UNDRIP and corporate plantations in Mindanao

PHOTO: Pineapple plantations of Del Monte Philippines Inc in Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon. Photo by Pau Villanueva.




The UN Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) stipulates that the indigenous peoples (IP) have the right to engage freely in all their traditional and economic activity and determine and develop priorities and strategies for the use of their lands, territories, and other resources. They shall not be forced out of their lands or territories and shall not be relocated without their free, prior and informed consent (FPIC). Article 19 of the Declaration declares that even the State shall consult and cooperate with the IP concerned before adopting and implementing legislative and administrative measures that affect them.[i]

The UNDRIP also states that the right to lands, territories and resources of the IPs is determined not primarily by any State recognition or documentation but by their traditional ownership, occupation or use. Furthermore, they have the right to redress for their lands, territories and resources confiscated, taken, occupied, used or damaged without their FPIC.

Article 30 of the UNDRIP also states that “military activities shall not take place in the lands or territories of indigenous peoples, unless justified by a relevant public interest or otherwise freely agreed with or requested by the IP concerned”.[ii]

However, the resource-rich ancestral domains of the IPs are threatened by the expansion of monocrop plantations and other extractive industries like mining. Over the years it can be seen that the victims of the rampage associated with the entry of the said industries were from the indigenous communities.[iii]

Even the UN recognizes the role of private interests of big corporations in the dispossession of IPs. There is a growing pressure globally on land resources due to privatization and individualization of land ownership; extractive industries and infrastructure projects; large-scale land acquisitions for palm oil, biofuels, and other forms of commercial monocrop agriculture; and the establishment of protected areas and game reserves in cases where this happens without consultation and consent.[iv]

The case of the Higaonon of Opol, Misamis Oriental

In Mindanao, the expansion of corporate plantations has recklessly displaced Lumad communities and violated the UNDRIP. The Higaonon of Opol, Misamis Oriental have been harassed and driven away from their farms due to their opposition to the expansion of A. Brown.[v] A. Brown has used different forms of harassment and coercion in order to drive away the Higaonon, such as employing armed private guards with the support of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to harass members of the community who are against the plantation’s expansion.[vi]

A. Brown did not follow the FPIC process when it started its operation in Opol in 2010. The DENR approved the company’s application for 25-year lease of the land under the agency’s Upland Agro-Forestry Program, using Forest Land Grazing Lease Agreement (FLGLA) issued to a local farmer by the DENR. The agency did not consult with the Lumad regarding the plans for their ancestral domain, then in February 2011 local DENR officials told the Higaonon tribe that A. Brown, through its subsidiary Nakeen Corporation, had the authority to develop the land.[vii] NCIP Commissioner for Northern and Western Mindanao, Cosme Lambayon said that NCIP national office was not informed of A Brown’s project, which is required if the project is undertaken within an ancestral domain area[viii]. The Dulangan Unified Ancestral Domain Claim filed in 2002, which covers six villages in Opol, including Tingalan and Bagocboc, indicates that the land occupied by A. Brown is an ancestral domain.

Sugarcane, pineapple plantations in Bukidnon

The Manobo tribe’s ancestral lands in Pangantucan, Bukidnon have been reduced over the years due to the entrance of sugarcane plantations. Many Manobos have sold their lands at low rates in exchange for the promise of employment as laborers in the plantations. Others have leased their lands. Eventually, many Manobos are only left with the land where their houses stand, and land for small-scale agricultural projects for growing rice, corn, and vegetables.[ix]

There are cases where Lumad were displaced due to agreements entered into by the government with private corporations. Four hundred farmers and Manobo families were displaced when the NGPI cleared the area for its 4,000-hectare plantation in Rosario, Agusan del Sur.[x] The Manobo-Pulangihon tribe from Bgy. Butong, Quezon, Bukidnon moved far from their ancestral lands when in 1984 a businessman filed an Agroforestry Farm Lease Agreement (AFLA) with the DENR for a 25-year contract that ended in 2009.[xi] The government leased the land to Montalvan Ranch owned by Pablo Lorenzo III through the AFLA, which is now a sugarcane and pineapple plantation.[xii]

