Paper presented at the Lecture Series on Federalism, House of Representatives, Quezon City, 2 August 2016


The Constitutional Context


Immediately, we ask: What does the 1987 Constitution say about territorial units of governance? Let us begin, for proper context, with Article I. The national territory comprises the Philippine archipelago, with all the islands and waters embraced therein, and all other territories over which the Philippines has sovereignty or jurisdiction, consisting of its terrestrial, fluvial, and aerial domains, including the territorial seas, the seabed, the subsoil, the insular shelves, and other submarine areas. The waters ,around and connecting the islands of the archipelago, regardless of their breadth and dimensions form part of the internal waters of the Philippines.


This national territory, with the dispute over Sabah still unresolved and the western maritime boundaries, under contestation, has different territorial and political subdivisions. Section 1, Article X of the Constitution says: The territorial and political subdivisions of the Philippines are the provinces, cities, municipalities and barangays. There shall be autonomous regions in Muslim Mindanao and the Cordilleras as hereinafter provided.


As of today, the Central Cordilleras of Northern Luzon is still only an administrative region having failed to ratify its Organic Act on two attempts. The only autonomous region now is the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which is governed by Republic Act 9054, an Organic Act. (A Bangsamoro Basic Law, or BBL, which was the result of peace negotiations between the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, or MILF, failed to pass during the last Congress. The bill was meant to replace RA 9054.)


In 1997, Philippine Congress enacted the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA). As a matter of state policy, “(t)he State shall recognize and promote all the rights of Indigenous Cultural Communities/Peoples (ICCs/IPs) herein enumerated within the framework of the Constitution. Among these rights are rights to self-governance within the ancestral domain. In this regard, the ICCs/IPs, are expected to document their indigenous knowledge systems and practices (IKSPs), strengthen their indigenous political structures, and formulate their respective Ancestral Domain Sustainable Development and Protection Plan (ADSDPP). According to the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), there are already 5, 110, 393 hectares covered by Certificates of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT).


A Brief Historical Note


As shown above, the national territory of the Republic of the Philippines, is the political unit of national governance, within which are provinces, cities, municipalities, barangays, and one autonomous region. By virtue of RA 8371 (IPRA) ancestral domains, and especially those covered by CADTs, are also territorial units of governance. The boundaries of most of the territorial and political units tend to coincide with certain cultural characteristic acquired through centuries of history and ecological adaptations, and, primarily, with a specific language. Of special significance are the territories being claimed as “autonomous regions” and “ancestral domains”. Before the 1970s, claims and struggles for some form of autonomy, or even independence were mobilized under conditions of power asymmetries and economic inequalities. With the spread of human rights movements worldwide, groups that saw themselves as peoples (with widely shared features such as language, customary law, indigenous religiosity, kinship system, and on their worldview particularly in relation to nature; in the case of the Moro people, Islam became the primary basis of unity), these struggles became couched in terms of rights, the struggle for the right to self-determination. The incorporation of the struggle of peoples into the struggle for human rights led to a consideration of, and later, the need for a legal regime to protect the rights to be won. Hence, the need for a legally-defined territory for self-governance.


Still, the question must be asked: Is political identity based on ethnolinguistic attributes really necessary in the consideration of political boundaries for multi-level governance within the nation-state? Phrased another way, what drives ethnolinguistic groups, as collective identities-in-themselves, become collective identities-for-themselves to the extent of engaging in long, drawn-out struggles (either armed or unarmed) to have their own legally recognized territories for self-governance?


It seems a simple question that easily leads to straightforward answer, or answers. But the fact that this identity-driven political phenomenon persists and keeps on appearing in various forms worldwide suggests a much more complex phenomenon. As my share in this lecture series, I propose to elaborate on some points mentioned above from an anthropological perspective, that is, from a study of human beings as biological and socio-cultural beings.


