V. IP's, poverty alleviation and environmental protection: links and connections Across Asia Indigenous and Local communities share a common situation where traditional resource use and land tenure arrangements are not recognized, often undermined and labeled as “unscientific” and primitive, and at times directly challenged and opposed by competing interests such as commercial enterprises including as mining and logging interests and pressure groups. The access of local communities and Indigenous groups over land, seas and natural resources have gradually
decreased and become limited while control over the same have been partially or completely been transferred to non-traditional resource managers led by the state and at times private individuals and entities including NGOs. In most cases, local and Indigenous communities have been completely disempowered where the dominant societies have been successful in imposing other resource-use and tenurial arrangements through legal decrees or at times by physical force and occupation of traditional territories. As can be expected, this has resulted into extreme poverty and further deepening the societal divide, the propensity of conflict has increased more because of the tremendous population growth that the country has seen in the last couple of decades. The continuing demand for land and access to natural resources in order to support the domestic demand and western economies has had a dramatic impact on the country’s environment. Competition for arable land has become more intense . Currently it is estimated that there are already 25 Million people (29% of the population of 84 M.) in the uplands where most of the remaining forests and environmentally critical areas are located. What is alarming is that the increase in upland population (est. at 10%/annum) is mainly due to migration. Furthermore, most newly established communities are located close to a forestland. These new settlements do not offer any viable livelihood opportunity except those which are directly dependent on the forest resources. Much of the blame for the tenurial insecurity of Indigenous communities can be pinned on state policies which invariably attempt to fully control all utilization and access to the natural resources. The Revised forestry Code of the Philippines or PD 705 had the dubious distinction of crimininalizing any occupation and habitation in all forestlands of the Philippines. Under this regime, forest resources are under the full control of the state where all processing, distribution and utilization of the forest and its resources was the exclusive domain of the Government. Sadly, the Government mindset which created such a policy environment prevails in spite of the enactment of IPRA.
However, state controlled forest and natural resource management has miserably failed in the Philippines and in most countries in the region. The forest cover in the Philippines has declined at an uncontrollable rate in the past 5 decades, the 2/3 of the country’s forest cover was cut. This rate of destruction ranks among the highest rate of forest destruction in the world. Moreover, the unabated influx of migrants into traditional territories and the concomitant rapid exploitation of natural resources have reached a degree where the survival of indigenous communities as distinct groups in the country is in question. 5 Securing tenure over the land seas and other natural resources lies at the heart of the Indigenous Communities demands at the local level all the way to their advocacy in the Global arena. Their lack of control, access over natural resources and non recognition and respect of their rights over their territories affect their daily lives , cause extreme poverty and impact on their survival as a distinct community. Thus, in the past 10 years, the demand for tenure over land and resources has been the central feature of at least 143 declarations of Indigenous Peoples worldwide.