The Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) was signed into law on October 29, 1997 by then President Fidel V. Ramos. It was hailed as landmark legislation by government, civil society and international community. The Bill that came to be known as IPRA took 10 years to pass Congress, from 1987 until 1997. It underwent innovative indigenous property concepts enshrined in the 1987 Constitution. Finally, the legislative measure authored by Senator Juan M. Flavier in 1995 withstood the numerous popular consultation, legislative deliberations, plus a decade of consolidated bills related to ancestral domain and lands. In the process, the Philippines was commended by the United Nations and International IP advocates for accomplishing the legal breakthrough, the first for any State, during the International Decade of Indigenous Peoples (1995-2004).
Republic Act No. 8371 was enacted to recognize, protect, and promote the rights of indigenous cultural communities/indigenous peoples and to create the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, as well as to establish implementing mechanisms and appropriate funds for these purposes. It is the embodiment of the rights and aspiration of Indigenous Peoples which are as follows:

  • Rights to Ancestral Domains/Ancestral Lands – covers the rights of ownership and possession of ICCs/IPs to their ancestral domains shall be recognized and protected.
  • Rights to Self-Governance and Empowerment – recognizes the inherent right of ICCs/IPs to Self-governance and self-determination and respects the integrity of their values, practices and institutions. Consequently, the state shall guarantee the right of ICCs/IPs freely pursue thier economic, social and cultural development.
  • Social Justice and Human Rights – ensures that the employment of any form or coercion against ICCs/IPs shall be dealt with by law.
  • Cultural Integrity – includes respect, recognition and protection of ICCs/IPs to preserve and protect their culture, traditions and institutions. It shall consider these rights in the formulation and application of national plans and policies.

The advent of the IPRA Law has overshadowed speculations and unfounded doubts that the tribal peoples and communities in the Philippines are abandoned or neglected and that they are only meant to exist outside the periphery of development, much less a part of national life. IPs are randomly distributed all over the archipelago and are beginning to exercise their rights under IPRA.

Considering the heavy focus on community empowerment and upland development by the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, also an IPRA co-author, the IPs are transformed into major players and partners in nation development. The government has allocated scarce resources for ancestral domain delineation and basic social services. The Donor Community has pledged to extend financial aid for livelihood and community empowerment on a need driven basis. Meanwhile, IPs/ICCs, have started to assess local resources as their counterpart in holistic development initiatives, in several cases, in partnership with local government units and civil society. These trends signal that IPRA implementation would be a tremendous, long-term collective endeavor in the context of cultural integrity.