Analysing The Political Participation Of Indigenous Philippians Politics Essay

This paper highlights some of the historical and structural aspects hindering the capacity of the national political body to reflect the diversity of the country’s population. It gives an overview and an update of the political participation and representation of the indigenous people of the Philippines. At present, the indigenous peoples and other minority groups are under- represented in the country’s legislature. The issues regarding their political participation and representation revolve around the questions of democracy, equality and recognition. As the extent to which minority groups are present in the legislatures can be viewed as litmus test for the effectiveness of a country’s democratic system. This paper also gives rise to the rights of that indigenous peoples should be enjoying and how they are being currently repressed. It also raises the issues on their involvement in self- organization and mass activism. It also provides a review of the political involvement of the Indigenous Peoples. By so doing, it implies a reflection on how the government acts in the participation of other minority and disadvantaged groups in the society, as well as the improvement of their involvement in national events.

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The Philippines is composed of nearly a hundred million people, the estimated population of the Philippines’ indigenous population has reached 14 million, which is about 15.7 percent of the total population (NCIP, 2009).

The history of the Philippines includes the history of the people who reside in various parts of the country. Unfortunately, most of our history books depict our national struggles under the Spanish and the American colonial regimes as the experience apparently of the Christianized Filipinos only. Although there are several accounts about the Muslims and the highlanders, still it remains a fact that they should also be given importance in history and today’s society.

Our constitution says that our government is supposed to promote common good and equality, living with the ideals of a true democratic nation. If we examine this situation closely, we will see that what the constitution says could only have sense if everyone would be given opportunity to participate in all national activities, everyone including the minority groups. Various efforts for this to happen had been done in the past years; an example is the program in 1957 regarding national integration. When we speak of national integration, we presuppose the capacity of a nation to be more or less united in an ideology and possessive of certain customs and tradition common to all (Clavel 1). What first comes to mind when we speak of national integration is the idea that the country is disintegrated. It suggests a divided body politics, weak political interdependence, differences in religion, poor economic cooperation, and inadequate participation of the people in the common efforts to achieve the country’s dreams and aspirations. This is contradictory to the current inequality between the majority and minority groups of the country. The minority groups are always oppressed by the majority.

National Integration is supposed to be a political goal, and in simple terms political cohesiveness, or the overall participation of the of the majority and minority groups to the political institutions, systems, activities, philosophies and values of the nation. This means that national integration is the merging of a nation’s various cultural groups (usually classified as the majority and minority groups) into one body politic, with the a view to granting the minority all the rights and privileges enjoyed by the majority, and getting them involved the common efforts to advance the nation’s interest (Clavel 11). In addition, it is expected that national integration will result in the elimination of the governmental or the majority’s discrimination against the minority or the indigenous groups.

Therefore to promote democracy and live up to our country’s rule of law, the voice of every Filipino must be heard and included in all national activities, everyone’s welfare must be considered to promote fairness and equality in the country.

The Indigenous Peoples of the Philippines

The Indigenous Peoples (IP) of the Philippines were those who first inhabited the Philippine islands. They make up approximately 10-15 percent of the country’s population. Based on a comprehensive study of Philippine languages and dialects, Dr. Lawrence Reid, a New Zealand-born researcher emeritus of the University of Hawaii, dates the indigenous and mainstream Filipino to Taiwan about 4,500 years ago. Reid says the people Filipinos called “indigenous” today are themselves immigrants to the country and have become a minority that has been marginalized by the state. Hence, the Filipino majority who adopted the laws and practices of colonizers are seen as separate from those who asserted the integrity of their ancestral territories, pre-Hispanic native culture, and justice systems.