When the lease expired in 2009, the Manobo-Pulangihon applied for a CADT. The NCIP and DENR did not prioritize FPIC when they let Pablo Lorenzo stay in the disputed area despite the AFFLA expiration and the CADT application. The letter sent by the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office in Bukidnon to the City Environment and Natural Resources Office in Don Carlos states that the DENR cannot act on the CADT claim while the rejection of the ranch’s renewal application is still pending. This obviously gives priority to Montalvan Ranch over the Lumad tribe. This is contrary to the guidelines of FPIC warranting the consent of the indigenous community to any project, with or without a CADT, within their domain.[xiii] NCIP classified the 623-hectare ancestral domain without consulting the IP on what part of the land they consider watershed, forests and arable. The DENR even declared the ancestral land as forestland, which is considered public land, and would only turn over 70 hectares to the Manobo-Pulangihon.[xiv]

Seven IP groups in Quezon, Bukidnon are applying for CADT. Most of the lands they are claiming have been contracted out by the government. These include the 622 hectares to Montalvan Ranch, 400 hectares to Michael Fortich, and 1,000 hectares to Cesar Fortich – around 200 hectares of this was given by Fortich to a pineapple plantation that supplies Del Monte.[xv]

The Lumad formed the Tribal Indigenous Oppressed Group Association (TINDOGA) to continue their fight for their ancestral land. However, claimants have been divided into two groups: Team A is composed of families who are willing to lease their land, while Team B wants to reclaim their land for their food security. TINDOGA belongs to Team B.

The NCIP however has favored one side over another by awarding CADT to a select group that the NCIP would consider “legitimate” instead of dealing with the claim collectively. This “legitimate” group is the one given the authority to decide on who would be the “legitimate beneficiaries” and divide the land among the clans. This is divisive and a violation of UNDRIP, by the government agency no less.

Same case with the contract between Nakeen Corp. and the DENR-facilitated farmers’ group, the Kahugpongan sa Mag-uuma sa Barangay Tingalan (KMBT). Those who were present were handpicked and community leaders were not given a voice[xvi].

Meanwhile, the DENR developed an Industrial Forest Complex within a 120,000-hectare zone in Esperanza, Las Nieves and contiguous municipalities in the two Agusan provinces, which would feature monocropped tree farms, factories, and a biomass-powered electricity plant. This was in collaboration with former Esperanza Mayor Datu Mancombate, a self-proclaimed datu, Ronald Manhumusay, other politically prominent datus, and five big corporations – biggest of which is Shannalyne, which operates from New Zealand and Singapore. Datus Mancombate and Manhumusay are both holders of Certificate for Ancestral Domain Claim (CADC).[xvii]

Both the DENR and the LGU are encouraging the Higaonon to enter into oil palm and falcata tree farming contracts. This has threatened their concept of collective forest management and use, such as their practice of rotational-shifting cultivation, and has introduced individualistic concepts of subsistence.[xviii]


The story above is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, 'The Point of Development: Shrinking Spaces for the Lumad vis-a-vis Corporate Plantations', to be published by the RMP-NMR-established Mindanao Interfaith Institute on Lumad Studies.

[i] United Nations. United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 13 Sept. 2007. Web. 19 Sept. 2016. < http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/DRIPS_en.pdf>

[ii] Ibid, p. 11.

[iii] The 'Healing the Hurt' Project Management Committee. “Healing the Hurt The Intervention and its Components.” Kidlap Magazine Special Issue. Mar. 2016. pp. 5-8.

[iv] Inter-Agency Support Group on Indigenous Peoples' Issues. “Dispossession, land grabbing and conflicts over land continue in some areas.”  Lands, Territories and Resources. June 2014. p5. Web. 12 Sept. 2016. <http://www.un.org/en/ga/president/68/pdf/wcip/IASG%20Paper%20_%20Lands%20territories%20and%20resources%20-%20rev1.pdf>

[v] Olea, Ronalyn V. “Palm oil plantation impoverishes indigenous people in Opol, Misamis Oriental”. Bulatlat.com. 10 May 2012. Web. 31 July 2016. <http://bulatlat.com/main/2012/05/10/us-owned-palm-oil-plantation-impoverishes-indigenous-people-in-opol-misamis-oriental/>

[vi] Quijano, Ilang-ilang D. “The Real Trespassers: Landgrabbing in the name of Palm Oil in Southern Philippines”. Speak Out!. Jun 2012. Web. 14 Sept. 2016. < http://library.ipamglobal.org/jspui/bitstream/ipamlibrary/493/1/SO-2012June-TheRealTrespassers.pdf>

[vii] Olea, Ronalyn V. Op. cit.

