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INDIGENOUS PEOPLES IN THE PHILIPPINES: PERSPECTIVES ON INCLUSION

15 June 2016 By Lynette Torres 0


The Philippines’ seven thousand one hundred seven islands are home to more than five hundred
Indigenous People communities. Indigenous Peoples in the world remain one of the poorest, most
excluded and disadvantaged sectors of society. They continuously face different issues including
discrimination, poverty and human rights abuse.

In response to these challenges, the Philippine government has passed the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights
Act (IPRA) of 1997, which affirms Indigenous Peoples’ rights to ancestral domains, self-governance and
empowerment, social justice and human rights, and rights to cultural identity. Ten years later, in 2007,
the UN General Assembly adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
(UNDRIP), which provides a framework for the survival, dignity, well-being and rights of the world’s
Indigenous Peoples, and strengthens their rights to identity, education, health, employment and
language, amongst others. More recently, the United Nations adopted Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable
Development Goals, which also include the rights and well-being of Indigenous Peoples.

Although legislations and frameworks are in place, issues on the rights of the Indigenous Peoples are yet
to be resolved, including their right for inclusion. To explore these issues, I contacted two members of
Cartwheel Foundation Inc. (CFI), a leading non-governmental organization working with Indigenous
Peoples communities in the Philippines. In this interview, they share their knowledge and perceptions on
the current situation of Indigenous Peoples communities as well as their ideas and experience on
inclusion in the context of education. Rainey S. Dolatre, is a former volunteer who worked with the
indigenous Tagbanua Community of Culion, Palawan. She is now working as the resource development
officer of CFI. Bricks Sabella Sintaon is a member of the Talaandig tribe-one of the eight tribes in
Bukidnon. He is now working as the education coordinator of CFI.

***

Rainey and Bricks, thank you for accepting the invitation to share your knowledge and experience with
us.

Bricks: You’re very much welcome. I am glad to share my own experiences and knowledge.

Rainey: I am thankful that there is an opportunity to further Cartwheel’s advocacy.


What are the challenges faced by Indigenous peoples’ communities in the Philippines?

Bricks: When I was a child in our community, being an indigenous person was not an issue. We were only
interacting within our own community. It is only when I started college and went out of our community
that I became aware of the difference. Organizations and individuals who also worked with us raised our
awareness of the different issues; although some were “insensitive” in their approach and made us feel
bad and that we “needed” all these other things because we didn’t have them, instead of recognizing
what we do have.

Personally, I also experienced discrimination when I entered into the system of mainstream education.
We were called “ipis” (cockroaches) by other students. I also felt judged because of my unfamiliarity with
technology, modes of transportation, etc. I felt that they talked to me in a different tone. In our
community, we also experienced being taken advantage of, especially in politics. Indigenous Peoples’
members who were not literate were used for cheating in elections. Health access is also an issue.

Rainey: Issues related to ancestral domains remain to be one of the biggest challenges. These are often
interconnected to other issues like mining, displacement and political conflict which affect them
negatively. Threats to their land, for example, affects their food security. Political conflicts threaten their
communities’ safety because insurgent or military groups often camp near their areas of residence.
Sometimes, the natural abundance of their ancestral domains also make them prone to being taken
advantage of, or worse, displaced entirely. In addition, access to basic services such as health care and
education is a prevailing issue.

What are the prevailing perceptions of Indigenous Peoples’ communities towards education? What are
the educational challenges faced by Indigenous Peoples?

Bricks: In our community, education is given importance. There is already an awareness of the bigger
picture of society and that education can help us towards progress and work towards continued
community growth. There is a view that education is a tool to transfer Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge
and to gain basic skills such as basic calculations and literacy skills. Education is also a tool to be more
empowered with their rights such as voting and to claim their ancestral land.
Until now, physical access remains an issue because of the geographical location of most Indigenous
Peoples’ communities. However, appropriateness of education to cater to Indigenous learners remains
an issue as well as implementation.

