Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Philippines: Indigenous Rights and the MILF Peace Process


INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP - NEW REPORT

Jakarta/Brussels, 22 November 2011: The Philippine government and Muslim rebels need to take concrete steps to address the precarious situation of indigenous peoples, known as the Lumad, to secure their support for the peace process on the southern island of Mindanao.

The Philippines: Indigenous Rights and the MILF Peace Process, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the fears of the Lumad that an eventual political settlement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) may not recognise their distinct identity and land. Many Lumads who live on the conflict-torn island of Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago worry that because they lack titles for their traditional territory, they will be unable to claim the resources and exercise their right to self-governance after a deal is signed with the MILF.

“Fear of losing land rights is the primary reason some Lumads reject the idea of a Bangsamoro homeland with expanded territory and powers, as demanded by the MILF”, says Bryony Lau, Crisis Group's South East Asia Analyst. “Lumad leaders are worried because they are not at the negotiating table. They have little faith in the MILF or the government protecting their interests”.

Like the Moros, the Lumad experienced cycles of land grabbing and displacement as Mindanao was incorporated into the Philippine state over the course of the twentieth century. But relations are not easy and mistrust runs deep. Although the Lumad who live in areas that might be incorporated into an expanded Bangsamoro homeland are a small percentage of the population, they can claim large swathes of land as their ancestral domain under Philippine law. These rights need to be reconciled with the demands of the MILF, which wants to replace the existing, deeply flawed Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) with a new, larger, more powerful Bangsamoro “sub-state”, and the interests of millions of Christian settlers who also live in Mindanao.

Divisions within and between the different tribes who comprise the Lumad have made it difficult for them to take a unified position on the peace process. The vast majority are impoverished and marginalised while the handful of leaders who speak on their behalf struggle to be heard. They are also frustrated with the flawed implementation of the 1997 Indigenous Peoples Rights Act, which in any case does not apply in ARMM.

The Philippine government should make it a priority to implement existing legislation on indigenous rights in the autonomous region. Applications for ancestral domain titles from tribes who live in areas that may be included in an expanded Bangsamoro homeland should be processed without further delay. For its part, the MILF can dispel some of the suspicions of Lumad leaders by clarifying whether it will respect national legislation on indigenous rights and how overlapping ancestral domain claims – and therefore control over resources – might be resolved.

“If they were willing, the MILF and the government could use the peace process to address the historical injustices suffered by Lumads as well as Moros”, says Jim Della-Giacoma, Crisis Group's South East Asia Project Director. “A final agreement constructed and implemented on such a basis would stand a better chance of achieving lasting peace”.

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