July 24, 2024

The Free Prior and Informed Consent, in layman concept, is the basic etiquette of knocking on someone’s door to seek consent before entering the dwelling after full-disclosure of purpose and intent. More than just a procedural right, it is also a substantive privilege due the indigenous peoples (IPs) as recognition to their rights as owners of the land and resources found within the ancestral lands and domains. Thus, project proponents, like companies engaged in intrusive and non-intrusive project, need to secure favorable and intelligent consent from the IPs before commencing with their constructions and operations.
In most common FPIC processes, absent the effects displacement, IPs will be required to give consent solely to the project intended to be introduced to them. These are mostly small-scale projects like run-of-river mini hydroelectric power projects, small-scale quarrying and other similar undertakings, wherein by nature and purpose, does not necessitate displacement of IPs away from their ancestral domains (ADs).
However, it’s a different story for some large-scale projects. Mega dams, large-scale mining, and logging entails displacement of the IPs, not only away from their dwelling, but also their ADs – their traditional pharmacy, marketplace, workplace, and sacred burial grounds. In these types of plans, project proponents and companies are required not only to secure FPIC for their projects from the IPs, but more importantly, they must also obtain a separate and favorable FPIC for the proposed place where they are opted to be relocated.
IPs are accorded with utmost care by the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act. Within its text, there is an expressed provision stating the IPs’ right against displacement. IPRA states that IPs have the right to stay in the territory and not to be removed therefrom. No ICCs/IPs will be relocated without their Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC), nor through any means other than eminent domain. Where relocation is considered necessary as an exceptional measure, such relocation shall take place only with the FPIC of the ICCs/IPs concerned; and whenever possible, they shall be guaranteed the right to return to their ancestral domains, as soon as the grounds for relocation cease to exist. When such return is not possible, as determined by agreement or through appropriate procedures, ICCs/IPs shall be provided in all possible cases with lands of quality and legal status at least equal to that of the land previously occupied by them, suitable to provide for their present needs and future development. The IPs relocated shall likewise be fully compensated for any resulting loss or injury.
The intent of IPRA is very clear. IPs cannot be displaced as the result of intrusive projects without FPIC and the only exemption is through eminent domain. Sure enough, most intrusive projects like mega dams, large-scale mining and logging, cannot avow eminent domain because mostly are undertaken by private corporations. Cardinal is the rule that it is only the State that can use eminent domain. So, the exemption for FPIC in cases of relocation is only if the project proponent is the government itself. Also, for this to take effect, it is the government’s burden to establish that the relocation, as cause of the taking of the private properties, is essential and for public purpose and that those who will be deprived of ownership will be justly compensated. The problem with this however is how can the government justify that such intrusive projects like mega dams, large scale mining and logging are essential and for public purpose when the same are more adverse to not only the IPs but the general populace as well. Simply,it causes more harm than good.
The government would rather prioritize more on livelihood projects to alleviate poverty-stricken ADs than to take away ownership from IPs just so they can extract of the rich resources that was safeguarded from destruction for centuries by the IPs. The government would rather partner with the IPs, specially the AD holders, in the utilization of their resources than to forcefully take away properties from them for the purpose of development advancement. The government recognizes a symbiotic relationship between them and the IP AD holders. This because, a development advancement by the government inside an AD is only good if the AD holders therein develop as well, while consciously aware that carting such advancement will not deprive nor dilute the rights of the IPs.
Quite ideal? But that is how the government should view the ADs not just as mere resource-base for growth. The government should likewise view the IPs as their partners and not as hindrances for their proposed projects should there be rejections from them. We all should drop that misplaced notion that IPs are “anti-development” and “anti-government” each and every time there is resentment or objection against projects to be situated within their domain. Development seen through the eyes of the government, most of the time, is not what the IPs perceived it to be. And as government, prudence dictates, that they cannot simply force their shoe to the IPs and hope that the latter will wear the same.
The separate FPIC in cases of relocation is enshrined in IPRA with the reason. Sure, the IPs may give consent to the proposed project like mega dams but they should be accorded due privileges to choose where will they be relocated. Their basis for consent for the latter will be based, apart from others, on the amenities which they may enjoy in their new dwelling. All of the original comforts already available to them not limited to, suitable lands for agriculture, accessible water source, considerably peaceful environment, should also be mirrored in the relocation site. Remember, relocation can change, or worst, can kill an entire identity of a race.
Cordillera is rich with experiences illustrating the ill effects of relocation IPs on their identity and culture. One concrete experience is those of the Ibaloy IPs dwelling within Itogon and Bokod ADs in the 1950s. Most of these Ibaloy IPs of Itogon and Bokod were uprooted from their ADs to pave way the entry of Ambuklao and Binga mega dams by virtue of eminent domain. They were displaced and some were forcefully relocated to Nueva Vizcaya. The relocation scheme implored to them was so vague that some were even pushed as far as Palawan.
Decades have passed and most of the descendants of these IPs, now thriving in their new dwelling away from their AD, can no longer speak their traditional language. Worst, most have forgotten their customs and traditions.
This is why denying the IPs of a separate FPIC in cases of relocation is prelude to ethnocide. (ROCKY NGALOB)

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