“It is these first Filipinos who are the most downtrodden and socially marginalized of all Filipinos, and most in need of urgent action to enable them to survive in this society,” Reid says. The history of this marginalized sector is an endless struggle against the dominant money economy and the oppressive practices of the foreign powers and the ruling few. The most difficult to counter was the “expansionism” inflicted by the local nationals since this comes from within the family of those in power, the nation being only the extension of that “basic social unit”. This oppression becomes prevalent because much of the current laws concerning them are imposed from above without their consent and participation in the law making. These are eroding their traditional way of life and destroying their resources. Indigenous resistance to such impositions is often met with persecution and outright force, sometimes with token concessions (UGAT National Conference, 1996).

. While some indigenous peoples had already large influence in the political context of their respective local town/province, still, in most cases they are largely dependent of the will of, and negotiations with the national government. Nevertheless, forms of oppression, marginalization, and exclusion are faced by indigenous peoples in all possible contexts and political settings. (IWGIA, _)

Political profile of the indigenous peoples
The indigenous peoples all over the country find themselves “part” of a political system that are not their own, but are created and defined by a government with alien rules and led by politicians who are part of the Christianized majority. There has long been a common concern over the difficulty indigenous peoples have in emerging with the dominant political system. The years of Spanish and American rule have rendered the indigenous peoples “voiceless”. Currently, institutions such as the parliament remain largely unrepresentative of the country’s IP. These groups are not well represented in the Philippine government and participation rates of the indigenous in policy making institutions are similarly low in comparison to their proportion in the population.

The extent to which the cultural minorities or the indigenous peoples as present in the legislation can be viewed as a litmus test for the effectiveness of a country’s democratic system (Anthony 9). Minority representation raises the some of the country’s most complex and difficult issues of democratic politics, concerning the relationship between formal and substantial equality.

The United Nations Declaration of the rights of the Indigenous Peoples (2007) included: Welcoming the fact that indigenous peoples are organizing themselves for political, economic, social and cultural enhancement and in order to bring to an end all forms of discrimination and oppression wherever they occur. This right could only be availed if the indigenous peoples would be integrated or oriented to the national political body through national integration efforts.

The phrase national integration, in particular was born when Congress passed R.A. 1888, creating the Commission on National Integration. The Republic Act no. 1888 as amended by Republic Act 3852 is an act to effectuate in more rapid and complete manner the economic, social, moral, and political advancement of the non- Christian Filipinos or national cultural minorities. And to render real, complete, and permanent the integration of all said national cultural minorities into the body politic, creating the Commission on National Integration charged with said functions. Section 1 states that:

It is hereby declared to be the policy of Congress to foster, accelerate and accomplish by all means and in a systematic, rapid and complete manner the moral, material, economic, social and political advancement of the Non- Christian Filipinos, hereinafter called National Cultural Minorities, into the body politic.

The commission is more or less to effect cultural plurality, or the peaceful co-existence between the majority and the minority. This gives opportunity for the indigenous peoples to participate in national elections. However, there are still problems occurring on their national integration, these serves as barriers to their genuine involvement in national activities.

Voting Behavior of the IPs

The Filipinos are basically heterogeneous in nature. Politicians are very particular in identifying the voting behavior of most people in order to adapt strategies to winning. Campaigning is an important process in the electoral system. The manners of campaigning of the candidates reflect most of the manner of voting of the people. . Aileen Catamin, leader of Tumandok group in Panay, said that politicians would only remember them during the campaign period. “Our government officials do not even mind knowing our conditions.” Catami says. Hence, because of their meager knowledge in the country’s politics, the indigenous peoples succumb to name-recall during elections, making their choice of candidate as intensely personalized.

One key question in studying their voting behavior is whether ethnic vote is constrained along traditional, socio- structural lines, or along different lines that are specific to their community. Culturally speaking, the behavior of indigenous people is heavily defined by the group they belong to and the customs they follow. IPs are basically a community tightly-knitted by familial bonds. Their decisions are usually made by a collective body and are usually spearheaded by their elders. Therefore, it is assumed that they also do the same decision-making process in deciding for the candidates they would vote for, like some of the country’s religious body.