The Problem from an Anthropological Perspective


Based on available evidence of archaeology and ethnography (subdisciplines of anthropology), the question is as old as the story of humankind itself, much of which remains to be told. It will suffice for now to trace the main evolutionary process relevant to a holistic and deeper understanding of our present institutional crisis. For as one anthropologist ( Pfeiffer 1977) concluded from his study of the archaeological and ethnographic evidence, every institution, every set of rules designed to create and maintain order, increased the risk of disorder. However, it can also be argued from the same body of anthropological and ethnographic evidence, supplemented by historical studies, that in the evolutionary process, probabilistic as it is, with no predetermined directionality, there have also been long periods of institutional stability, and therefore, of stable social order (Tattersall 2006;Trigger 1995; others to be supplied).


Some 30-70,000 years or so ago, members of the animal species characterized primarily by a large brain relative to the other parts of the body, and now taxonomically known as homo sapiens underwent a “cognitive revolution” (Harari 2011). This means that after thousands of years of biologically adapting to the changing environment, which included changes in the diet, they acquired the capacity to learn, think and, with the acquisition of language, communicate much more effectively. This “acquisition of symbolic-centered cognitive processes” (Tattersall 2006) brought about radical changes in the relationships between human groups with the natural environment, with other human groups and with imagined worlds of other beings. They acquired detailed local ecological knowledge for survival and reproduction. With population growth and the increasing complexity of social relations there emerged social institutions. Sociality, or the capability to form social groups for various purposes, extended beyond immediate relations based on blood (consanguinal kins) to other kinds of relationship now referred to as economic, political, religious, etc. kinship and religion. These rule-governed processes are also referred to as institution, or as defined by one economist (North), institutions are the “rules of the game.”


As revealed by the archaeological records, personal ornaments and artifacts indicative of group life and public rituals emerged as personal and/or group markers and boundaries that help regulate interpersonal and social life. Such markers and boundaries helped provide some predictability to daily interactions which could shift from relations of cooperation to conflict, subject to restoration depending on changing circumstances and the competencies of those involved. Concomitant with these processes was the emergence of defensive territoriality, most dramatically shown by intergroup raiding and warfare and the building of walls, some of which date back to about 5000 years ago. In short, as pointed out above, institutions emerge and disappear; rules are made and broken. And made again. And so on.


Today we are witnessing a global institutional crisis. Presumably mature democracies and economies are getting dysfunctional enriching only a few while the vast majority remain poor. And, in spite of the vast ecological knowledge now accessible for sustainable living, or sustainable development, the natural environment is becoming highly and rapidly degraded , biodiversity loss goes unabated and anthropogenic global warming continues to worsen. Much of these environmental problems are attributed largely to neoliberal capitalist globalization (Klein 2014; various authors). This shows that the not-so-invisible hand of capitalist marker forces is winning over rational decision-making underpinned by rich ecological knowledge and desirable values such as social justice and democracy.


Seen against the long-term institutional processes of emergence and disappearance, the present institutional and environmental crises and the accompanying burst of ostensibly identity-driven desire for legally-bounded territory for collective autonomy or independence in various places worldwide, the Philippines included, strongly suggests that there is an urgent need to usher in a new cognitive revolution. The first cognitive revolution came about as a result of thousands of years of human biological evolution. The new cognitive revolution must now come from a cultural revolution duly informed by greater scientific understanding of probabilistic and paradoxical human nature now within a rapidly changing world. As such, it becomes, self-conscious process appropriate to the risks and challenges of the increasingly much more complex relationships of the natural environment, ecological knowledge systems, and various social institutions of cooperation and conflict. But this time, the cognitive revolution will be waged beyond the limited territories of bands of hunter-gatherers and preliterate tribes. It must be waged on all local and national habitats within the global or earth ecosystem. For concrete results, this global multi-level cognitive revolution requires concerted actions of planning and implementation to bring about more enduring effective and efficient institutions for territorial autonomy of various groups. In this undertaking, it is necessary to take into account the diversity, strength and weaknesses of various groups, i.e. their evolving capabilities for human survival, reproduction and well-being. One anthropologist speaks of the "planning imperative" (Trigger 1995). These would mean drawing plans that are adequately informed by viable lessons from the past, or "deep human history", as another anthropologist puts it (Gamble 2014). It also means looking at principles of replicability of "best practices" of diverse human groups living in the contemporary and highly turbulent intersection of the natural environment, ecological knowledge systems and social institutions.


