Ancestral Lands and Ancestral Domains in the Philippines: A Primer

One of the bigger issues for the past couple of days is the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on Ancestral Domain (for the Bangsamoro People in certain parts of Mindanao) between the Philippine Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Petitions have been filed with the Supreme Court assailing the validity of the MOA, so we could not really discuss it. Let’s have a general discussion on ancestral lands and ancestral domains.

Is there a Constitutional basis for ancestral domains?

Yes. Section 5 of Article XII of the Constitution provides:

The State, subject to the provisions of this Constitution and national development policies and programs, shall protect the rights of indigenous cultural communities to their ancestral lands to ensure their economic, social, and cultural well-being.

The Congress may provide for the applicability of customary laws governing property rights or relations in determining the ownership and extent of ancestral domain.

Is there any law which covers ancestral domains?

Yes. Under Republic Act No. 8371, also known as “The Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997,” the State recognizes and promotes certain rights of Indigenous Cultural Communities/Indigenous Peoples (ICCs/IPs) within the framework of the Constitution.

What is “Ancestral Domain”?

It refers to all areas generally belonging to ICCs/IPs comprising lands, inland waters, coastal areas, and natural resources therein, held under a claim of ownership, occupied or possessed by ICCs/IPs, by themselves or through their ancestors, communally or individually since time immemorial, continuously to the present except when interrupted by war, force majeure or displacement by force, deceit, stealth or as a consequence of government projects or any other voluntary dealings entered into by government and private individuals/corporations, and which are necessary to ensure their economic, social and cultural welfare. It shall include ancestral lands, forests, pasture, residential, agricultural, and other lands individually owned whether alienable and disposable or otherwise, hunting grounds, burial grounds, worship areas, bodies of water, mineral and other natural resources, and lands which may no longer be exclusively occupied by ICCs/IPs but from which they traditionally had access to for their subsistence and traditional activities, particularly the home ranges of ICCs/IPs who are still nomadic and/or shifting cultivators. It is subject to property rights within the ancestral domains already existing and/or vested upon effectivity of R.A. 8371.

What is “Ancestral Land”?

It refers to land occupied, possessed and utilized by individuals, families and clans who are members of the ICCs/IPs since time immemorial, by themselves or through their predecessors-in-interest, under claims of individual or traditional group ownership, continuously, to the present except when interrupted by war, force majeure or displacement by force, deceit, stealth, or as a consequence of government projects and other voluntary dealings entered into by government and private individuals/corporations, including, but not limited to, residential lots, rice terraces or paddies, private forests, swidden farms and tree lots. It is also subject to property rights within the ancestral domains already existing and/or vested upon effectivity of R.A. 8371.

What are the rights to Ancestral Domain?

Certain rights of ownership and possession of ICCs/IPs to their ancestral domains are recognized and protected, including the right:

  • 1. Of ownership. This includes lands, bodies of water traditionally and actually occupied by ICCs/IPs, sacred places, traditional hunting and fishing grounds, and all improvements made by them at any time within the domains.
  • 2. To develop, control and use lands and natural resources. This includes the right to negotiate the terms and conditions for the exploration of natural resources in the areas for the purpose of ensuring ecological, environmental protection and the conservation measures, pursuant to national and customary laws.
  • 3. To stay in the territories. No ICCs/IPs will be relocated without their free and prior informed consent, nor through any means other than eminent domain.
  • 4. To regulate entry of migrants. ICCs/IPs have the right to regulate the entry of migrant settlers and organizations into the domains.
  • 5. To claim parts of ancestral domains previously reserved for various purposes, except those reserved and intended for common and public welfare and service.
  • 6. To resolve land conflicts in accordance primarily with customary law.

Who has priority over natural resources within ancestral domains?

The ICCs/IPs shall have priority rights in the harvesting, extraction, development or exploitation of any natural resources within the ancestral domains. A non-member of the ICCs/IPs concerned may be allowed to take part in the development and utilization of the natural resources for a period of not exceeding twenty-five (25) years renewable for not more than twenty-five (25) years, provided that a formal and written agreement is entered into with the ICCs/IPs concerned or that the community, pursuant to its own decision making process, has agreed to allow such operation.

