Group hits new NCIP rules on entry to ancestral domains

Lawyer Rhia Muhi of the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center said the rules, published by the NCIP in September, do not respond to the issues and problems faced by communities where there are projects, programs, or activities within their ancestral domain areas.

In her briefing to representatives of non-government organizations and peoples' organizations Thursday, Muhi said the new guidelines “further watered down the rights of the indigenous peoples or cultural communities to free and prior informed consent.”

Muhi told MindaNews the new guidelines are just the same as the draft NCIP presented in 2005 in that “it might not conform to customs, laws and traditions of communities.”

She said the guidelines reflect the government's lack of understanding and appreciation of the indigenous peoples' culture and identity.

She pointed to the distinction made by the guidelines between "large-scale" and "small-scale" activities, projects, and programs. She said the distinction, which covers extend and impact, does not necessarily involve community participation in all aspects of decision making. Only elders and council members are to be consulted on "small scale" projects.

She said the move contradicts the definition of the FPIC. Among the activities included in the "small-scale" category is commercial research undertaken by government, private persons, or corporations. LRC has reacted that "commercial research" is a broad term and it might involve the identity of the community, thus, the need for the community to participate in the process.

Muhi cited a recommendation by the LRC that the FPIC process should cover the whole ancestral domain, regardless of size, extent or impact of the project.

Ancestral domains are communally owned so each member has the right to join in the decision-making process.

She also pointed to the shift of the burden of proof from the entrant to the indigenous peoples, that the project or program should not be implemented  She said it has to be the government, not the community which is already marginalized.

She also said the non-transferability of the FPIC must be absolute, exempting no one and that notice should be served to communities, LGUs, peoples' organizations and NGOs helping the community for any changes in the entity granted the FPIC.

She urged the crowd to support their demand for NCIP to be transparent and to explain the process undertaken in formulating the guidelines.

The points raised against the new guidelines, she said, are based on initial comments aired during field consultations. The 2006 FPIC set of guidelines is the second set of rules the NCIP issued since the approval in June 1998 of the Implementing Rules and Regulations of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Acts of 1997.