The third National ICCA Conference in the Philippines calls on Congress to enact the ICCA bill

The third Philippine National ICCA Conference was held from July 8 to 12, 2019, at the Innotech-SEAMEO compound in Quezon City, Philippines. The conference gathered over a hundred stakeholders from Indigenous Peoples’ communities representing all ethnographic regions, relevant government agencies, and civil society.

The conference aimed to sustain recent gains in recognizing ICCAs’ institutionalization and create a plan to scale up support for complete and practical assistance to ICCA governance in the country.

Representatives from the Senate and the House of Representatives attended the conference. They have been urged to schedule hearings on the ICCA Bill and to pursue legislation relevant to ICCAs.

The conference opened with a pre-dawn ritual held on the grounds of the University of the Philippines campus. The ritual was led by Datu Eduardo Banda, Chairperson of KASAPI (Koalisyon ng mga Katutubo at Samahan ng Pilipinas/ National Coalition of Indigenous Peoples in the Philippines), and Datu Makalipay, former Chairperson of Bukluran Bukluran (Bukluran ng mga Katutubo at Para sa Pangangalaga ng Kalikasan ng Pilipinas/ Philippine ICCA Consortium).

A sacrificial chicken, wine, rice, salt, and other ritual items were offered– and recognized in gratitude for their role in sustaining life. Invoking the intervention of ancestral spirits, Datu Banda prayed for the unity of Indigenous Peoples. Datu Makalipay “invited” the spirits of Filipino national heroes, including Andres Bonifacio and Tandang Sora, to guide the Conference to success.

After cutting the ribbons to open the conference formally, Mr. Giovanni Reyes, President of Bukluran–Philippine ICCA Consortium, welcomed the delegates, stating, “The partnership among the Indigenous Peoples, civil society, and the United Nations Development Programme UNDP attest to the validity of what Indigenous Peoples’ traditional governance is all about.” 

Citing the nationwide representation of Indigenous Peoples from diverse ecosystems, from seascapes and landscapes, Reyes asserted, “The reason for high-level biodiversity in the country being among the 17 most biodiverse in the world is precisely because biodiversity is mostly, if not entirely, found within native lands of Indigenous Peoples.” He said the threats to these require community action, participatory conservation planning, and national policy advocacy.”

The highlights of the conference were the reports by the Indigenous Peoples’ leaders of Bukluran on implementing the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) funded Philippine ICCA Project, which involved ten sites from 2016 to 2019. This follows the New Conservation Areas Philippines Project (New CAPP) implemented between 2009 and 2014 and is directly followed by the Philippine ICCA Project.

In total, 223,052 hectares of territories were mapped and declared as community-conserved, in addition to the Protected Area estate. These ICCAs will be included in the global ICCA Registry, providing these territories with another layer of protection.

Philippine ICCAs are now part of the current National Biodiversity Strategy Action Plan (NBSAP) and have made inroads in the recently passed Expanded National Integrated Protected Area Systems Act (ENIPAS Act) which recognizes ICCAs in Ancestral Domains with at least three provisions, providing an explicit legal framework, and mentioning, for the first time, ICCAs’ being considered as protected areas.

A recent international evaluation team mandated by the UNDP reported that the “Philippine ICCA Project placed the country as a frontrunner in inclusive conservation in the Asia region so that a delegation of government officials from Myanmar made exposure trips to these ICCA sites.”

Later, a conference statement called for urgency in enacting the Philippine ICCA Bill: “Immediate enactment of the ICCA Bill will be a fundamental element for sustaining the gains of ICCA pilot models.” The ICCA Bill not only strengthens the role of Indigenous Peoples in the governance of nature but also adds to “the reputation of the Philippines as a reference for ICCAs” and “helps steer the nation in mitigating, if not preventing, the alarming rate of deforestation and climate change impacts.”

The statement called on the public: “particularly communities directly benefiting from ecological services provided by resources in our ancestral domains, to support our efforts and provide a legacy worth presenting to the present and future generation of Filipinos.”

Notably, 25 to 30 million Filipinos live near or adjacent to ancestral domains and receive benefits from ecological services. Destruction of ancestral domains is not only about indigenous peoples’ survival. Still, it affects these millions as well, as stated by a Food Security Forum held at the University of the Philippines by the Asian NGO Coalition on June 24, 2019.

Finally, a Kankanaey Gong play (Balangbang) celebrated the rekindling of indigenous peoples’ identity and relationship with nature.

Photos: Orange Omengan

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