Do the ICCs/IPs have the righ to self-governance?

Yes. ICCs/IPs have the inherent right to self-governance and self-determination. The State respects the integrity of their values, practices and institutions. The State shall guarantee the right of ICCs/IPs to freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development. The ICCs/IPs shall have the right to use their own commonly accepted justice systems, conflict resolution institutions, peace building processes or mechanisms and other customary laws and practices within their respective communities and as be compatible with the national legal system and with internationally recognized human rights.

Are lands lands certified to be ancestral domains covered by real estate taxes?

These lands are exempt from real property taxes, special levies, and other forms of exaction except such portion of the ancestral domains as are actually used for large-scale agriculture, commercial forest plantation and residential purposes or upon titling by private persons.

What are the applicable laws?

Customary laws, traditions and practices of the ICCs/IPs of the land where the conflict arises shall be applied first with respect to property rights, claims and ownerships, hereditary succession and settlement of land disputes. Any doubt or ambiguity in the application and interpretation of laws shall be resolved in favor of the ICCs/IPs.

What is the process of delineation of ancestral domains?

The identification and delineation of ancestral domains shall be done in accordance with the following general procedure:

  • a. Petition for delineation. The process of delineating a specific perimeter may be initiated by the National Commission on Indigenous Cultural Communities/Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) with the consent of the ICC/IP concerned, or through a Petition for Delineation filed with the NCIP, by a majority of the members of the ICCs/IPs.
  • b. Delineation proper. The official delineation of ancestral domain boundaries including census of all community members therein, shall be immediately undertaken by the Ancestral Domains Office upon filing of the application by the ICCs/IPs concerned.
  • c. Preparation of maps. – On the basis of such investigation and the findings of fact based thereon, the Ancestral Domains Office of the NCIP shall prepare a perimeter map, complete with technical descriptions, and a description of the natural features and landmarks embraced therein.
  • d. Report of investigation and other documents. A complete copy of the preliminary census and a report of investigation, shall be prepared by the Ancestral Domains Office of the NCIP.
  • e. Notice and publication. A copy of each document, including a translation in the native language of the ICCs/IPs concerned shall be posted in a prominent place therein for at least 15 days. A copy of the document shall also be posted at the local, provincial and regional offices of the NCIP, and shall be published in a newspaper of general circulation once a week for 2 consecutive weeks to allow other claimants to file opposition thereto within 15 days from date of such publication. In areas where no such newspaper exists, broadcasting in a radio station will be a valid substitute. Mere posting shall be deemed sufficient if both newspaper and radio station are not available.
  • f. Endorsement to NCIP. Within 15 days from publication, and of the inspection process, the Ancestral Domains Office shall prepare a report to the NCIP endorsing a favorable action upon a claim that is deemed to have sufficient proof. However, if the proof is deemed insufficient, the Ancestral Domains Office shall require the submission of additional evidence. The Ancestral Domains Office shall reject any claim that is deemed patently false or fraudulent after inspection and verification.
  • g. Issuance of Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT). ICCs/IPs whose ancestral domains have been officially delineated and determined by the NCIP shall be issued a CADT in the name of the community concerned, containing a list of all those identified in the census.
  • h. Registration of CADTs. The NCIP shall register issued certificates of ancestral domain titles and certificates of ancestral lands titles before the Register of Deeds in the place where the property is situated.

What are not covered by this process?

The delineanation process shall not apply to ancestral domains/lands already delineated according to DENR Administrative Order No. 2, series of 1993, nor to ancestral lands and domains delineated under any other community/ancestral domain program prior to the enactment of R.A. 8371. ICCs/IPs whose ancestral lands/ domains were officially delineated prior to the enactment of the law shall have the right to apply for the issuance of a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) over the area without going through the process.


11 thoughts on “Ancestral Lands and Ancestral Domains in the Philippines: A Primer

  1. AvatarHerbert

    Good day Attorney,
    I’m a first year student of Environmental Science and I have a question regarding IPRA. If the IPs are given ownership of the ancestral domain, does that mean they have the prerogative to sell the land to private entities who could offer them a huge amount of money?

