On the occasion of the celebration of the INTERNATIONAL YEAR OF THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLES proclaimed on December 10 of last year by the United Nations Organization, the church of the Philippines wishes to reiterate its solidarity with the nation ‘s indigenous cultural communities in their struggle to be recognized as distinct peoples – yet as Filipinos. These communities are found in the hinterlands of Mindanao and Luzon (the Cordilleras especially), in the island of Mindoro and parts of the Visayas.

Their cultures antedate the coming to our shores of Islam and Christianity and the establishment of the Philippine State.

In their world view, they look at themselves as one with the land, one with their ancestral domain. This domain includes burial sites, forests, rivers, pasture lands, not only fields and residential sites.

Basic to the notion of ancestral domain is the communal ownership of land, a system of land holding which is based on usufructuary rights. Working on the land not only establishes legal and spiritual relationships with it but also creates obligations which ensure the protection of the land for future generations.

Swidden farming, the common mode of agriculture among them, is often looked at as destructive and wasteful of land resources. But when practiced with all its traditional safeguards, it actually is most conducive to ecological balance and sustainable development.

The Church deplores and condemns the present treatment by government and big business of the indigenous peoples in their disregard of the latter’s rights to their ancestral domain. It borders at times on the dehumanizing.

Thus, the imposition without exception of the system of private ownership of land through the Torrens Title destroys their tradition of – and right to – communal ownership. It is a form of land-grabbing. So are the establishment of mines and geothermal plants, the building of dams, timber concessions, agri-business, in once forested areas. Under the guise of progress and development, their intrusion into the indigenous peoples’ ancestral domain forcibly erodes their sacred traditions and cultures.

Their right to autonomy and self-determination within the sovereignty of the Philippine State must be honored. The Church hence deplores the inaction of Congress in passing adequate legislation (like House Bill no. 33881) that respects and protects this right.

The Church assures the indigenous peoples of the Philippines that in its evangelizing work among them it will strive to respect their cultures and traditions, learn from their values in regard to harmony with nature, engaging them in a dialogue of faith as it works together with them for a form and mode of development that will preserve and enhance their human dignity and cultural identity (cf. PCP-II, Acts and Decrees, no. 379).

The Church, finally, urges legislators and development planners, in drawing up policies and programs, to always keep in mind the promotion and protection of the interests of our indigenous people in the area of economic development, cultural preservation, and participation in political decisions.

For and in the name of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines,


Bishop of Butuan

President, CBCP

January 25, 1993

Tagaytay City