Rainey: I think that most Indigenous Peoples’ communities have a high regard for education. There is a
common desire for them to participate actively in community life outside their own. They also see that
education can provide them with more access to different opportunities. I think that these are the
prevailing perceptions now, partly because of the work of the government and NGOs in raising their
awareness about the value of education. I think that they have also developed this view through the
experiences of other Indigenous Peoples members who have received quality education.

Other factors may also be barriers to Indigenous learners’ access to education. One of these is related to
their livelihood. There are instances wherein education takes a backseat because work is a priority.
However, we see that gender perceptions also influence education. Such that, despite having the ability
to take leader roles, some women with whom I have had the experience of working seem to be holding
back. Other cultural practices related to their mobility and health also affect their education. For
example, Indigenous Peoples who are mobile may face difficulties in schooling schedules. Food stability
also influences their education.

Could you describe your own experience being an Indigenous learner both in community based and
integrated setting?

Bricks: When I was studying within our own community and our teachers were outsiders, our
Indigenous identity was not taken up in depth. I learned about other Indigenous Peoples’ communities in
our textbooks but was not aware we were also one. Education was Western-based. I also attended a
sectarian secondary school and learned about Christianity and participated in community events where
our cultural arts were showcased.

In Pamulaan Center for Indigenous Peoples Education, a center within the University of Southeastern
Philippines that caters to Indigenous learners, I faced the challenge of being away from my family.
However, I also had the opportunity to be with other Indigenous students. I learned to be self-reliant and
appreciated the uniqueness of my own tribe. Through different activities such as cultural exchange, we
were able to have more unity. Being able to interact with professors and other students became an eye-
opener. I realized that this interaction and exchange became a tool to transfer and share knowledge, to
bring awareness to Indigenous Peoples, and to celebrate the uniqueness of our heritage. Personally,
being in an inclusive setup strengthened my voice and identity as an Indigenous Person. I am proud of
belonging to my tribe.

One of the principles followed by Cartwheel is to involve/consult Indigenous Peoples’ communities


when creating educational programs for them. Why is this important? Based on your experience how
important is it for them to receive culturally appropriate education?

Rainey: I think that education is essentially theirs. Our goal in CFI is for Indigenous Peoples’ communities
to be self-reliant. We trust that they know what is best for them, and our purpose is to facilitate these
things and not direct or impose our beliefs on them. Consulting with the community ensures the
relevance and appropriateness of the program to them. Collaboration is key to its success. Knowledge
sharing and compromise is essential as well. It also builds respect and confidence. It is important
because at the end of the day, it should be about them. Providing culturally appropriate programs also
builds Indigenous Peoples’ identity. They realize that what they already know is useful and they take
pride in their own culture and knowledge.

Bricks: Involving communities is important because it is a way to show respect and honor to Indigenous
Peoples’ knowledge and culture. It helps in the implementation of development programs as everybody
is committed. Involving them in developing their own educational program builds on their pride as
Indigenous Peoples and deepens their appreciation for their own knowledge and culture. It is a chance
to voice out what they want and to empower them as a community. It increases understanding and
makes sure that it is relevant to them.

How do you think we can achieve balance between strengthening Indigenous learners’ identity and
achieving belongingness in a wider community?

Bricks: It is important that Indigenous learners should be first exposed to the cultural traditions of the
community where they belong, wherein their being grounded will be part of the formation of their
identity.

It is ideal for their curriculum to be integrated with both Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Practices
(IKSP) and mainstream perspective promoting holistic growth and development of the learner. It is in this
way that they become aware of both perspectives as a key to achieving balance in knowing their own
community and others as well.
Being in an inclusive setting helped me understand that there is always a mutual sharing of knowledge.
As an individual, it helped me reflect on myself and strengthened who I am. I was proud of myself and
my tribe, and continue to be so. I was able to appreciate my uniqueness.

UNESCO describes inclusion with regards to addressing the needs of all learners including marginalized
and vulnerable groups. Therefore, Indigenous learners should be included in talks of inclusive education.
However, inclusive education is usually perceived as “mainstream” education. At the same time,
Indigenous Peoples’ communities have a fundamental right to establish their own educational system.
What is your opinion with regards to this matter? What do you think inclusion means for Indigenous
learners?