(In the international context, and especially in light of the ongoing maritime dispute between RP and the People's Republic of China, we also say that the Philippine Republic is the territorial and political unit of the peoples of the Philippines.)


The Philippine Case


In the Philippines, there appears to be an on-going cognitive revolution, a new way of rethinking, reasoning, and communicating among ourselves on how to slice this archipelagic territory into appropriate sub-units of governance. It is said that the first cognitive revolution resulted in the capability to learn and think about and communicate choices about security and freedom to forage and hunt for, and later, to settle down and cultivate crops and to look for mates. It brought about the need for territorial defense against raids by neighboring groups. Raiding takes place for food, mates and including fellow humans for sacrificial rituals. Later with some specialization in food production, exchange institutions emerged.


While the present situation is much more complex now, there is no reason for being unable to have a wide array of needed appropriate institutions. With advances in the human cognitive capability, we should be able to agree on the right mix of institutions (rules) that are supportive of achieving common goals.


An immediate challenge to this admittedly platitudinous statement is the fact that there are already initiatives to amend the 1987 Constitution specifically to alter the form of government from unitary to federal. From an anthropological perspective, what territorial units, natural features and demographic characteristics should take priority? Is it necessarily the case that cultural features such as language, customary law and religion should coincide with territorial boundaries, as in the case of the autonomous regions and the ancestral domains? Or is it simply the case of having multifunctional boundaries over the same territory? The first cognitive revolution and the first defensive and protective boundaries created by human beings ensured individual survival and social reproduction. This strongly suggests the imperative to create institutions for survival and sustainability. Efforts towards some kind of "sustainable development" were much in evidence globally and here in the Philippines during the early 1990s in the wake of the Rio Summit. Some efforts still continue under the aegis of the United Nations. But so much remains to be done.


Sustainable human survival, at any ecological and political level, requires strong institutions, leadership and citizenship competencies. In multilevel governance, each level requires appropriate oversight or supervisory functions, as a hedge against the emergence of potentially destabilizing and ecology-degrading political and economic asymmetries or imbalances. In this regard, the case of IPs/ICCs may be an exception and also an example of one path to sustainable living. IPs/ICCs claim self-governance so that they can continue to build upon, and benefit from, their sustainable local or indigenous knowledge systems and practices in the present context of the global environmental problems. IP/ICC motivated by sustainability values and are actually practitioners of sustainable living deserve to have their boundary claims legally entrenched. But the law, e.g., IPRA must be properly implemented to provide adequate protection against institutions of the state and the market that have been shown to threaten the sustainability of the indigenous way of life, itself undergoing transformation, this time, as determined by the IPs/ICCs themselves.


Similarly, the Bangsamoro claim to a territory of their own is a claim to sustainability., i.e. to survival and social reproduction as Muslims collectively committed to an enduring regime of social justice, peace and development. By all means, a mix of institutions with capability development for effective leadership and competent citizenship should be put in place through processes that help ensure their proper implementation. Lessons from past efforts of entrenching an appropriate legal framework for autonomous governance point out, most notably, the inadequacy of building an effective constituency supportive of the peace process prepared to accompany the process through all the uncertainties and risks.


Concluding Remarks


As of now, the desire for autonomous governance continues to rage in many parts of the world even as other units of governance seek some form of integration. Stripped of rhetoric, the current desire for territorial autonomy appears to be nothing more than the latest expression of the human need for food security, individual freedom with freedom of association to achieve common values and goals, group and protected or defended territory that will ensure control, access and use of its resources. These later manifestations are taking place in the current turbulent intersection of: 1) the earth ecosystem and its subsystems; 2) detailed knowledge of local, national and global ecosystems which are becoming more precarious by the day; and 3) growing population and increasing complexity of social relations and institutions.


Does this suggest another cognitive revolution, along with the appropriate socio-cultural revolution? Or is this already on-going on a piecemeal basis needing only more determined appropriate steps to make it a generalized revolution for human survival, in its various socio-cultural forms? I’d like to think that at various levels, in various parts of the world, there are on-going cognitive and socio-cultural revolutions within different territorial boundaries, united by thinking of, and imagining, the planet Earth as the ultimate boundary. (Although no longer true considering initiatives to settle other planets.)