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New platform for investments in ancestral lands

Under the Mindanao Indigenous Peoples (IP) Desk, which was launched on Tuesday, businesses and investors alike will help guide companies in securing free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) from IP groups, among others. FPIC is required by the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act before business can enter IP areas.

An initiative of International Alert (IA), National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), and the Mindanao Business Council (MinBC), the desk will have members from the three organizations, officials of local government units, and representatives of IPs. The desk will also feature a database on conflict information and ancestral domains, besides resource maps and development plans on ancestral domains.

The group wants the IP Desk to be both about wealth creation alongside the protection and promotion of the rights of IPs, IA Deputy Country Manager Nikki Philline C. de la Rosa said.

“The IP Desk is the crystallization of the desire to institutionalize the relationship between government, business and the IP communities,” said IA Country Manager Francisco J. Lara, Jr.

On Tuesday, Mr. Lara from IA, NCIP Chairperson Leonor O. Quintayo, and MinBC Chairman Vicente T. Lao also ceremonially signed a memorandum of cooperation “agreeing to collaborate and support the establishment of an IP Desk in MinBC.” The original signing was “last month,” Ms. de la Rosa said on the sidelines of the event.

A technical working group from the parties will finalize the IP Desk’s terms of reference including “roles, responsibilities and implementing guidelines.”

For his part, MinBC Executive Director Rolando A. Torres said that current business challenges “dynamics in frameworks, access to information and security.”

Besides pointing out “inconsistencies in local and national policies and political boundary conflicts in ancestral lands,” there are instances where “communities are misrepresented.” There is also a “lack of information on the location of investments,” Mr. Torres said.

There is a “need of education and information on the traditions and practices of indigenous communities,” said Mr. Torres.

Mr. Torres acknowledged that investors need to protect their investments, employees and facilities but said that there are instances where there are “semblances of creating private armies.”

“All concerns would lead to the most important issue faced by investors… the challenge on how to regain the trust of the communities,” said Mr. Torres.

According to Mr. Torres, IPs have been subject to “unfriendly policies before of the government.” Also, “previous investors have been “resorting to payoffs to continue business” and some have gone around the process of securing FPIC.”

There are also “concerns on harming the environment” by investors entering IP areas and the “cases of human rights violations” prevalent during the ’70s and early ’80s are still remembered by IPs, said Mr. Torres.

In 17 years, the NCIP has granted 180 certificates of ancestral domain which translates to 4.7 hectares of land, with 92 certificates granted in Mindanao, translating to 2.2 hectares of land. — E. E. Escaño

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