July 16, 2024

The Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) guidelines, in place for the past 12 years, have become a cornerstone in safeguarding the rights and ancestral lands of indigenous peoples in the Philippines. However, due to shifting tides in the political landscape, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples is currently considering revisions.
The old guidelines have gained notoriety among corporations as a bottleneck for their projects in ancestral domains. As a result, the FPIC process hasn’t been immune to challenges aimed at weakening it. Past legislative efforts have warped it into a game of bureaucratic speed chess, sacrificing genuine consent at the altar of expediency. This race against the clock not only tramples on IPs’ rights but also jeopardizes the very future of these communities and their environment.
The charm of speed in the guise of development is evident in a recent wave of legislation like Republic Act 11234 or the Energy Virtual One-Stop Shop Law, RA 11032 or the Ease of Doing Business Law, and EO 30 that formed the Energy Investment Coordinating Council. These measures, in the bid of streamlining FPIC, impose arbitrary time constraints on the NCIP and IP communities. Imagine asking a community imbued with its rich tradition of decision-making forced to reach a consensus on a complex project with the clock ticking like a time bomb. It’s akin to asking someone to write a novel overnight – the result would be rushed, incomplete, and likely riddled with errors.
These time constraints fail to acknowledge the weight and value of the customary decision-making processes within IP societies. Elders, community leaders, and the community engage in extensive discussions, a process that can’t be neatly compartmentalized into pre-determined timeframes. This focus on speed disrespects these practices, reducing FPIC to a mere rubber stamp exercise. It’s like putting a price tag on an heirloom – the true value lies not in a quick transaction, but in the history and cultural significance it embodies.
Furthermore, this obsession with speed betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of power dynamics. Proponents tout efficiency and economic benefits, but conveniently overlook the stark reality: corporations hold a significant advantage over IP communities. Time, for IPs, is crucial to gather information, assess project impacts, and engage in meaningful dialogue amongst themselves and with project proponents. By compressing this timeframe, the government effectively pulls the rug out from under them, rendering their consent suspect at best, and coerced at worst.
The consequences of prioritizing speed over informed consent are far-reaching. First, it breeds distrust between IPs and the government, poisoning the well for future collaborative efforts. Imagine asking someone to hastily sign a contract they haven’t fully understood – trust evaporates. Second, it risks overlooking potential environmental and social impacts. Rushing FPIC is akin to building a house on sand – the foundation is shaky and the whole structure is at risk of crumbling. Finally, it undermines the legitimacy of FPIC, potentially leading to legal challenges and further delays – a self-inflicted wound that could have been avoided by prioritizing genuine consent from the outset.
The Philippines currently pilots FPIC in a high-speed chase, sacrificing indigenous rights for fleeting gains. It’s time to shift gears, respect the indigenous right of way, and embark on a collaborative journey towards a sustainable future. Rushing FPIC is akin to mortga-ging the IPs’ future. A long and winding road built on genuine consent and self-determination may be slower, but its fruits will be far more satisfying.