The history of the Philippines is a history of colonization, resettlement and battles over who will rule the land.
First the Spanish, then the Americans, then the Japanese, and now multinational corporations have at one time or another dominated the Filipino landscape. Each wave of colonization has forced people off more land, creating a domino effect across the 7,000 islands. Resettlement in turn, has created even more pressure on successive islands as settlers move in, pushing even more people out.
Today, despite continued widespread poverty across the Philippines, Indigenous tribe members remain the most marginalized sector of Philippine society.
In a country of 76.5 million people, almost 20 per cent are Indigenous peoples. They belong to at least 32 different ethnolinguistic groups. More than half are on Mindanao, the largest southern island.
Over the last century, Indigenous peoples have lost their traditional lands, as the logging industry, ranchers and large plantations have forcibly taken over lands, piece by piece.
Much like in other parts of the world, the land was won parcel by parcel. Original verbal agreements were made and often respected between individual ranchers and Tribe leaders to "borrow" land from the Tribe. But the agreements were quickly forgotten when the rancher died. Over the years, the land was then resold without the Tribes' consent.
And then, under the Marcos regime, Indigenous people suffered along with farmers, as massive tracts of land were appropriated for the dictator and his cronies. When Marcos was finally thrown out by a people's revolt, and flown out on a U.S. helicopter, successive democratic governments introduced multiple land reforms intended to redistribute the land justly, but none of these reforms ever really worked.
On the ground level, corruption and misuse of power prevented the land from being rationed and made accessible to the people the reforms were intended to help.
Meanwhile, the land reforms were intended to help the peasants and the fact that many of the lands in question were Indigenous Ancestral domains was never addressed.
Mindanao is rich in natural resources - some of the world's last ancient rainforests, fertile soils, underground treasures of gold, an abundancy of fish — all now under the threat of overdevelopment.
In 1997, the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act was signed into law. The law is explicit on the Indigenous peoples' right to ancestral lands. But this has not become operational to date. This fact is exacerbated by the present government's industrialization thrust and commitment to globalization. Tribal lands, thus, are being continually opened for extractive business.