Barriers to political opportunities

Threshold Barriers:

The term threshold refers to those barriers that must be overcome before participation in formal representative bodies is possible -such as the right to vote, the right to stand for election and the ability to understand the system itself.

The right to vote: an indigenous barrier

The right to vote is essential for effective participation in a democracy. The right to vote and the right to be elected in the national level are clearly important to the issue of representation. By participating in the elections, citizens express their preference for certain representatives, ideals and policies. By standing for elections, citizens can become advocates on behalf of the fellow citizens they represent such as the minority interests (Anthony 21).

Although the indigenous peoples in the country is entitled to vote, majority of the Indigenous peoples of the country still has a limited participation in the country’s body politics. Though it can be said that they are already participating in the national elections, the inequality between them and the majority is still very evident. For one, the candidates and party lists that they vote for are basically part of the majority.

Problem on education

For the participation in a democratic system to be effective, it is ideal if the participants to understand the system and know how to be able o contribute to it (Anthony 22). Today, voter education and integration efforts have played a role in informing the indigenous people about the system of government and how to participate in it. However, these programs are very limited to be able to accommodate all of them. Also, the government should provide for an adequate educational assistance to young tribal members in their primary, secondary and eventually tertiary level. This would not only make them effectively participate in the political body but also help them uplift themselves from their current economic status and become confident to participate in social events, thus organizing movements that would advocate for their rights. It is not only education that will empower them. Integration efforts must not only come from the government, they must also help themselves to avail their rights. They need to organize. “We know there is power in organized group.” Paylot Cabalit said, chairperson of LAKAS, an IP group.

Structural Barriers

In this paper, a structural barrier refers to those barriers that exist within the Philippine system of government and reduce the likelihood of the indigenous people in increasing their level of participation and representation including the electoral system.

Indifference of the of the majority towards the welfare and interests of the minority groups

The heaviest issue that the indigenous peoples are facing is the grabbing of the unscrupulous Christians of their ancestral domains for mining and “development” projects. This caused their feeble economic and political weaken even more. This problem however strengthened their spirit and made them initiate the formation of a body that might represent them in Congress. In the case of the Subanon of the Zamboanga Peninsula, they have faced violence and invasion of the Christian loggers; this caused them to seek more contact with the outside and must respond to “development” efforts allegedly being rendered on their behalf. However, despite the advantage brought by this issue, the ancestral lands of the indigenous peoples must be promptly returned to them because it is the basis of their well-being and future. While they might own a house and a source of their livelihood, the land they till is still owned by the lowlanders. The land is the lifeblood of the indigenous peoples; therefore, it should be given back to them.

In addition, According to Beverly Longid of the recently accredited Katribu party list, the Indigenous Peoples have historically suffered from the counter insurgency activities of the military such as the indiscriminate bombings and ground combat operations, which result in the disruption of their economic activities, destruction of farms, forests, waters, priceless heirlooms and loss of lives and homes. The indigenous peoples, the marginalized people living in the far-flung communities in the countr doubly suffer from the impacts of such military activities.

One huge problem of the Filipino majority is their lack of sensitivity to the minority sectors. Many, if not indifferent have become so apathetic on the political and social issues of the country that they lack consciousness of the plight of their indigenous brothers. Even though they do not directly participate in the oppression of these minority group, their apathy already means that they are siding with the oppressors since they let them take over and control everything to their own advantage. It could be said that there is a lack of effort coming from the majority who are expected to help the IPs out since they have the advantage of better resources and education. In the case of the Agta of Iriga, Albay or what we know as the Negrito, through time they have become a distinct group of people being pushed to the hinterlands because of occupation, migration and colonization which compounded their problems of survival (UGAT National Conference, 1996). Having to contend with all forms of oppression, these cultural minorities have become marginalized due to the lack of consciousness on the part of the majority to understand the subculture they have long lived with.

