In 1974, at the
second assembly of the Mindanao-Sulu Pastoral Conference (SMPC), the Church was challenged to respond to the plight of the indigenous peoples of the Philippines.
At that time there was widespread unrest in Mindanao.
The Muslim rebellion was at its height and the entry or invasion of foreign and local big businesses exacerbated the problem, affecting both Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
MSPC delegates who were directly involved in
work among indigenous peoples pointed out that land loss and the struggle for survival were problems not only of the Muslim population, but also of other indigenous communities in Mindanao as well as other areas of the
Realizing this the Church heeded the call for a more united and organized response to the indigenous peoples' concerns. In 1975 the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) elevated the
Sub-Commission on Non-Christians to a full-fledged Episcopal Commission on Cultural Communities (ECCC) with special responsibilities for an apostolate among non-Christian communities.
In November 1976, a national
consultation of Church workers involved with indigenous peoples was held. It was decided that a desk on cultural communities be created under the National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace office. Its
main task was "to initiate coordination in the apostolate and to attend to the needs of the cultural communities."
In September 1977, a group of ten led by then Bishop Bienvenido Tudtud, called for another
consultation so that a secretariat could be formed. This was held in November of the same year. A resolution to establish a national secretariat and to change the name of the ECCC to the Episcopal Commission on Tribal
Filipinos (ECTF) was passed. A "philosophy of work" was also adopted as guide for those working among the tribal peoples.
Since 1979, the Tribal Filipinos Apostolate (TFA) coordinators, workers, and
Commission Bishops and the National Secretariat come together in a yearly national convention. Each convention is a venue where past experiences are expressed and plans and activities for the incoming year are finalized.
In 1990, under the chairmanship of Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez, the first national consultation of indigenous peoples from all diocesan tribal Filipino apostolates was held in Camiguin Island. Since then, national
consultations have been held every other year.
In 1994, the participants of the National Convention of ECTF-TFA forwarded a proposal to the CBCP for a change in the network's official name: Episcopal Commission on
Tribal Filipinos to Episcopal Commission on Indigenous Peoples. This was approved in January 1995.
The Commission on Indigenous Peoples works for indigenous peoples in their efforts to secure justice for themselves,
protect their ancestral domains, and preserve their cultural heritage.