The enactment of Republic Act (RA) 8371 or the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) empowered indigenous peoples (IPs) to fight for their rights being trampled upon by not only their fellow IPs but also multinational companies wanting to exploit, develop and utilize resources located within their respective domains. For several decades, IPs had been deprived of their rights when concerned government agencies implemented development projects in their respective ancestral domains without their free and prior informed consent as what happened in the case of the construction of the Ambuclao and Binga dams in Bokod and Itogon towns and the put up of the various large-scale mining operations in Benguet.
The context and spirit of the law to protect the IPs from such abuses is laudable because it corrects the shortcomings of the government in the past that resulted in the deprivation of the use of their lands, the massive destruction of the state of the environment, the displacement of IPs from their ancestral domains, among others. The IPRA aims to prevent the repeat of similar human rights abuses against IPs but it seems that there are still government officials who are in cahoots with multi-national companies who try to interpret the provisions of IPRA in favor of developers and not in favor of IPs, especially when there is ambiguity in such contested provisions.
One of the salient provisions of IPRA is for developers to secure the free and prior informed consent (FPIC) of the IPs before the implementation of any development project within their domain. However, it seems that the said provision is being abused by both project proponents and some IPs to suit their own interests. Developers try to employ divide and rule tactic just to make sure that their plan to exploit, develop and utilize the rich resources located within the domain of the IPs. On the other hand, some IPs impose high demands through their barangay officials and learned members to force developers to bribe them, among others, before they will give their consent.
It is also disappointing to learn that there are some educated IPs who allow themselves to be used by developers and multinational corporations to mislead their fellow IPs in endorsing environmentally critical projects in exchange for fat fees and/or future jobs or projects. Because of the obviously lucrative offer to the educated IPs, they tend to sacrifice their fellow IPs by fooling them into believing that the environmental critical projects to be implemented in their places are beneficial to the IPs considering the income to be derived from the operation of renewable energy plants and mining companies.
These individuals who are fooling their fellow IPs should stop their immoral activities because they are earning fat bucks while compromising their fellow IPs’ livelihoods, homes, and the future of generations in their ancestral domains.