Study shows indigenous governance still influential in Mindanao

The study, conducted in Agusan del Sur, Lanao del Sur, Bukidnon, and Davao del Sur, found that leaders of indigenous peoples play critical roles in conflict resolution, deciding on issues and allocation of local natural resources, matters concerning marriage and social relations as well as representing the community in other communities and entities.

The results of the five-year collaborative study was presented to the media by the Alternate Forum for Research in Mindanao (Afrim) on Friday at a forum at the Grand Men Seng Hotel.

National legislators were invited to the policy forum but were not able to attend because of the Senate hearings on the ZTE broadband backbone controversies. Afrim executive director Mary Luz Feranil told MindaNews the findings and recommendations of the study should have been presented to Senator Manuel Roxas III and another legislator.

The study found that traditional or indigenous governance has endured the inroads of  mainstream political system.

Traditional leadership posts such as datu or chieftain, have endured contrary to reports that there have been "severely undermined by state-sponsored governance system.”

In some areas, the authority of traditional leaders has weakened and has been undermined by the wealth and power of rising politicians not belonging to traditional leadership lineage.

The indigenous leadership system has adapted and existed alongside with government- established governance structures in IP and Moro communities, the study noted.

In some areas, the study showed, that traditional leadership system combined with government instituted systems at the village level.
This showed, the study said, the natural tension between indigenous leaders and mainstream political leaders.  

The study showed it is especially true in areas where elected local officials are not among the recognized traditional leaders. Traditional leaders are normally selected from a lineage of past leaders.

But the enduring authority and legitimacy of traditional leadership in the communities, however, is also a reason why it is the object of desire of the wealthy and politically powerful.

As the institutions of the datuship and the sultanate endured community respect and recognition, wealthy politicians and business persons have claimed rights to traditional posts, according to the study.
The situation resulted to confusion in the recognition of leaders, at least in the four provinces where the study was conducted.

In such setting of complex micro-politics, the study further found that gaining a government political office makes a person powerful but not necessarily a legitimate leader.

A political patronage system has dominated the socio-economic landscape of rural communities across generations or rural poor farmers and politically entrenched families.

Political clans continue to exert influence in villages by cultivating a network of patronage.

In non-Moro and non-IP communities, local peoples' organizations are organized.

Governance was among five areas studied by the group to examine how local political administration based on the Local Government Code of 1991 fared amid different socio-cultural contexts of Lumad, Moro and settler communities.

The study proposed at least 14 policy recommendations, including the need for government executives to take cognizance of existing practices that combine traditional and state governing structures at the community level.

The study argued that with the recognition of the said practices are first steps toward a more participative and culturally sensitive policy making processes.

Local government executives must also be encouraged to establish multi-cultural special bodies addressing the varied socio-economic and political concerns of the localities.

The researchers, part of the Mindanao Inter-church Development Organization (ICCO) partners, called on civil society organizations and community-based groups to harness collaborations to push for specific policy reforms and broaden people's participation in processes of policy-making. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)