[viii] Quijano, Ilang-ilang D. Op. cit.

[ix] Dinlayan, Loreta Sol L. “The Manobos of Pangantucan: The threat of losing territory”. BukidnonNews.Net. 5 Nov. 2012. Web. 14 Aug. 2016. <http://bukidnonnews.net/environment/2012/11/the-manobos-of-pangantucan-the-threat-of-losing-territory/>

[x] Menguita-Feranil, Mary Luz. “Contradictions of Palm Oil Promotion in the Philippines”. The Palm Oil Controversy in Southeast Asia: A Transnational Perspective. Pye, Oliver and Bhattacharya,Jayati,eds. Singapore: ISEAS Publishing. 2013. Web. 14 Aug. 2016. <https://books.google.com.ph/books?hl=en&lr=&id=oQOjuA3vXkMC&oi=fnd&pg=PA97&dq=manobo+tribe+agusan+del+norte&ots=QaHb0NIm6a&sig=Fnvbn1Hkm8UkVvS-VeWUAMWCxxU&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=manobo&f=false>

[xi] United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. “Bukidnon Indigenous Peoples’ Rights and Protection Risks”. Thematic Protection Bulletin. 10 July 2015. Web. 14 Sept. 2016. <https://duckduckgo.com/?q=Bukidnon+Indigenous+Peoples%E2%80%99+Rights+and+Protection+Risks&t=opera&ia=web>

[xii] Villocino, Gary Ben. “Outside the guarded fences: hunger and the struggle to survive”. Rural Missionaries of the Philippines Northern Mindanao Sub-Region. 2 Oct. 2013. Web. 24 Aug. 2016. <http://www.rmp-nmr.org/articles/2013/10/02/outside-guarded-fences-hunger-and-struggle-survive>

[xiii] Rural Missionaries of the Philippines Northern Mindanao Sub-Region. Tracing Roots, Asserting Claims The history of the Manobo-Pulangion and TINDOGA and its claim to its ancestral domain. July 2014. Web. 22 Sept. 2016. <http://www.rmp-nmr.org/downloads/2014/08/16/tracing-roots-asserting-claims-history-manobo-pulangion-and-tindoga-and-its>

[xiv] Rural Missionaries of the Philippines-Northern Mindanao Sub-Region. Mission Report ‘Pakighiusa’: Solidarity Mission to Members of TINDOGA in Support of their struggle for Land and Life.  2014. Web. 14 Sept. 2016. <http://www.rmp-nmr.org/downloads/2014/05/14/mission-report-pakighiusa-solidarity-mission-members-tindoga-support-their>

[xv] Rural Missionaries of the Philippines Northern Mindanao Sub-region. “Bloody agrarian unrest in Bukidnon yet again.” Piplinks. 30 Mar. 2012. Web. 22 Aug. 2016. <http://www.piplinks.org/bloody-agrarian-unrest-bukidnon-yet-again.html>

[xvi] Quijano, Ilang-ilang D. Op cit.

[xvii] Dinteg, the Cordillera Indigenous Peoples’ Law Center. “Case Study: a review of the implementation of Philippine laws and policies on indigenous peoples. 2010. Web. 8 Aug. 2016. <http://lib.ohchr.org/HRBodies/UPR/_layouts/15/WopiFrame.aspx?sourcedoc=/HRBodies/UPR/Documents/session13/PH/KAMP_UPR_PHL_S13_2012_KalipunanngmgaKatutubongMamamayanngPilipinas_Anx2.pdf&action=default&DefaultItemOpen=1>

[xviii] Ibid.