Reviving the Indigenous Agroecology System in the Philippines

Feb 4, 2020

The Republic of the Philippines is estimated to be one of the five most mineral-rich countries in the world. Indigenous customary territories are frequently encroached upon by highly destructive mining operations. Apart from minerals, other important exports include semiconductor and electronic products, transport equipment as well as agricultural products such as coconut oil and a variety of tropical fruits, from bananas to pineapples. 

Legislative Framework and Indigenous Land Rights

The legislative framework of the Philippines explicitly recognises the customary land rights of its indigenous communities, affirmed by various constitutional provisions. This includes laws on land, forests, conservation areas, and the extractive and mining industry. The country possesses a specific national legislation and a national commission dedicated to the protection of the rights of its indigenous peoples.

The law on the rights of the indigenous peoples serves to correct the historical injustices perpetuated against the community. Among others, it establishes the indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination, the institutional framework for the free, prior and informed consent process, and the issuance of two types of certificates of titles over indigenous customary territories.

Despite various legislative reforms, protection of the indigenous customary land rights in the country is hampered by institutional gaps and the national economic priority of protecting foreign investments. The issuance of the certificates of titles for indigenous customary territories by the national commission in charge of indigenous peoples has been severely delayed, in particular by inter-agency jurisdictional issues and bureaucracy. The state has also continued to be overgenerous in its protection of the mining industry and other foreign investments, to the detriment of affected indigenous communities. Executive regulations have in fact been issued to dilute the free, prior and informed consent process mandated by legislation, facilitating resource extractive operations to commence on indigenous customary territories more easily and at a faster speed.

Reviving the Indigenous Agroecology System

Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center (LRC) is currently involved in a project in the forested landscape of the Teduray and Lambanigan ancestral domain in Maguindanao Province on the island of Mindanao, in partnership with Timuay Justice and Governance (TJG). A key component of the project is the revival of the sulagad, which is essentially an indigenous system of knowledge and practices of agroecology and food sovereignty that has largely been replaced by commercial farming methods and systems.

In 2017, LRC completed the first phase of the project where a field-based research on the sulagad was conducted. This became the basis for a sulagad conference among Teduray and Lambangian community leaders, where they resolved to work for its revival. During the second year of the project, LRC will be working with five focus villages for further sulagad education and advocacy. There will also be a TJG conference which will discuss how the principles of sulagad that were traditionally practised at the family and community levels, as well as other issues surrounding food sovereignty, and community economic and livelihoods development.

Challenges to the success of this endeavour include garnering the support of local government units and agencies to opt for the sulagad farming system, instead of large-scale commercial farming.

Recommendations by Philippines

The following are the transformative political and legislative measures that can ensure greater protection of community land rights, the prevention of land grabs and human rights violations and the sustainable management of natural resources in the Philippines:

  1.  With respect to strengthening land tenure security, the amendment or revision of the current Joint Administrative Order No. 1 signed by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples with the other government agencies, the establishment of the necessary collaborative mechanisms must be pursued to help avoid and/or resolve conflicts and operational issues resulting from the enforcement of the respective mandates, programmes and policies of the agencies involved in the implementation of land affairs,

  2. With respect to the FPIC process, the establishment of a process based on the full disclosure of information for informed and proper decision making by indigenous peoples must be developed. The FPIC process should be obtained from legitimate indigenous peoples, whether they are directly or indirectly affected by such projects, and in accordance with their customary laws and practices, 

  3. The implementation of the Mining Act 1995 with a strict adherence to the requirements of the FPIC process, as well as all other environmental regulations. The policy lens of government must shift from being profit-oriented to prioritising the protection of the environment and respecting and upholding the rights of indigenous people and local community members, 

  4. The implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law in a manner which will allow the attainment of its original intention. Mechanism must be developed to effectively detect the possibility of farmers being manipulated by business interests to facilitate further land grabs. The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples must also be further empowered to effectively protect the rights of indigenous peoples, where accountability mechanisms are developed to address the gross failure on the part of the commission to protect lands and rights of indigenous peoples effectively.  

Read the full ‘The Laws of Land Grabs in Asia Pacific’ report here.

For more information contact:
Emma Harvey
Friends of the Earth Asia Pacific, Communications Coordinator