  2. Avatarnerveending

    Although I humbly defer to the opinion of my more seasoned colleague here, AFAIK once a parcel of land has been declared as ancestral domain or has been issued a CADT/CADC, then the said parcel of land is beyond the commerce of man. In other words, the IPs cannot just sell the land.

    1. AvatarRCB

      good day sir/maam

      what will be the effect if the the IPs who owns the land sold the property given to them by RA 8371 and the buyer is the one paying the tax declarations?

      as i read the law, lands of ancestral domain is exempt from taxes but the buyer is paying the taxes due to the LGU. So does it mean the classification of the said Ancestral property has been change?

  3. Avatarlady-jmenson

    good day attorney, i belong to IP’ father sold our land 21 years ago..that individual who bought told us that he has already provided a tittle for that land and at the same time he used one IP as the it posible for us to claim it back?

    1. AvatarAaron B

      good day attorney, i belong to IP’ father sold our land 21 years ago..that individual who bought told us that he has already provided a tittle for that land and at the same time he used one IP as the it posible for us to claim it back?

  4. AvatarClaire

    Good day attorney..Just want to ask if we can claim the land of our ancestors even if it was not declared or titled…but the only proof we have is the original mother map.. the name of our great grand father was there….someone applied for a part of that land for title and we just heard about it… we also just discovered that our great grand father have a parcel of land thats why the land is communal today… do we still have the right to fight for that land?Hoping for your response… it would be a great help for us… thank you…

    1. Avatarjhae

      Good day.I am on my debate piece right now should you give some reason why ancestral land should not return to IP’s.although it sounds ironic.please i need some idea.tnx

  5. Avatarturissa

    good day attorney,we have an ancestral lands inherited by our great mom sold and pawned some piece of land without as knowledge as children.can we do the claims thereafter?

  6. AvatarMarieta

    Have a great day,
    Attorney it’s all about the ancestral land owned by our friends some where in Palawan Philippines. The Barangay and Municipal Officials agreed to have mining in the place with out consultation nor any agreement in between indigenous people living in the place. Friends (IP’s) are asking to us about their rights because they don’t want to have mining in their area / ancestral land.

  7. AvatarRakman

    I respectfully submitted our case pertains to ANCESTRAL LAND identify and described as LOT 26, SWO-17260 containing an area of six(600) hundred hectares located at now Barangays Impao, Mapantig and Dansuli, all in the municipality of Isulan, Sultan Kudarat. The said Ancestral Land was under the possession and control of our late grandfather DATU TALIPASAN IMPAO since before 2nd World War as evidenced by the Surveyed conducted by Bureau of Lands, Tacurong in 1941 and the survey plan was approved by Bureau of Lands, Manila in 1956. When the chaos brought about lawless elements of ILAGA, all the occupants of said Ancestral Land were forced to abandon their respective area of occupation and at the present, said Ancestral Land was converted by Bureau of Lands, now CENRO Tacurong City into a PUBLIC LAND , and later became PRIVATE PROPERTY owned by certain individual. The worst is the original claimant of the said ANCESTRAL LAND (LOT 26, SWO-17260) was deprived from said Ancestral Land..
    We asking the Legal assistance from the government that Laws on Ancestral Land be applied to our Ancestral Land , so that our Ancestral Land be restored to us.

  8. AvatarAinos

    We have a piece of land that belongs to my grand father, he did not leave a will.. he had 9 kids.. the original house that stood there was old and run down, so my dad completely destroyed the house and built a brand new house.. a verbal consent was given by his siblings and gave their blessing to do this.. my dad used his own money to build the new house, he followed all the rules, no one contested.. 10 years later, they are now claiming as co owners claiming that that house is their ancestral house, the house is brand new, is it still considered “ancestral”? We are making a deal with them to pay us the cost my dad used to build that house. My dad is now deceased.. but my mom is still living.. do my fathers siblings and their children claim co ownership when they did not give one cent to build it in the first place.. thank you, any reply appreciated..


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