UniversityThe plight of the country’s indigenous community
The plight of the country’s indigenous community

This October, around 3,000 indigenous peoples (IP) consisting of 153 ethnolinguistic groups gathered in Metro Manila for a national caravan dubbed as the “Lakbayan ng Pambansang Minorya para sa Sariling Pagpapasya at Makatarungang Kapayapaan.” The caravan, which began on October 8 in Mindanao, sought to raise awareness on the issues of commercialization and militarization of the IPs’ ancestral lands, as well as a multitude of other human rights violations.

 

The story behind

Back in 1997, the Philippine legislature passed a law entitled the Indigenous People’s Rights Act, which was among the first laws passed at the time which ensured the protection of rights of IPs.

Included in the law was the principle of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent, which calls on big businesses and other projects to undergo consultations before being given permission to operate in ancestral lands. This, however, has been violated multiple times, with one early case being that of the Norwegian company Intex Resources in 1997.

As of March 2015, 246 mining operations in 619,000 hectares of ancestral lands have been approved by the government, according to a joint report submitted to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights.

During a rally last October, in front of the Embassy of the United States (US) in Manila, a number of protesters and IPs were injured in a violent dispersal carried out by the police. The IPs were protesting the alleged military and US presence in their ancestral lands. In Camp Aguinaldo during the same month, around 300 IPs were blasted with water cannons by soldiers from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) as the IPs were rallying against military operations in Lumad communities. Throughout Lakbayan 2016 last October, the IPs were able to find refuge at the University of the Philippines Diliman (UPD). There, The LaSallian was able to gather insights from them.

 

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The sentiment of the IP community

“The indigenous people are dying just to defend their ancestral lands, yet the government does nothing,” Bai Jocelyn, one of the leaders of the Tribal Indigenous Oppressed Group Association, shares in Filipino.

According to her, the IPs in Bukidnon do not have schools, electricity, food, medicine, and water, and are being shot almost every day by AFP soldiers. Moreover, she added that a total of 623 hectares of land have been stolen from them, despite the issuance of a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title by the government.

Meanwhile, Dato Nilo, also a native of Bukidnon, says that a mega dam project in their area has inconvenienced around 10,000 people consisting of Moros, Lumads, and Christians. He shares that, currently, while construction has stopped, there may be plans to resume soon.

Jocelyn further explains that their people in Bukidnon can no longer rely on their own. She calls on others who will listen to her and her people to help. She says that, recently, several non-government organizations and individuals visited them and provided assistance.

For Dato-Jimboy Liguyon, a native of Manabo, the government should consult with the IPs. He recalls one of the biggest issues they experienced in their tribe—the land grabbing of foreign mining companies. According to him, these companies allegedly began killing people from their tribe, and their leader was killed when he refused to sign the mining companies’ documents.

There are several minerals that can be found in their area, such as gold, nickel, carbon, and bromite, among others. Considering what happened, Liguyon says that they felt like they were being “treated like animals,” and that they wanted their children to become educated.

Meanwhile, Sultan Macasalong Sarip, a Moro from Lanao Del Norte, shares that, when they were fasting during Ramadan, soldiers suddenly arrived and allegedly bulldozed their crops and contaminated their water supply. Similar to Liguyon, Sarip also wants to educate the children, but the government, according to him, is hindering them from doing so.

 

Dialogue with DLSU

On October 21, several members from the IP community visited DLSU and participated in a dialogue where they discussed their personal experiences. The IPs constantly stressed the issue of reclaiming their ancestral lands. According to them, the government and several private companies, especially mining companies, “are persistent about establishing enterprises and using the area for their
own benefit.”

Abigail Anongos, a member of the Cordillera People’s Alliance, shared that around 1.6 million hectares of land are being used for mining operations in the Cordillera Administrative Region. Due to the mining operations, the IPs are struggling with their daily sustenance.

Similar to the IPs in Cordilleras, other groups such as the Alibing and Mangyan have been victims of ancestral land grabbing. Manong Johnny, a representative of the Alibing indigenous group from Tarlac, stated that the continuous establishment of private enterprises has forced his people to flee their homes.

The IPs also mentioned several human rights violations that they have experienced. In the Cordilleras, Anongos explained that soldiers are allegedly involved in the rape of women within IP communities. She added that, instead of being discharged from the military, the soldiers would be reassigned to Ifugao instead.

Meanwhile, Maryann Tuwali, a Moro, emphasized how many discriminatory remarks have been thrown at them from other members of society. According to Tuwali, Moros are often labeled as terrorists based mainly on their religion and territory.

The most serious human rights violation against the IPs, however, are the mass killings, most especially among the Lumad community. Cristina Lantao, a Lumad representative who expressed her dismay with the recent events, claimed that around 90 Lumads were killed during the Aquino administration due to conflicts with land ownership. She claims that, earlier this year, three more Lumads were killed.

Ever since they were driven out of their land, Lantao stated that the Lumad evacuees have lived in evacuation centers for almost two years now.

Last October 26, another dialogue with the IPs was organized at DLSU, that time by the Filipino Department. After which, the IPs stayed at UPD until October 28 before going back to their respective provinces. As of press time, the number of mining operations being approved by the government continue to increase.

According to Kilusan ng mga Moro at Katutubong Mamamayan para sa Sariling Pagpapasya or SANDUGO, a national alliance of Moros and IPs, around 450,000 were displaced in a span of six years due to “plunder, militarization, and all-out war in their ancestral lands.”

Despite the existence of policies and government documents that aim to support the IP ownership of ancestral lands, these are not necessarily followed, and the IP community continues to struggle in fighting for these very lands.