Bricks: Inclusion for Indigenous learners is about community togetherness, equal opportunities and
having in-depth awareness of their identity. As was mentioned earlier, it is ideal that they first be taught
within their own communities, in the effort to deepen appreciation for their own unique culture and
traditions as Indigenous Peoples. Only after they may be integrated into mainstream schools. This way,
they see their own uniqueness, accept their differences, and are more prepared to take in new
perspectives that will eventually strengthen their own identity as part of a larger indigenous cultural
community. This may hopefully contribute to the realization of their need to work for their peoples’
continued development – moving forward in ways that are determined by themselves as well.

Rainey: Firstly, I do not agree that inclusive education has to be mainstream education. However, I have
seen that integrating culturally-appropriate education in mainstream schools is possible. For example, in
Mindoro, public schools integrate the Mangyan alphabet and poetry in their curriculum. I think that one
of the first steps is to recognize and celebrate the difference in the classroom. Acknowledging Indigenous
Peoples’ identity and background is a must. I think that to be able to integrate and at the same time
celebrate their Indigenous identity there needs to be a balance. One example is what is done at the
Pamulaan Center for Indigenous Peoples Education. Here, Indigenous learners join other university
students in some classes but they also have other classes developed specifically with Indigenous
Peoples’ unique realities in mind. I think this shows that you can nurture both aspects. Inclusion means
being able to actively participate in community life, to feel engaged without having barriers.

How do you think Indigenous Peoples’ communities, NGOs and government can collaborate to achieve
inclusive education for Indigenous learners?
Bricks: Dialogue is important because it is a platform for them to develop their own curriculum. There
should be emphasis on approaches on how to tap Indigenous leaders in the community. Indigenous
Peoples should be taking the lead because they know their community members best. Yes, developing a
culturally relevant curriculum is so important that is why community leaders who are bearers of
knowledge must be involved in this process.

Rainey: We also need a more systematic way of identifying Indigenous learners in the Philippines.
Mapping out who is where, how many there are. Collaboration is also very important: public-private
partnerships, openness to ideas and mutual knowledge-sharing between stakeholders. It is important to
respect and acknowledge what the other brings to the table. Humility in accepting that one cannot
overcome this challenge alone is also essential. It is a complex issue and it requires a holistic solution.

***

Despite the existence of national legislation, such as the IPRA, and international frameworks, such as the
UNDRIP and Agenda 2030, Indigenous Peoples’ communities in the Philippines are still facing challenging
issues especially in relation to accessing culturally relevant quality education. Furthermore, the pursuit of
inclusion must address the wide and diverse needs of Indigenous Peoples’ communities. However, it is to
be realized that inclusion may seem to be different for Indigenous learners as compared to other sectors
such as persons with disabilities. It appears that for inclusion to work, Indigenous learners must first
have a strong sense of identity to be able to include themselves in society. Society, in turn, must also be
ready to accept the uniqueness of Indigenous learners. Ultimately, the involvement of Indigenous
Peoples’ communities in the decision making processes is crucial if inclusion is to benefit them at all.

[Cover photo © ILO in Asia and the Pacific]

Educationinclusioninclusive educationindigenous peoplePhilippines

Analyses Art, Culture & Sport Children & Youth Citizenship Education & Learning Ethnicity Governance &
Policy Human Rights Language South-Eastern Asia TOP
Lynette Torres

Lynette Torres

Lynette Torres has a Bachelor’s degree in elementary school education and has spent the last 5 years
teaching in an inclusive school in the Philippines. She has served as an officer of the University of the
Philippines Special Education Council. Currently, Lynette is pursuing her Masters degree in Special and
Inclusive Education under the Erasmus Mundus Program. Lynette is interested in policies, models and
innovations in SIE in the hope of adapting it for the Filipino learners.

http://www.talesofteachingandtravels.wordpress.com

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