Land disputes are not uncommon in countries like the Philippines, where several ethnic groups once dominated. In the Philippines, various ethnic groups are classified as indigenous cultural communities or indigenous people (ICC/IP). There are laws in place to protect the well-being and interest of these indigenous people, such as the Republic Act No. 8371, also known as the Indigenous People’s Rights Act of 1997.
Since the primary purpose of RA 8371 is to promote and protect the well-being and interest of indigenous people, the National Commission of Indigenous People (NCIP) was established to ensure that the ICCs and IPs can practice their customs, beliefs, and traditions. The NCIP also makes sure that ICCs and IPS keep their institutions and ancestral land. To protect the rights and possessions of ICCs and IPs, the NCIP awards titles such as the certificate of ancestral land title and the certificate of ancestral domain title.
To understand their significance, it is imperative to know the difference between the rights to ancestral land and rights to the ancestral domain.
Rights to Ancestral Land
The rights to ancestral land refer to limited rights regarding ownership and possession of ancestral land. Specifically, it states that:
- ICCs/IPs have the right to transfer the property or land to members of the same ICCs/IPs using the customs and laws of the said community; and
- ICCs/IPs have the right to redeem the land or property if a non-member of the ICC/IP acquired the land in bad faith. The ICC or IP may redeem the land within 15 years from the date of transfer.
Rights to Ancestral Domain
The rights to ancestral domain refer to the absolute rights and protection regarding ownership and possession of ancestral land. Aside from the recognition of rights, it also seeks to support the indigenous communities in preserving their customs and traditions and provide assistance in case of calamities through resettlement and livelihood programs. Specifically, it includes the following rights:
- The right to claim ownership of any changes made by them at any time within the domains. This includes land, water bodies that they have historically and present-day occupied as well as holy sites, traditional hunting, and fishing grounds;
- The right to manage and conserve natural resources within the territories and uphold the duties for future generations, as well as the right to profit from the allocation and utilization of the natural resources found therein. Right to negotiate the terms and conditions to explore the natural resources of the ancestral land to ensure ecological, environmental, and social sustainability. The right to receive effective measures from the government to prevent any interference, alienation, or encroachment upon these rights; the right to informed and intelligent participation in the formulation and implementation of any project, whether public or private, that will affect or impact the ancestral domains; and the right to fair and just compensation for any damages they sustain as a result of the project;
- The right to remain in the area and not be expelled from it. No ICC/IP shall be moved without first receiving their free and informed consent, and no other method besides eminent domain will be used. Whenever possible, the ICCs/IPs concerned must be granted the right to return to their ancestral domains as soon as the reasons for relocation are no longer valid. Relocation may only occur with the free and prior informed permission of the ICCs/IPs concerned. When such a return is not feasible, as determined by agreement or by following the proper procedures, ICCs/IPs must, in every case, be given access to lands with quality and legal standing at least comparable to the land they were previously occupying and suitable for their current needs and future development. People who are relocated in this way must also receive full compensation for any loss or damage that results;
- In case of displacement due to natural calamities, the displaced ICCs/IPs shall have the right to return to their abandoned lands when it is already safe to do so. Furthermore, should their ancestral domain cease to exist and the safety of the previous domain is no longer applicable, the country shall establish the resettlement of the displaced ICCs/IPs in suitable areas where they can have temporary livelihood and support from the government;
- The authority to control how organizations and migrant settlers enter the domains;
- The ICCs/IPs must have access to integrated systems for managing their inland waters and air space;
- The right to claim portions of ancestral lands that have been set aside for a variety of uses, excluding those reserved for the common good and public service; and
- The right to settle land disputes amicably wherever possible using their own customs and laws and through the courts of justice when required.
Awarding of Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title
Unlike the certificate of ancestral land title that only recognizes the rights of the ICCs/IPs to the ancestral land as a dwelling, the certificate of ancestral domain title allows ICCs/IPs to use the ancestral land to profit from it or enrich their cultural heritage.
To receive a certificate of ancestral domain title, the primary requirement is the native title, a pre-conquest rights to lands and domains since time immemorial. ICCs/IPs must have claimed the property with a native title as private property, has never been public land, and is therefore unquestionably assumed to have been held that way since before the Spanish Conquest.
The awarding of the certificate of ancestral domain title can be a long and tedious process. This is because the certificate of ancestral domain title serves as official recognition of the indigenous people’s capability to govern the ancestral land independently and make use of its natural resources for livelihood. This is also why aside from the NCIP, another agency involved in the process is the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
Before receiving the certificate of ancestral domain title, the ICCs/IPs receive a certificate of ancestral domain claim so they can apply for the certificate of ancestral domain title. The purpose of the certificate of ancestral domain claim is to recognize the ICCs/IPs’ claims and provide them with a temporary degree of control over the ancestral land. After a period of observation and it can be concluded that the ICCs/IPs can manage and govern the ancestral land, the ICCs/IPs will finally be awarded.
The long process is evident in the recent awarding of the certificate of ancestral domain title to the Mangyan Tribe in Oriental Mindoro province. The certificate of ancestral domain claim was issued to the two ICCs belonging to the Mangyan Tribe in 1998. After 24 years, the two ICCs, Tadyawan and Tau-buid, received a certificate of ancestral domain title for 3,270.78 hectares, being the first ones to receive the title in the MIMAROPA region.
With the awarding of the certificate of domain title, Tadyawan and Tau-buid communities have the responsibility to collectively develop, control, oversee, and use the ancestral domain with all of its rights, obligations, and advantages. With the issuance of the certificate of ancestral domain title, the ICCs/IPs will also be responsible for the following:
- Restore Denuded Areas: To actively start, take on, and participate in reforestation efforts in denuded areas as well as other development projects, with fair and acceptable compensation;
- Maintain Ecological Balance: To safeguard the native flora and wildlife, watershed areas, and other protected places to preserve, restore, and maintain a balanced ecosystem in the ancestral realm;
- Observe Laws: To adhere to the requirements of RA No. 8371’s provisions and any rules or guidelines that may be necessary for its proper execution.