FPIC NEGOTIATIONS: How to Make It Work for Everyone

FPIC is critical process that protects the rights of our country’s indigenous peoples over their ancestral domain. That is why it is disturbing to note that 80% of Memorandum of Agreements (MOA) signed following an FPIC process in the country are not implemented. This data comes from a study made by the GIZ in 2013 of FPIC processes in the Philippines.

The FPIC is a mechanism created by law under the Republic Act No. 8371 (also known as the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act IPRA of 1997) that is envisioned to empower people. More specifically, it used the word “self-determination” as the key principle guiding the law.

The CoRe Group has worked on several pre-FPIC processes across the country.  Mostly, our work was geared towards building the relationships between company, community and the local government. The goal of our programs is not directly to get a positive FPIC result but to generate genuine participation from all parties by creating a venue for active engagement and collaboration. Here are four key observations gathered from our work:

  1. The NCIP is a key player to the process so they must receive ample support. It is important to note that the law mandates the NCIP to protect the rights of the indigenous peoples particularly through processes that affect ancestral domain. We recognize this mandate so we see the NCIP as a critical player in all of the work we do. The facilitator role of NCIP in the FPIC process is one that we, as professional facilitators, deeply respect so we take on a role that supports, rather than supersedes, this function. It is disheartening to hear government personnel talk about limited resources that consequently limit their capacities. It is not about lack of talent or heart because our dealings with them for the past decade tell us that they have both. Given the necessary tools and opportunities, they do inspiring work! Take the example of the NCIP official who led the indigenous peoples groups of Tinongdan in creating their Ancestral Domain Site Management and Use Plan (SMUP), a 300-plus page printed document outlining development plans covering various sectors like livelihood, culture, peace and order. Under the chapter on culture, one aspect that the people of Tinongdan deemed as a priority, I was in awe to see a comprehensive listing of traditional musical instruments, songs, dances, stories, rituals, clothing, etc. It served as a checklist of which items were on hand set aside for preservation and how they intend to find those that were not available. A wonderful example of what people can accomplish when they work together towards a common goal.
  2. Common goal is paramount to success. I underlined the word “common” in the previous paragraph to note the importance of identifying the common interests of all parties. It may seem simple enough to achieve in normal circumstances but put it in a complex setting where you have (1) several tribes each with their own beliefs, demands, traditional practices, and a whole myriad of very distinct problems to solve; (2) a private entity with its own corporate goals, organizational culture and operating policies that its employees have to maneuver through; (3) local government units with its own development agenda that must cover all residents – ethnic groups, non-ethnic groups, migrants, investors, etc – respecting laws and policies coming from the national government, provincial government, government agencies and their own legislative bodies. In many situations, to define it as complex is an understatement.  Now, picture yourself in a room of 20 to 40 leaders representing these groups who truly believe that their interests deserve more weight than others. Such discussions turn into a fight over entitlements. “We are entitled to 100% of the proceeds because this is our land. The land of our ancestors!” says the tribal elder. “The government should manage all of the funds to ensure that everybody gets their fair share and it is used for development.” explains the LGU official. “We are investing millions, even billions, for national development. We can invest elsewhere. Your government invited us to invest here so can bring development to your area and provide for your future generations. We will hire your people. We will give you livelihood programs.” says the company consultant.  With no relationship built, more specifically no trust established and possibly even no respect shared, it will be nearly impossible to come up with a set of goals that are common to all. This brings me to the third observation – trust building is possible.
  3. Trust building is possible. It is sad to observe that trust is rarely found when we first meet with groups, whether from the company, community and LGU. They don’t trust each other and, more importantly, they don’t trust us. The community people see us as individuals from Manila who have no clue of who they are and what they want. The company does its background checks on us making sure that we are not a hard-line NGO that is anti everything. The LGU keeps a close watch on us looking for signs that we might stir problems in their town. These actions are both expected and respected. But for any trust building exercise to begin, it is our first task at the CoRe Group to build peoples trust in us and, more importantly, in the process that we bring. “It’s often all right in the beginning that people don’t trust each other, even us. What’s important is that they trust in the PROCESS because this process is founded on the principles of transparency, respect, candor and, more importantly, self-determination. Participation in this process and compliance to an agreed set of norms, may often serve as that gesture of goodwill that we need for that first step towards trust building.” explains Tristan Besa, President of the CoRe Group.
  4. Build relationships early on. So much can be achieved once you’ve built that trust. Negotiations are arrived at faster. Decisions are made and implemented more efficiently. Essentially, we make our lives less complicated if we begin to build the relationships first.  This observation is more directed to the company. We normally enter the scene when complications have occurred whether it be a complaint filed by the community against the company or the LGU or when negotiations reach a stalemate. Such complaints or stalements often occur because of lack of a positive relationship that parties can build on. It is unfortunate that relationship building is not a key skill of engineers.Here some of what we have heard over the years: “They have no respect over us. They just walk over my property, stepping on my plants, without permission. They just do what they want!” and “Why do we need to wear an ID when this is our land! The company only rents this land from us. They do not own it! We own it!” and “Their engineers think that they know more about our land than we do!” Companies have disregarded complaints from community members as irrational ranting of an old man or a simple situation blown over to create controversy and put pressure on the company. A company executive relates “in hindsight, we could have sent our community relations people together with our engineers on day 1 of this project. The team may have offended people along the way that is now causing us these problems. Our engineers were focused on the technical aspect. They may not have meant disrespect but they did so unknowingly.” Companies have later come to understand that ignoring statements like these have actually resulted to tensions. The good news is that people are forgiving when they recognize genuine willingness to make amends.

Ultimately, the FPIC process is a human process. It may be mandated by law and prescribed on paper but behind it are people.

(Written by Mia Theresa Quiaoit-Corpus.  September 2017)

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