Atty. Benedicto Bacani is the executive director of the Institute for Autonomy and Governance. He delivered these remarks during the Forum on BTA Bill No. 273, the Bangsamoro Indigenous Peoples Development Act of 2024, 8 May 2024 in Makati City.

IAG IP Code Forum


Good morning and welcome!


I am grateful for the presence of so many in this room from government, CSOs, advocacy groups, academe, the international community, and the delegation of leaders of non-Moro Indigenous Peoples all the way from the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). Your presence demonstrates not only your interest in understanding the issues around the legislation of the IP Code in the BARMM but more importantly your commitment to protect and advance the rights of the Non-Moro IPs in the Moro-dominated autonomous region.


There are two issues that pose a clear and present danger to the identity and ancestral domain of the Non-Moro IPs in the BARMM.


First, is the camp transformation program under the normalization track of the GPH-MILF peace process which seeks to transform former MILF camps into peaceful and productive communities. Two of these camps in Maguindanao del Sur --Camp Omar in the municipality of Datu Hoffer and Camp Bader in Datu Odin Sinsuat municipality are located in areas of NMIP communities and ancestral domain including Mt Firis which is the Teduray’s most sacred site. Displacements and violence against the NMIPs have been happening in these areas.


Second, is the legislation of the IP Code, the subject of our discussions this morning. With due respect to the members of the BTA which is legislating the IP Code, there are reasons to be wary that the final version of the IP Code can serve as the light at the end of the tunnel in the long-standing struggle of the Non-Moro IPs for the recognition of their distinct identity from the Moro majority and the titling of their ancestral domain. The major source of concern is that the BTA that is legislating the IP Code issued on May 23, 2022, Resolution No. 38 “Protesting the Delineation process in Maguindanao province urging the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) to Cease and Desist the delineation process and the proceeding for the issuance of the Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title in the province of Maguindanao, Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao."


The NMIPs are in this perilous situation in the BARMM because their ancestral domain protected by the Philippines Constitution and the IPRA are in direct collision with the MILF’s position that there is only one ancestral domain in the Bangsamoro that is the Moro Ancestral domain and all IP’s share in this one ancestral domain. This position was not adopted in the CAB. On the contrary, the CAB and the BOL that translated the CAB into the Organic Law of the BARMM, guarantee that in the BARMM, the identity and ancestral domain of the NMIPs are fully protected, that IPRA remains enforceable and any regional law such as the IP Code must not diminish rights of IP’s in the autonomous region under international conventions, the Philippine Constitution, the Bangsamoro Organic Law and other national laws.


But these guarantees on the NMIPs remain on paper. Why is this so? Because in the last 5 years of the transition period, the national government, for the sake of “peace” has not invoked and exercised the President’s power of general supervision which is a power under the Constitution to ensure that the BARMM regional government acts in accordance with law. Under this policy environment, MILF-led BTA are able to include in regional legislations original positions of the MILF in the negotiations which were not adopted in the CAB. This has resulted in the string of petitions in the Supreme Court against the major legislations of the BTA such as the regional electoral Code and the Local Government Code.


IAG is of the belief that considering the current context by which the IP Code is legislated, it is not the MILF-led BTA, but the national government and to a certain extent the international community that supports the peace process, that hold the key to ensuring that the NMIP does not end up as the sacrificial lambs to attain “peace” in Mindanao. For what kind of peace is attained when fundamental human rights especially of the minority continue to be trampled upon and policies and institutions are built not upon the rule of law but the threat of war?


I wish you an enlightening, provocative and productive session today.


Thank you and good morning.