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Cordillera Facts
Patrick C. Agonias

Commercial Exploitation of the Cordilleras The people in the Cordlleras have been exercising sustainable practices in consuming the various resources in their lands for centuries. These riches of the lands have attracted the attention of the National Government, several MNCs and even colonizers in the past. The resources that were exploited are: timbre, precious minerals, hectares of arable land and even the water supply.

History of the Cordilleran Autonomy Preservation of their cultural integrity is the centerpiece of their quest of genuine autonomy In addition they already have a system of governance and conflict resolution method known as pudon, budong among the Kalinga, Tinguinans and Isnegs; pechen among the Bontocs, Kankana-ey; biyo or puchon among the Ifugaos. Aside from governance, they also have a traditional economic organization. These include the relationship of people with the process of production in which it is viewed as expression of community solidarity. All their institutions, practices and culture have been developed and nurtured throughout their historical experiences since time immemorial. The Spaniards were amazed by the complexity of the Cordillerans indigenous-socio-political structure. In fact they were continuously repulsed by the tribes and were able to be free from colonial rule, until the Americans came. The Americans also recognized the difficulty in pacifying the local tribes into their colonial rule. Hence, they disguised themselves as benevolent missionaries and teachers. However, they soon enacted laws that would give them the rights to exploit the lands. These are: The Public Land Act of 1905 Mining Act of 1905


Executive Order No. 217 of February 1929

Throughout the 1950s-1960s it has been marked by the assertion of the Cordilleran youths and professionals of their identity. They sought the reconstruction the Cordillera region by forging solidarity among the Cordillera people. The struggle of the Cordillerans peaked during the authoritarian regime of Pres. Ferdinand Marcos (1972-1985). Most of whom joined the communist rebels; through this armed struggle they had hoped to bring down the divide and rule policies perpetrated by the government. Also the policy of ethnic minoritization attributed their indigenous community as second class citizens. The policies during the administration overlapped and even followed up the oppressive colonial policies of the past. These policies include: Presidential Decree 705 or the Revised Forestry Code of the Philippines Presidential Decree 410

In effect, the stigma left to the people was that of discrimination, marginalization, neglect, and isolation from mainstream Philippine society. Several industrial projects were undertaken in Cordillera which caused devastating environmental degradation. These projects to name a few are: The Chico River Dam Logs and timbre concession granted to the Cellphil Resources Corporation Mining operations in Benguet

These projects prompted fierce opposition by the Cordellerans and brought their plight into national consciousness. Many of these projects were halted, most notably the Chico River Dam. Another overriding agenda is the quest for autonomy of the Cordilleras. When the Marcos regime fell and Corazon Aquino assumed the presidency in 1986 her administration launched several initiatives to address the problems of the Cordillera people. Among those initiatives were: Cancellation of the Chico Dam Project Revocation of Cellophil Resource Corporations license to operate

The most significant is the granting of Regional Autonomy of the Cordillera as provided by the 1987 Constitution.


Article X Section 1 states that: The territorial and political subdivisions of the Republic of the Philippines are the provinces, cities, municipalities, and barangays. There shall be autonomous regions in Muslim Mindanao and the Cordilleras as hereinafter provided. Also in Section 15 under the Autonomous Regions: There shall be created autonomous regions in Muslim Mindanao and in the Cordilleras consisting of provinces, cities, municipalities, and geographical areas sharing common and distinctive historical and cultural heritage, economic and social structures, and other relevant characteristics within the framework of this Constitution and the national sovereignty as well as territorial integrity of the Republic of the Philippines. This also in line with Pres. Aquino signing of the Organic Act providing the Cordillera Autonomous Region (CAR), the Constitution under Section 20 dictates that: Within its territorial jurisdiction and subject to the provisions of this Constitution and national laws, the organic act of autonomous regions shall provide for legislative powers over: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. Administrative organization; Creation of sources of revenues; Ancestral domain and natural resources; Personal, family, and property relations; Regional urban and rural planning development; Economic, social, and tourism development; Educational policies; Preservation and development of the cultural heritage; and Such other matters as may be authorized by law for the promotion of the general welfare of the people of the region.

Ownership and Delineation of Ancestral Doman: Customary vs. National Laws Indigenous peoples have the fundamental right of ownership to their ancestral lands and domain. The customary law regarding ownership was through the peace pacts made between tribes, narrative description and simple mapping techniques. Incursion by the government began as early as the Spanish colonial era. This was through the Regalian Doctrine in which it unilaterally declares all lands discovered and explored by Spanish traders and conquistadors are to be under the ownership and exploitation of the Spanish Crown. This doctrine therefore gave the State the right to own and manage the natural resources harvested from the acquired lands. In effect these ancestral lands became public domain owned


by the State. The doctrine also laid the foundation for the concept and institutionalization of private ownership of land. The lack of the recognition of the right of ownership to these indigenous people led to several armed clashes with the government which reached its height during the Marcos administration. With the downfall of the Marcos regime and with the promulgation of a new Constitution on 1987 ensured the rights as well as the ancestral domain of the indigenous people are protected. Nevertheless, the State still maintain ownership of certain lands and essential natural resources. The exploration, development and utilization are under the full control and supervision of the State. Congress also passed Republic Act 7586 known as the National Integrated Protected System (NIPAS) Act of 1992. The objective of the law is the creation of protected areas in order preserve biological diversity and to curb further environmental degradation. Apart from the protection of the environment, it also calls for the recognition of ancestral domain and other customary rights and interests of indigenous communities residing inside these protected areas. Under Section 13 regarding Ancestral Lands and Rights over them, it is stated that: Ancestral lands and customary rights and interest arising shall be accorded due recognition. The DENR shall prescribe rules and regulations to govern ancestral lands within protected areas: Provided, that the DENR shall have so power to evict indigenous communities from their present occupancy nor resettle them to another area without their consent: Provided, however, That all rules and regulations, whether adversely affecting said communities or not, shall be subjected to notice and hearing to be participated in by members of concerned indigenous community. In 1993 the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) issued DENR Administrative Order No. 2 (DAO 2) which set the rules on land claims of ancestral domains through required proofs that must be met in order to be recognized as such. Upon recognition, the DENR would issue a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Claim (CADC) or a Certificate of Ancestral Land Claim (CALC) respectively. Another is the Mining Act 1995 which explicitly dictates under Section 16: No ancestral land shall be opened for mining-operations without prior consent of the indigenous cultural community concerned. Also the Act also states just compensation to these indigenous communities, stating that: In the event of an agreement with an indigenous cultural community pursuant to the preceding section, the royalty payment, upon utilization of the minerals shall be agreed upon by the parties.


