Editorial: Prioritize indigenous peoples

Editorial Cartoon by John Gilbert Manantan
Editorial Cartoon by John Gilbert Manantan

We have come a long way from the days when grade school students were introduced by textbooks to “cultural minorities.” When the word “Igorot” conjured the image of a savage in a G-string and carrying a spear, the personification of a heathen who was crying out to be saved through Christianity and formal education.

Yet, our colonial past continues with the marginalization in the economic and social development of indigenous peoples, Filipinos who embody in their history, culture, and society the diversity and richness of our native peoples and local cultures long before the colonization of the West subjugated our past, colonized our stories, hybridized our consciousness.

Last Oct. 8, the Catholic church observed Indigenous Peoples (IP) Sunday. The month of October is also celebrated as the IP Rights Month by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP).

What has changed for the IPs, estimated to be 14-17 million in the country, representing 110 ethno-linguistic groups in Mindanao (61 percent), Northern Luzon (Cordillera Administrative Region, 33 percent), and the Visayas?

It is the 23rd anniversary of the signing of the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA).

Republic Act (RA) 8371, also known as IPRA, upholds the rights of indigenous cultural communities and peoples.

IP rights encompass three domains, as defined by the ifad.org: their histories, languages, cultures, and identities; lands and territories traditionally occupied, as well as natural resources used by their ancestors and contemporary generations; and their collective traditional knowledge.

A 2008 study by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (Ifad) points out a key learning from Ifad-initiated projects with IPs: “Land is the foundation for the lives and cultures of indigenous peoples all over the world.”

Displacing IPs from their ancestral lands is tantamount to threatening the people’s economic survival and the sustainability of their cultures and heritage.

The Philippine Constitution mandates the state protects and fulfills the rights of the IP. Realities dictate otherwise.

The Lumad in Mindanao are “among the poorest of minority groups, with little access to social services including education and healthcare,” reported the Thomson Reuters Foundation on April 19, 2018.

Armed conflict, militarization, and the Philippine government’s preferential treatment of logging and mining companies interested to “invest” through the extraction of the rich mineral resources from ancestral lands have displaced and marginalized the Lumad communities in Mindanao for decades.

The imposition and then extension of martial law in Mindanao by President Rodrigo Duterte in 2018 was viewed not so much as a war against Islamist and communist rebels but as an “all-out war” against the IP, claimed Lumad elders and non-government organizations Kalumaran and PAN Asia Pacific in the same Reuters report.

Duterte is infamous for sanctioning airstrikes against indigenous schools, which he claimed to be infiltrated by communists who brainwash IP youth into taking up arms against the government.

The United Nations Human Rights Council’s special report on the rights of indigenous peoples and internally displaced people claim a different story: the Lumad are victims of multiple human rights violations from armed conflict, their resistance to the ancestral land-grabbing by logging, mining, and energy companies, and the militarization of IP communal territories.

Land tenure system in the country has been overlaid by policies and interests that date back to foreign colonizers intent on displacing native Indios from the land and resources they occupied before colonization.

The system that deprives indigenous peoples and communities from their ancestral lands, resources, and cultures continues the oppression and subjugation albeit these are carried out in the name of national development.

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