Posts Tagged ‘New People’s Army’







The problems that plagued the earlier agrarian reform program (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program or CARP) which started in 1988 also adversely affected IPRA’s implementation including identification of beneficiaries, inadequate budgets, agency capture, and the opposition of affected parties including settlers, corporate interests and armed anti-state groups.  If identification of agrarian reform beneficiaries in the lowlands proved to be difficult, the problems multiplied with respect to ancestral domains in the frontiers[1]


A clear understanding as to who the indigenous peoples are and where they can be found (and what lands constitute their ancestral domains) is both a technical and administrative matter.  Apart from being hobbled by meager funds, the NCIP also lacks adequate technical knowledge and skilled personnel. Padilla (2007) also relates how settlers and corporate interests together with conniving national and local officials subvert IPRA and operate business ventures within ancestral domains.  The usual device is for officials to certify that a certain area is not populated by IPs or is not part of a claimed ancestral domain.  Divide and rule tactics are also resorted to wherein scab IP leaders and communities show compliance with the ‘free and prior informed consent’ (FPIC) provision of the law. 


The FPIC provision of the IPRA presents good opportunities for strengthening the bargaining position of indigenous communities vis-à-vis external interests such as corporations who wish to utilize the resources within ancestral domains.  As provided for by the law, FPIC means the ‘consensus of all members of the ICCs/IPs to be determined in accordance with their respective customary laws and practices, free from any external manipulation, interference and coercion, and obtained after fully disclosing the intent and scope of the activity, in a language and process understandable to the community” (IPRA Sec. 3).  The consensus proviso is a strong measure since the consensus of everybody in the community is required to allow the entry of external interests into the ancestral domain for extractive activities.  It also enables the indigenous community to forge the best terms with external parties.  It may also be used against the misrepresentation of scab leaders and community factions.  For the full benefit of FPIC to be realized, however, the IP community must be united and organized and indeed informed of the pros and cons of a proposed project.  This is a necessity since the FPIC consensus proviso also has a downside: a single person within the community can veto a project even if it was deemed beneficial and equitable by the rest of the community.  The assent of the veto player may have to be obtained through side-payments.[2] 


The opposition of armed anti-state groups like the New People’s Army and the Bangsa Moro movement to the IPRA must be explained.  Padilla (2007) avers that for the NPA, IPRA puts its natural constituency, the poor or landless peasantry, at a disadvantage in the competition of land on the frontier.  Furthermore, the titling of ancestral domains threatens to remove large areas theoretically available from the NPA’s own revolutionary land reform program.  On the ground, NPA fighters had continuously cautioned IP communities against engaging in the ancestral domain titling process.  In Mindanao, NCIP surveyors and community volunteers are warned and harassed, and their mapping equipment was confiscated.  Affiliated legal organizations have also consistently rejected and opposed ancestral domain delineation and the IPRA. To them, the only legitimate issues to be raised with respect to the frontier lands were the Philippine military’s human rights violations during anti-insurgency operations.   Consequently, they demanded the scrapping of IPRA.


Another political force, the Bangsa Moro armed movement for self-determination fears that indigenous land claims in Mindanao might jeopardize its own aspirations for their own ‘ancestral territory’.  One must note that indigenous minorities in Mindanao are generally composed into two groups—the Islamized peoples who call themselves Bangsa Moro and the non-Islamized IPs known collectively as the lumads.  As things currently stand, only the lumads have expressed interest in pursuing ancestral domain titling.  The Bangsa Moro groups—the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF)—have resorted to peace negotiations with the government in pursuit of their aims.  The MNLF signed an agreement with the government in 1996 while the MILF’s negotiations with the government are currently at an impasse precisely on the question of ancestral territory. 


Cordillera Administrative Region



Other unintended developments stemmed from IPRA’s enactment.  It has engendered disunities among the indigenous peoples.  One source of dispute is how to view IPRA.  The Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance (CPA) for instance considers IPRA as a ‘master act’ of deception given the persistence of the Regalian doctrine.  On the other hand, IP organizations and supporting non-government organizations (NGOs) support IPRA while recognizing its imperfections. They see IPRA as a legal stepping stone towards further progress.  The negative effects of IPRA are felt most at the community level.  In the Cordillera, for example, there had been an increase in boundary disputes and conflicts over resources (e.g., water for irrigation). 


Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) logo



The IPRA also ‘inspired’ non-IP communities such as the Bantoanons in Romblon (migrants from Batangas) to claim imagined ethnic identities as a means to claim control over valuable land.  There is also the view that these conflicts come from the adoption of a generalizing concept of ancestral domain, that is, the notion that ancestral domain is a static or fixed concept of a communal territory, with persistence of indigenous socio-political institutions.  The concept ignores the diversity and dynamism within many indigenous communities.  It fails to recognize that many indigenous peoples have already adopted western property regimes and do not care much about domains.  Still, some experts fear the IPRA could possibly lead to the privatization of the commons.  These different views suggest that while progress had been achieved with the passage of IPRA, much needs to be done.  There is apparently a need to adopt an area- and culture-specific ancestral land and domain policy that takes local nuances, processes and tenurial systems into consideration (ADB 2002).


[1] The then NCIP executive director reported that the initial problem of beneficiary identification has since been resolved.  The greater problem, she intimates, is the lack of coordination between different government agencies issuing administrative titles to land.  For this reason, competing tenure and/or ownership instruments were issued over the same land area and have led to disputes between IPs and agrarian reform beneficiaries.

[2] This discussion on the implications of the FPIC provision of IPRA was suggested by Dr. Antonio de la Vina, dean of the Ateneo School of Government and member of the Empowerment of the Poor Project advisory panel.


Commander Ameril Umbra Kato (center) and fighters of the break-away Bangsa Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF)

Recent news reports indicate that the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation (MILF) are on the verge of forging a peace agreement.  They were reported to have made substantial progress on two key issues–power sharing and revenue generation, and wealth sharing arrangements during talks in Kuala Lumpur.

Chairpersons of MILF and PH panels shake hands in Kuala Lumpur meeting

MILF fighters pray at the end of Ramadan

The BIFF, now named Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM), opposed what it considers as the MILF’s defeatist peace-mongering and capitulation to the Philippine government.  Umbra Kato, the BIFM’s leader argued the only path was that of armed struggle to win an independent nation-state.

BIFM fighters

Today, the Associated Press reported that:

“Suspected militants from a breakaway Muslim rebel group set off bombs in the southern Philippines but failed to inflict injuries or disrupt army assaults against its fighters, who went on a rampage last week and sparked clashes that killed 28 people.

Government troops in pursuit of BIFM fighters

Hundreds of troops, backed by helicopters, tanks and artillery fire, forced armed fighters of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement out of two strongholds and were pursuing them mostly in remote areas of Maguindanao province.  

Government armor vs. BIFM

Authorities were preparing criminal complaints against Ameril Umbra Kato, the ailing leader of the breakaway rebels and his known commanders, who attacked army camps and outposts and burned and looted villages last week.

The attacks killed four soldiers and three civilians and sparked clashes that initially killed four rebels. Hundreds of troops later pursued the rebels, killing at least 16 more of the militants, who tried to slow down the advancing soldiers with sniper fire”.

It is clear that Kato and his group is a spoiler in the peace process between the government and the MILF.  However, can we dismiss the BIFM’s position outright?  Assuming that Kato is intransigent, is the military solution the only response?  Should criminal charges against him be pursued?  

What Kato’s group has done and is doing has been done by the MILF, the New People’s Army (NPA), and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).  The MNLF already signed a peace agreement with government in 1996 while the National Democratic Front (representing the NPA and the Communist Party of the Philippines) is currently engaged in peace talks.

Technically, insurgents are criminals since they violate a country’s penal code to pursue their political program.  However, they are distinguished from criminals because they do have political aims.  Furthermore, they must not be considered as criminals otherwise the government cannot justify negotiating with them.

In this sense, criminal charges and ‘extreme’ political programs did not prevent the Philippine government from adopting a flexible approach.  Why not with Kato and the BIFM? 

Or am I just a hopeless, bleeding-heart liberal?