Electoral Systems

Electoral systems translate the votes cast in general election into seats won by parties and candidates. The aim of most electoral systems is to be representative; to give a voice to minorities and to register dissent. Therefore, to treat people in diverse society as equals requires more than a system based on “majority rules” (Anthony 27). Up until 2009, the indigenous people didn’t have an accredited party list to represent themselves in the congress. It is important for the indigenous people to have a representative in the national level that is one of their kind. As mentioned in the theory of mirror representation, there must be a similarity between the representative and the represented to increase the responsiveness of members (Anthony, 40). If a candidate is not elected by or linked I formal way to the indigenous group, there is no obvious way of ensuring that that candidate will speak for the needs or concerns of the indigenous peoples, there is no explicit chain of command requiring them to do so.

It must also be stressed that nobody can be in power without the blessings of the central power. This blessing seem to be very hard to avail so most indigenous people, if not being given enough opportunity in the legislative body to fight for their rights, resort to organization of groups of anti- government like the MILF.

Before the 1960s, most indigenous groups were unorganized in the common understanding. The oppressive central power in the country has caused some of the indigenous peoples to rebel and fight against the government and it various programs. of the term sense even though they were tightly-knit as communities. With the worsening influx of destructive projects in the 1960-1980 period, many indigenous communities in Mindanao, Cordillera and elsewhere increasingly engaged in active self-organization and mass action. During the 1970s and early 1980s, some indigenous joined armed separatist movements such as the Moro National Liberation Front and Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and into National Democratic Front-affiliated organizations such as the Moro Resistance and Liberation Organization and Cordillera Peoples Democratic Front. Others grew into broad legal movements for the defense of ancestral lands, recognition of indigenous peoples’ rights, and against militarization (IWGIA, ). Because of their lost faith in the government, it would be hard for them to allow the government to win them back and be involved with them in political participation. There is a possibility that this problem might lead to the forever separation of these groups from the government and the majority.

The current political participation and representation of the IPs

Over the last centuries, the indigenous peoples have gained experience in dealing with the systems of politics with unknown social structures imposed on them. While some IPs in the country have been able to influence the political context of their respected local area, such as the Tagbanua in Coron, Palawan this context is still, in most cases, largely dependent upon the will of , and negotiations with the nation-state.

Majority of the Indigenous peoples of the country still has a limited participation in the country’s body politics. Though it can be said that they are already participating in the national elections, the inequality between them and the majority is still very evident. For one, the candidates and party lists that they vote for are part of the majority. These candidates, when they win would most likely make laws to protect their own interest and the interest of the majority where he belongs

In the case of the Subanon of Zamboanga Peninsula, they were said to be now absorbed in the lowland political life. They pay taxes, they participate in elections and attend purok meetings, but still there are indications that they are unfairly treated and being taken advantage of the Bisayan lowlanders (UGAT National Conference, 1996).

As mentioned earlier, the indigenous peoples, though very limited are gaining access to education and have been organizing themselves. Education and organization are useless if not put to action. “The true measure of people empowerment is this: In the face of oppression, stand up and work for self-liberation” says Cabalic.

On August 9, 2008, 25 indigenous peoples groups from all over the country gathered together to form the Katribu party list, in time for the commemoration of the International Day of the Worlds’s Indigenous People.

Nelson Mallari, chairman of Central Luzon Aeta Association (CLAA), said indigenous peoples in the Philippines continue to face discrimination, hence the formation of the party-list group Katribu, of which he is secretary- general.

In 2009, indigenous peoples from Cordillera and Mindanao joined Mallari in filing a petition for the accreditation of party list groups for the 2010 elections before the Commission on Elections. The Katribu charter reads:

We believe that we must have a significant role in defining the economic, socio- cultural and political life of the whole Philippine nation and society, and that genuine participation and representation of indigenous peoples at all levels of government decision- making is necessary.