The said royalty shall form part of a trust fund for the socioeconomic well-being of the indigenous cultural community. However it still argued that these policies do not stop the encroachment of the State on ancestral lands nor does it really admit the indigenous peoples ownership to the claim. As a matter of fact, the DENR still deem these lands as public domain and the department can still invoke jurisdiction over the management and disposition of public lands.

Modern vs. Customary System of Justice and Conflict Resolution Although there is an existing legal system in the country, the Cordillerans have also preserved their own system and they still practice to this day. This informal institution has their equivalent counterparts. Indigenous peace pacts in the region have evolved with the purpose of ending wars between tribes or communities. Another reason is to guarantee the safety and security of the people within the territories covered by the pacts. The provisions stated in the peace pacts are considered as sacred laws by the participating tribes. Most of the provisions within are concerned with territorial boundaries, mutual respect for neutrality, penalties to various crimes and responsibilities of the peace pact holders. The system involves the following of basic stages leading to the establishment of the pact: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. sending of gift or token as peace offerings selection of the peace pact holders acceptance of the peace proposals initial meeting to settle past differences or grievances discussion and consensus on the various provisions of the pact

Despite the imposition of a modern system of justice and conflict resolution, many Cordillerans (especially those residing far away from the centre of the province) are more prone to submit their differences before their elders. Judges and prosecutors on the other hand are not averse to the customary practice as it reduces the number of cases to be heard. The government, recognizing the right of the IPs, the State infused the indigenous conflict resolution mechanism with the nationally determined system. The State also gives the indigenous groups other instruments for the application of their own tribal justice. This includes the establishment of a local peace and order council in every region, province, city and municipality according to the Local Government Code (1991).


It states under Section 116: There is hereby established in every province, city and municipality a local peace and order council, pursuant to Executive Order Numbered Three hundred nine (E.O. No. 309), as amended, Series of 1988. The local peace and order councils shall have the same composition and functions as those prescribed by said executive order. In line with the Local Government Code, the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997 under Chapter IV Section 15 concerning Justice System, Conflict Resolution Institutions and Peace Building Processes: The ICCs/IPs shall have the right to use their own commonly accepted justice systems, conflict resolution institutions, peace building processes or mechanisms and other customary laws and practices within their respective communities and as may be compatible with the national legal system and with internationally recognized human rights. There are still however some instances in where indigenous conflict resolution system and laws to be ineffective. This is in particular concerning tribal groups against a Multi National Corporation (MNC).

Struggle for Self-Determination During the administration of Pres. Marcos, which is also the height of the conflict in the Cordelleras, many natives; especially the youth, have joined the cause of the New Peoples Army (CPP-NPA-NDF). In response with the growing size of the NPA in the region, the government created the Civilian Home Defense Forces (CHDF), which is made up of the local population. As result, the people in the Cordilleras became divided and are fighting with each other. The insurgency persisted in the region, with the civil strife the local population faced. The people began to view the National Government as uncaring. The landscape of the region changed when the government initiated the creation of several peace institutions in resolving the internal conflict in the Cordilleras and these are: Office of the Peace Commissioner (OPC); which was created under the administration of Pres. Corazon Aquino National Unification Commission (NUC); which was created under the administration of Pres. Fidel V. Ramos in 1992. Its mandate redefined the parameters of the peace process which is aimed to strike out the roots of the armed conflict.


The Cordillerans addressed their plight with the following grievances to the government: Abject poverty Non-recognition of their ancestral domain Environmental destruction Disrespect of indigenous culture Graft and corruption Militarization Human rights abuses Abuse of authority of officials Non-delivery of basic services Double standards of justice

By mid 1993 the NUC, having fulfilled its mandate submitted a report to the President. In it are recommendations for a concrete course of action in the pursuit of a comprehensive peace process with the following guiding principles: A comprehensive peace process should be community based A comprehensive peace process aims to forge a new social compact for a just, equitable, humane and pluralistic society. A comprehensive peace process seeks a principled and peaceful resolution

With the creation of the Office of the Presidential Advisor on the Peace Process (OPAPP) on 1993, after much research and consultation its output is the Six Paths to Peace. The Six Paths of Peace are as follows: Pursuit of social, economic and political reforms Consensus-building and empowerment for peace Peaceful, negotiated settlement with the different rebel groups Programs for reconciliation, reintegration into mainstream society Addressing concerns arising from the continuing armed hostilities Building and nurturing a climate conducive to peace

The strategy includes confidence building, peacemaking, peace building, peace talks which would open dialogues to rebel groups. The returning combatants from these rebel groups found it hard to return to society and in addition the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) still hold them accountable for the deaths of their comrades.


Several tribes in the Cordilleras tried to restore the broken peace pacts. Various measures were also taken by the government to help reintegrate and reconcile. The landmark Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997 paved the road to peace in the Cordilleras.

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