Are Sectoral Bodies Truly Empowering to Marginalized Sectors?

By: Joy Aceron

Sectoral bodies are participatory institutions that are unique in the Philippines. The creation of sectoral bodies through laws demonstrates how Philippine institutional-legal framework values people’s participation and sectoral representation. Sectoral bodies institutionalize representation of marginalized sectors in governance, providing sectors formal access to decision-making to ensure sectoral concerns and issues are addressed. It is a mechanism for inclusion that directly addresses political disenfranchisement and inequality.

Some of the key sectoral bodies created through law are the National Youth Commission (NYC), National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women (NCRFW), National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) sectoral assemblies and councils, and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK).

Many of the groups engaging sectoral bodies know how disappointing some of the bodies have been in the performance of their mandate. Knowing their significance and what they could do, the ineffectiveness of sectoral bodies is a huge disservice to Filipinos, especially the marginalized sectors.

A disservice to indigenous peoples

Recently, one sectoral body has been the content of the news. The recent news reports on the NCIP did not get enough attention because of the many other big news confronting many all over the world (e.g., COVID19, US elections, typhoons, etc.). We, in G-Watch, took note of it.

One report is about an adverse finding by the Commission on Audit (COA) on NCIP. The COA report says NCIP spent millions of pesos on “lavish meals and hotel accommodation.” (See

COA further stated that the said NCIP activities were conducted mostly at high-end hotels and restaurants where food and accommodation were relatively high compared to other alternative venues. According to COA, NCIP violated Administrative Order 6 and COA Circular 2012-003, which prohibit government agencies and instrumentalities from incurring “irregular, unnecessary, extravagant, excessive and unconscionable expenses.”

The other report is about NCIP’s issuance of a permit to a mining company in an ancestral domain despite protests by communities and the church. (See

According to Bishop Cerilo Casicas of Marbel, NCIP issued a “certification precondition” or “CP” to Sagittarius Mines, Inc., developer of the Tampakan project that straddles four provinces in Mindanao. A “CP” is a certification that indigenous cultural communities have given their consent to the mining venture within their ancestral domain and that a “Free, Prior and Informed Consent” process has been satisfactorily complied by the company.

The CP was issued by NCIP “despite the lingering issues and strong opposition of indigenous peoples...The NCIP did not listen,” says Bishop Casicas.

It is crucial that this is investigated since there are other pending contested permits for projects involving ancestral domains, such as the highly controversial Kaliwa Dam (see

These are recent news, but reports on irregularities and bad governance in NCIP is not new. G-Watch had to directly deal with a local office of NCIP about a permit being requested by a partner community for their livelihood projects that has been delayed for years without any explanation provided by NCIP. There were also rumors of NCIP asking for additional fees in performing functions that are well within their mandate.

Lost opportunity to further advance IP rights and welfare

The NCIP supposedly institutionalizes representation of indigenous peoples in policy-making at the national level. It is meant to serve the interest and welfare of 70 to 140 ethnic indigenous groups who are the most marginalized, vulnerable and impoverished in the country. Studies show that IPs are the most neglected segment of the population, facing myriad of challenges in accessing basic services, including discrimination and lack of support and budget from the national government (see and This makes IPs representation in governance very crucial.

There are legal instruments and mechanisms that have been passed to help the growth and development of IPs, the most significant of which are the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA) and the IP Mandatory Representative (IPMR) at the local government level. These instruments and mechanisms — won through struggles of movements that believe in IP empowerment — are indeed enabling, but they need to be supported and operationalized to truly serve the IPs.

NCIP has a huge part to play in ensuring that all the legal opportunities and entitlements of IPs are realized. Reports of bad governance, anomalies and abuse in NCIP are a huge hurdle to IP emancipation and empowerment.

Great potential of sectoral bodies

The other sectoral bodies also have the same significance as NCIP. Sectoral representation in governance is progressive in that it enfranchises sectors to take part in decisions that affect them. Presumably, sectors are affected largely similarly by similar policies and programs.

However, sectoral participation in governance can also be just a mere legitimization of already-existing policies, programs and decisions and/ or a mere reinforcement of the status quo with no promise of power-shifting reforms. Like in the case of NCIP, they can also be rendered ineffective by bad governance and abuse.

This shows that not all participatory spaces and mechanisms in governance empowers. There is a certain aspect of engagement, a certain area of governance, that has more promise of powershifts if this good governance is practiced within these mechanisms and spaces. Not taking this into account in designing participatory mechanisms and innovation dilutes and/ or captures participation. It is, hence, very crucial that sectoral bodies do not only serve their mandate, but they transform and develop themselves to truly serve their sectors and contribute meaningfully to deepening democracy and achieving social justice in the country.