12 December, 2019

Defeating our struggles, Celebrating our Victories

Written by Helen Biangalen-Magata

Bayang magiliw, Perlas ng Silanganan, alab ng puso, sa dibdib mo’y buhay” (Land of the morning, Child of the sun returning, with fervor burning, Thee do our souls adore).

Indigenous peoples, government officials, representatives from different UN agencies and spectators placed their right hands over their left chest, as they sang the Philippine national Anthem. As they ended with ang mamatay nang dahil sa iyo (for us thy sons to suffer and die), one Lumad leader dries the tears from his eyes.

The song could not have been more appropriate for the indigenous peoples who are calling for respect, promotion and fulfillment of their rights during the three-day celebration of the IP Day was held in August 9-11, 2016 at the University Hotel, UP Diliman, Quezon City with the theme: Ensuring that No One is Left Behind” in the Implementation of the Sustainable Development Agenda and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. “



August 9 is a special day for indigenous peoples because it is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples and was in 2015 declared as the national day of Indigenous Peoples in the Philippines. However, for some, it is also a grave reminder of how long they have been fighting for their rights.

“Since 1985 pa, lahat na ng ahensiya nilapitan namin- DENR, DAR, LGU, NCIP para sa struggle namin sa ancestral domain. Ginagawa namin ito para sa lahat ng aming henerasyon. Ubos na ang ngipin ko, maputi na ang buhok ko, kailan pa masolbar ang problema namin?, an elderly Blaan lamented. (As early as 1985, we have already approached all agencies- the DENR, DAR our LGU and the NCIP for the respect of our rights to our ancestral domain. We are doing this for all the people and next generation. Now, my teeth are already gone and my hair have turned white; when will our problems end?). She said the national government agencies that they went to are the ones in charge of facilitating the recognition of land tenure of indigenous peoples in the country.

Datu Unsad, a Teduray from Maguindanao agrees and said that their rights as Lumads in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao have not been recognized for the longest time. And had they not able to document about their indigenous political structure, they would have been erased from their region.

Oo, ang mga Lumad ay nasa krisis.” (Indeed, indigenous peoples are in crisis.)

According to Timuay Alim, a Teduray from Maguindanao, the unresolved extra judicial killings of indigenous peoples are a painful indication of how peace remains to be an elusive dream for them.

The reasons of the crisis are varied, he said: “The conflict in power and control over our ancestral domains and resources, the continuing human rights violations of indigenous peoples, the formation of tribal defense forces into paramilitary forces and the lack of representation of indigenous peoples in the peace talks- all of these aggravate the crisis.”

“The peace talks are only done between the government and the armed groups”. Datu Brunz Babelon of North Cotabato said “dapat kasama tayo sa peace dialogue dahil nakapaloob naman tayo sa teritoryo na pinaglalabanan nila” (We need to be engaged in the peace dialogue because we are right at the middle of the territory that they are fighting about).

Kaya sa ayaw at gusto natin, tayo ang laging naiipit” (And whether we like it or not, we are always the ones who are caught in between), Datu Angkong of Compostella Valley agreed. He added that the need for a lasting genuine peace in Mindanao, southern Philippines is not just a problem of some Lumads. Rather, he pointed that this is the prevailing plight of indigenous peoples in the country.

Ito ay pambansang kalagayan ng mga katutubo.

Hence, 75 indigenous peoples from 30 indigenous peoples’ groups from the Philippines have strongly called for the immediate withdrawal of all armed groups from their community and for the secure return of internally-displaced indigenous persons to their communities.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Ms. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, expressed her sorrow over the fact that the fact that no has been brought to justice yet in the extra judicial killings of indigenous peoples.

She also challenged the new government of the Philippines saying, “if it wants to address the long history of injustice committed to indigenous peoples, it has to be “more decisive in pinning down perpetrators regardless of who they are.”

In a six-page statement presented to different national government agencies and UN bodies during the celebration, the indigenous peoples pointed out that there would be no development without genuine peace and justice.

But August 9 is also a reminder that indigenous peoples are not just victims of human rights violations. Far from it, indigenous peoples have demonstrated unparalleled resilience and strength in the face of adversity. In the different panels, speakers shared indigenous peoples’ experiences on mapping their territories, sustainably managing their resources, their agricultural innovations and strengthening their local economies, among others.

“Indigenous peoples have been contributing a lot to sustainable development. A lot of these efforts are not recognized or even acknowledged by governments but we continue to do them for our generation and the next,” said Raymond De Chavez of Tebtebba.

This year’s celebration was attended by indigenous peoples and representatives from different national government agencies that include the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW), Department of Health (DOH), National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA), Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC), National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), Mining and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), Environmental Management Bureau (EMB), and the Commission on Human Rights (CHR). UN Agencies and other international agencies such as the UNICEF, the UN Country Team, FAO, ILO, EMRIP and the UNSRRIP were also present during the dialogue.