Even as Mallari recognize the rottenness of the political system in the country, he said that there is still a need to utilize all forms of struggle. “The parliament is a new arena where we can advance the rights and welfare of the indigenous peoples.” Through Katribu, Mallari said they hope to organize more indigenous peoples in the country to fight for their collective welfare ( Bulatlat, 2009).

Antonio Calbayog of Bigkis at Lakas ng katutubong Mamamayan sa Timog Katagalugan (Balatik), a regional alliance of indigenous peoples in Southern Tagalog, agreed. “We have been fighting for our right to ancestral land an our right to self- determination for centuries now. The party list system is another venue in protecting and asserting these rights.”

In November 23, 2009, Comelec accredited the Katribu party list. This added boost to their morale and confidence to actively project and advance the party’s platform. It is good to know that the indigenous people could possibly have a representation in the Congress in the future. It gives hope to the other marginalized sector in the country to formally promote their rights and fight against their oppressors.


The indigenous people, though were the first inhabitants of the country was said to be the most marginalized sector in the Philippine society because of their smallness in number. Thus, there are many barriers hindering their capacity to be integrated into the rest of the population in terms of politics. Some of these barriers are: their meager education causing them to lag behind the rest of the populations in terms of their socio-economic status and knowledge on the system; indifference of the majority on the minority’s welfare and taking advantage of their power to exploit the indigenous peoples’ resources ; and their lack of political representation on the law making body. Nevertheless, they are struggling to survive from the forms of oppression, marginalization, and exclusion in all possible contexts and political settings

The indigenous people now have the opportunity to vote and participate in the elections in the country. Therefore, supposedly, making them co- equal with the Christian majority. However, it is very evident that this equality is questionable. Even though they participate in the voting process, they could not get anything from the candidates they voted for because mostly the candidates are from the majority who have their own interests and have become so indifferent to them. They only avail little help from the “development” projects of the government which only raises the issues on their livelihood and land ownership. Although recently, some communities of the indigenous people have received their very own certificates of land ownership, the government does not give them enough rights to gain from their newly acquired lands because it threatens the government interest. This plight of the indigenous people when it comes to promoting their rights and welfare could be traced to their lack of representation in the legislative body. This is very ironical because as old as their group may be, they only had a formal representation in the national elections as a party list in 2009. Currently their party list, Katribu is running for the elections this 2010. The accreditation of their party list had given the indigenous people a gateway to freely exercising their rights and improve their status in the society. It would also promote equality among the majority and the minority and integrate them to the society at the same time, diminish the society’s discrimination on them. This could also help promote unity and national identity in the country and further uphold democracy.

The Politics of Difference; the plight os the iP

As much as the Philippines claim that it is a democratic country, this claim could be seen as very contradicting to the actual conditions. An obvious line could be seen between the rich and the poor, the Christian and the non- Christian, the majority and the minority, with the former always gaining the favors and the latter always being taken advantage. The inequality between the two main groups of people in the Philippines is always seen as a violation to the ideals of our constitution. In politics, the ones in power are those who can truly benefit from the state. They are most likely the people from the majority. Therefore the Philippine government does not really belong to the people but to the few who are taking advantage of their fellow Filipino.

The minority groups are gaining more and more access to the knowledge which shunned them away from the system. This is already an advantage for them. Henceforth, they should begin to double their efforts to fight for their rights. Indigenous peoples are gaining the experiences of political processes that involve the elections and political parties. However, it must be stressed that nobody can be in power without the blessings of the ruling few who are in the central powers. They take control over money, media and government machinery. Unintentionally, this emphasizes the fact that that the only alternative is to succumb to extra-legal forms of resistance. Thus, armed struggles and mass activism was formed ( ).

If the government repression of the minority group would continue, mass movements and armed struggles would never cease. Later on, they might not just fight for their rights and ancestral lands, but would fight for their autonomy and own country. A battle between the majority and minority might occur. Hence, we might lose our indigenous people.