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Jover, Cazia Mei S.


Recognizing the Role of the Indigenous People
The most recent figures based on an unofficial survey conducted by the
National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) estimates the population of
indigenous peoples in the Philippines to be between 1215 million, but the actual
population may be higher (Cario, 2012, p.8). Although it may seem that at least
half of the population of the indigenous people receive adequate support, they are
still among the poorest and most marginalized community in the Philippines, being
a result of government negligence and discrimination. Moreover, they are socially
ostracized just for the mere fact that their values differ from modern societal
practices, but what people fail to see is how their community benefits us. The
indigenous people should not be forced to conform to the needs of society for they
promote biodiversity across the country, they help preserve our culture, and they
help prevent environmental degradation.
The settlement of the indigenous people in certain islands are highly
beneficial for the promotion of biodiversity. Many of the countrys highly biodiverse
areas overlap with the indigenous peoples territories, thus making their lands one
of the main contributors to the countrys biodiversity; however, large-scale reforms
that convert these lands into commercial areas and mining and logging concessions
have caused the dwindling of the countrys biodiversity. Sobrevila (2008) suggests
that a recently produced map of the Brazilian Amazon shows that natural
ecosystems have improved conservation potential when Indigenous Peoples inhabit
them (Sobrevila, 2008, p. 22). We can relate Sobrevilas findings to the indigenous
people in Palawan. A significant portion of Palawan is managed by the indigenous
people, and it has been dubbed as one of the Philippines last biodiversity frontiers,
retaining 50% of its original forest cover.
The indigenous people serve as key players in preserving our culture. The
National Commission for Culture and the Arts (2015) affirms that, their ancestral
lands have been central to their communities, directly linked to their cultural
integrity and identity. Their ancestral domain is the key to the preservation of their

indigenous knowledge, cultural systems, traditional practices and rich heritage

(para. 3). These IPs belong to an estimated 110 ethnic communities and speak
around 170 languages, contributing to the diversity of the Filipino people.
Continually ostracizing the indigenous people, as well as exploiting their lands,
would yield to a decrease in cultural diversity.
The indigenous people play an important role in environmental preservation.
Corpuz argues that indigenous peoples have a big contribution to the national
development of the Philippines. And this contribution is in maintaining the
sustainability and the integrity of these ecosystems which provide ecological service
not just for the indigenous peoples, but for the entire country (as stated in Aquino,
2015). The indigenous people have sworn to themselves to protect their ancestral
land, and this includes sustaining the forests and bodies of water that surround it.
De Vera (2007) writes that numerous studies have shown that indigenous people
operate a well-developed land allocation and land management system that relies
on communal decision making through traditional structures (p. 9). This affirms the
indigenous peoples ability to sustain their own land, thus decreasing the case of
environmental degradation.
One may say that the indigenous people are not at all being forced to
conform to the demands of society, and that there is a law that protects their rights
and recognizes their claims over their ancestral lands, but how come they are still
being persecuted for protecting and asserting claims over their territories? Corpuz
asserts that 100 indigenous people have been killed over the past three years
protecting their homes, and when they protect their forests and bodies of water,
they are subjected to arrests or even extrajudicial killings (as stated in Aquino,
2015). This suggests that even when the indigenous people show attempts of
increasing biodiversity, cultural diversity and environmental sustainability, they are
still being mistreated, and their rights are being overlooked.
The majority still do not see the importance of the indigenous people in the
overall growth of the Philippines. They are still completely ostracized for their
differences, and rights over their ancestral lands continue to be a struggle that they
face. Their duties as stewards to their ancestral lands have helped cultivate the
culture of the Philippines, sustain its biodiversity, and sustain the environment. It is

only when the country has suffered the consequences of its actions will the people
recognize the importance of the indigenous people, so why not start now?