionalized the oppression of the national minorities.

A series of Public Land laws and Forest Laws beginning 1902 has practically converted the indigenous peoples ancestral domain into corporate properties.  These wholesale expropriations by foreign and local businesses are aided by such legal shields as land lease and joint concessions.  From then on, the remaining indigenous inhabitants have been living a destructive cycle of forced eviction, military harassments, forced assimilation and so on to give way for every entry of any prospective capitalist corporation.  The state condones this within the pretext of “national development for the common good”.

The genocidal war perpetrated by the colonialists and continued by their puppets in the Filipino government was equally resisted with fierce by the valiant warriors of indigenous peoples.  The Moro people (Filipino Muslims) of the south continuously defeated attempts by the Spaniards to forcefully subjugate them.  The Americans likewise had constantly reinforced their weaponry against the Moro warriors.  Even the 19th century Independence Movement traced its roots to the spontaneous struggle of the natives.  All in all, these numbered to 264 uprisings until Spain was forced to leave but only after relinquishing its colonial claims for the Americans.

The Igorots of the Cordillera region in the North-Central mountain range of Luzon displayed extraordinary bravery against the Spanish expeditions that were intended to hunt for the Igorot’s famous golds.  Consequently, learning from the failure of their predecessor, the American colonialists used religion and education as their primary method of coopting the more lenient indigenous communities.  Thus, when the reigns of governance was finally turned over to the native puppets, American business enterprises have already marked their presence in large areas formerly occupied and inhabited by indigenous peoples.

To further institutionalize the marginalization of the indigenous peoples and complete the plunder of their lands, the native puppets who were trained in the ways of their colonial masters set up various agencies tasked to represent the indigenous peoples in matters concerning their economy and socio-politics.  On the other hand, religious groups were encouraged and proliferated in areas of indigenous peoples.

During the post-war era, the Bureau of Non-Christian Tribes (BNCT) was primary responsible for making deals with large logging concessions both in North and Southern Philippine regions, displacing in the process hundreds of indigenous communities.  The logged-over areas were subsequently awarded to landless peasants under the pseudo-agrarian reform program of the government.  As a result, most indigenous communities had resorted to arm resistance against the onslaught.   Other indigenous groups, of which had no match against the war machinery of the state, were forced to take refuge in the most interior parts of the forest

During the mail-fist Marcos rule, the Presidential Authority for the National Minorities (PANAMIN) was established.   Among others, PANAMIN facilitated the entry of foreign-owned establishments involved in tourism, energy exploration and timber concessions.  It showcased model communities of indigenous groups, which meant forcing them into settled communities and portray them as guinea pigs for the introduction of foreign and lowland culture.

But its most infamous legacy to the indigenous peoples was its insistence of putting up a mega-hydro dam within the ancestral lands of the Kalinga people, a section of Igorot people in the northernmost Cordillera.   The Chico River Dam Project was unanimously rejected by the people to such degree that tribal differences were put aside to give way for a united struggle of Cordillera peoples never seen before.  By the early 80s and after a series of armed encounters between the government troops and the armed guerillas of the Cordillera, then President Marcos was forced to forego the project.

The victory of the Cordillera people over Marcos’ project signaled the intensity of the struggle of the indigenous peoples.  Communities from north to south have organized their ranks and began linking arms to continue their age-old struggle against continuing oppression.

Organizations along the legal fronts are set up to start building alliances with the underground revolutionary movement, which proved to be the most receptive to the national minorities’ cause.  From thereon, the battlecry was to pursue the struggle for self-determination and ancestral lands within the national democratic aspirations of the Filipino people.

By the early 80s, legal organizations of the national minorities in the whole Philippines flourished.  After the EDSA I uprising in 1986, the Kalipunan ng mga Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (KAMP, or the National Federation of Indigenous Peoples) was established.  Since then, KAMP has epitomized the national struggle of the indigenous peoples for self-determination against national oppression.  At the same time, advocacy groups among the professionals through the Tunay na Alyansa ng Bayan Alay sa Katutubo (TABAK, or the Alliance of Advocates of National Minorities Rights) and the student sector through the Kabataan Para sa Tribung Pilipino (KATRIBU, or the Student Advocates for the Indigenous Peoples) rallied on to push for the national minorities’ rights to their ancestral lands and self-determination.

Article Contributed by Noynoy Gobrin