Indigenous rights

International Alert has launched a joint scheme to guide investments in ancestral lands in the Mindanao region of the Philippines, in an effort to protect the rights of indigenous peoples and prevent conflict.

Signing of the memorandum of agreement among representatives of International Alert, MinBC and NCIP during the Mindanao IP Desk launch.
Signing of the memorandum of agreement. © May Che Capili

The Mindanao IP Desk, launched on 26 May, will match business projects with indigenous peoples’ development plans in an effort to promote constructive partnerships between the two parties.

The scheme was launched in partnership with the Mindanao Business Council (MinBC), whose members include business support organisations, chambers of commerce and traders’ associations in Mindanao, and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), the government agency tasked with protecting the welfare of indigenous peoples in the Philippines (representatives of which are pictured above with Francisco Lara, Jr. of International Alert signing the memorandum of agreement for the Mindanao IP Desk during the launch).

The desk will provide data that will help companies make decisions on where to put their investments and, for indigenous peoples, which business groups to negotiate with and grant access to their resource-rich ancestral lands, based on their development plans. It will facilitate dialogue among companies, indigenous peoples as well as local government units responsible for overseeing ancestral lands.

“We want to change the narrative of business forcing its way into ancestral domains in pursuit of profits and of indigenous peoples who are defenceless against change,” said Nikki Philline C. de la Rosa, Alert’s Deputy Country Manager in the Philippines. “Their goals are not divergent. The indigenous peoples seek a better life. Companies need a place to base their operations and the resources to keep their operations going so they can serve their markets.”

The initiative is the outcome of the partnership formed under the auspices of the project, ‘Strengthening inclusive and conflict-sensitive economic governance of ancestral lands through indigenous peoples, local governments and business sector partnerships’. The three-year project, funded by the European Union (EU), was implemented by Alert in partnership with MinBC, NCIP and indigenous peoples partners in the Mindanao (in Agusan del Sur, Compostela Valley and Maguindanao specifically) and Central Luzon regions.

In many areas in the Philippines, conflicts often erupt in areas where the ‘free, prior and informed consent’ (FPIC) of indigenous peoples was secured by companies using divisive tactics, or was given without the people fully understanding the impact that the business projects would have on their lands or their way of life. The FPIC is a requirement under the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act, a national law, prior to any resource extraction.

The Mindanao IP Desk will persuade investors to use conflict-sensitive processes in securing the FPIC. It will facilitate dialogue between businesses and indigenous peoples, and try to develop an awareness of and adherence to conflict-sensitivity among investors, indigenous peoples and government officials.

One of the tasks of the desk is to develop a database of ancestral domains and conflict data, which will be made available to investors and other stakeholders. It will also make use of the resource use management plans developed by Alert for the ancestral lands of some indigenous peoples groups in Agusan del Sur, Compostela Valley and Maguindanao under the EU-funded project. Alert’s resource use management planning technology is used to assess resources, map resource-based conflicts and develop land use management plans for ancestral lands.

Additionally, the desk will flag activities that would put investors at considerable liability risk, including the use of abusive security forces or forcibly evicting people from their communities.

The formation of the Mindanao IP Desk is timely and crucial, said de la Rosa, as the region is attracting more and more investment, particularly with prospects of peace in Muslim Mindanao.

The desk will be located in MinBC and will be overseen by a core group composed of representatives of Alert, MinBC, NCIP and local government units.

Alert hopes that the success of the desk will encourage business associations in other parts of the country to establish their own indigenous peoples desks.

Find out more about our work in the Philippines.

Photo: The signing of the memorandum of agreement among representatives of International Alert, MinBC and NCIP during the Mindanao IP Desk launch. Hans Farnhammer, head of development cooperation of the Delegation of the European Union to the Philippines, was a witness along with several NCIP commissioners.