Throughout Philippine history, the political attitude towards indigenous peoples and their rights have undergone many changes. During the colonial period, from 1521, indigenous peoples who were not assimilated into Christianity were then called and identified as the ―non-Christian‖ or savage tribes, and thus ―are the less enlightened minorities of our population‖.
Since the declaration of Philippine independence in 1898, it was only in the 1973 Constitution where indigenous peoples found their place in the country‘s national framework. The provision in the Philippine Constitution was intended to authorize special treatment of those Filipinos comprising the cultural minorities in the country. The clear intent, in the context of the Constitution viewed in its entirety, is to create an exception to uniformity of treatment under law mandated under the standard of ―equal protection of the laws‖. The policy of the Government was ―to integrate into the mainstream of Philippine society certain ethnic groups who seek full integration into the larger community, and at the same time protect the rights of those who wish to preserve their original life ways beside that larger community.‖
The ratification of the 1987 Constitution saw the change in government policy from one of ‗integration‘ to ‗recognition‘ of indigenous peoples rights. As a matter of policy, the State recognizes and promotes the rights of indigenous cultural communities within the framework of national unity and development. To this end, the State shall protect the rights of indigenous cultural communities to their ancestral lands to ensure their economic, social and cultural well-being. The recognition of IP rights are, however, subject to national development policies and programs.
One policy that the Philippines had not changed since its 1935 Constitution is the so-called Regalian Doctrine. Under this doctrine, all lands of the public domains, and natural resources are owned by the State. With the exception of agricultural lands, all other natural resources shall not be alienated. The exploration, development, and utilization of natural resources
shall be under the full control and supervision of the State. This legal doctrine recalls the time when all titles were valid only when it could be shown that it originated from a grant or sale from the Crown, or its conceptual heir, the State. Thus, even in those rare cases where indigenous peoples communities have managed to secure documents of title to their lands, they do not, by virtue of that title acquire ownership or control of the natural resources found within the titled land. This problem is further complicated by the fact that the government‘s awards of resource rights through licenses, leases or permits, or current production sharing, joint-venture or co-production agreements are given to persons, natural or juridical, who are not residents of the area, thereby setting the stage for social conflict at the community level. The declaration of ownership of the State of all lands of the public domain and all natural resources, from the 1935 to the 1987 Constitution could not mean absolute ownership simply by operation of law, as this would place such State in direct contradiction to the guarantee of due process as against actual owners, as interpreted in Cariňo.
Thus, despite ancestral domains being now understood as including natural resources, the application of the laws and the interpretation of the 1987 Constitution have limited the indigenous people‘s ownership of these natural resources to mere preferential rights to exploit, develop and use.
Cruz vs. Sec. of Environment G.R. No. 135385December 6, 2000
Cruz, a noted constitutionalist, assailed the validity of the RA 8371 or the Indigenous People‘s Rights Act on the ground that the law amount to an unlawful deprivation of the State‘s ownership over lands of the public domain as well as minerals and other natural resources therein, in violation
of the regalian doctrine embodied in Section 2, Article XII of the Constitution. The IPRA law basically enumerates the rights of the indigenous peoples over ancestral domains which may include natural resources. Cruz et al content that, by providing for an all-encompassing definition of ―ancestral domains‖ and ―ancestral lands‖ which might even include private lands found within said areas, Sections 3(a) and 3(b) of said law violate the rights of private landowners.
Whether or not the IPRA law is unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court deliberated upon the matter. After deliberation they voted and reached a 7-7 vote. They deliberated again and the same result transpired. Since there was no majority vote, Cruz‘s petition was dismissed and the IPRA law was sustained. Hence, ancestral domains may include natural resources.
RA 8371 known as Indigenous Peoples‘ Rights Act (IPRA) that grants to indigenous cultural communities the ownership of ancestral lands and domains held by them under native title are undisputably presumed private lands because they have been held that way since before the Spanish conquest or as far as memory reaches. The State by recognizing the right of tribal Filipinos to their ancestral lands and domains has effectively upheld their right to live in a culture distinctly their own as enunciated in Article III of the Constitution, hence, the IPRA Law is in consonance with and not violative of the Constitution. (Cruz vs. Sec. of DENR, et al., 347 SCRA 128)