LONG before nails, nuts and bolts were introduced as a device to connect building materials, houses in the upland villages were built without them. Cordillera’s practice of forest management and communal utilization of natural resources for example has been part of the way of life hereabouts. Irrigation systems existed following the law of gravity and village folks even opposed the construction of dams. The practice of embalming or preventing a dead body from decay which we know as mummification was devoid of chemicals and other scientific processes.

We haven’t read or heard much about it but there are certain cultures that seek for the recognition of their indigenous knowledge systems and practices and Philippines is one.

The world over seeks to recognize indigenous tribal laws and the United Nations Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states that Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) is one of the most important principles that Indigenous Peoples believe can protect their right to participation. It further states that this is embedded in the right to self-determination.

Oxfam America, a global organization that work with people in more than 90 countries to create lasting solutions to right the wrongs of poverty, hunger, and injustice came up with a briefing paper on the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act of the Philippines. It observes that the country’s indigenous peoples have made significant strides in their efforts to protect their ancestral domains and their identities.

In 1997, the Philippines Congress enacted the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act1 (IPRA) which recognizes indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination and provides mechanisms for the protection of indigenous ancestral domains and all resources therein. The IPRA adopted the concept of “free and prior informed consent” (FPIC) as a means to protect indigenous rights and interests and give them a voice in matters that affect them. FPIC in this context requires that indigenous communities be provided with adequate and accessible information, and that consensus is determined in accordance with indigenous peoples’ customary laws and practices and free from any external manipulation or coercion. The IPRA requires FPIC prior to the extraction of resources from indigenous ancestral domains and lands. When implemented effectively, FPIC represents a critical tool in the realization of indigenous self determination, promoting community participation in decision-making and mitigating the risk of social conflict around natural resource projects.

In the municipality of Balbalan, Kalinga, local official enacted a local ordinance regulating the entry of researchers and charges fees to individuals intending to conduct a study in this gold-rich municipality.

Under said ordinance, individuals with intention to research on culture, arts, environment, governnance, and small-scale mining within the jurisdiction of Balbalan LGU shall register, state their purpose and secure permit from the local chief executive. The ordinance invokes the rights of indigenous peoples including their customs and traditions. It further states that researchers shall seek approval of their research from the Sangguniang Bayan before its publication.

According to the report of Peter Balocnit of the Philippine Information Agency-Kalinga, any person violating the ordinance shall be fined P2, 500.00 and will be declared “persona non grata” and therefore banned from future visit to the place. Following the concept of Balbalan LGU, FPIC serves as a tool which can be used as a defense mechanism in the face of threats to land, life and resources.

It is a tribal consensus that is determined in accordance with customary law which is free from external manipulation, interference and coercion. FPIC can only be obtained and granted after fully disclosing the intent and scope of an activity, in a language and process understandable to the community. The filming of Walang Rape sa Bontoc that also gained local controversy because of its title was subjected to certain provisions under FPIC. This along the La Presa television series has actually set a precedent in the field of popular media that not any Tom, Dick and Harry can just go to a certain locality populated by IPs and take moving pictures, conduct interviews and market the material without seeking permission. In the same manner that a wedding videographer cannot just make use of his client’s moving images for his personal MTV project and upload it in popular multi-media sites. Much more, sell it as a digital disc.