[Statement] Is the Philippines violating the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)? –

Is the Philippines violating the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)?

Indigenous Peoples Representative Teddy Brawner Baguilat, Lone District of Ifugao

Tomorrow, September 13, the world marks the 5th year of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Under the UNDRIP, the Philippine government acceded to respect, promote and protect the rights of its Indigenous peoples to self-determination (Preamble) and to determine and develop priorities and strategies for the development or use of their lands or territories and other resources (Art.32, sec.2).

However, even with UNDRIP and our very own Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997 or IPRA, the implementation of policies protecting the rights of IPs in the country is quite weak. Conflicting laws and policies and the priority economic development strategy of the government are among the many hindrances to the full enjoyment of the indigenous peoples of their rights due them.

On top of these policies is the liberalization of the mining industry that led to the increased displacement and human rights violations against indigenous communities which includes manipulating the requirement for Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) in favor of mining companies.

Recent data from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau indicate that there are 482 approved mining applications covering 1,046,350.87 hectares in the country to date. Of this number, an estimated 595,058.11 (56.87%) will cover or affect indigenous peoples’ territories. Gold, silver, copper were among the most mined minerals. With its high demand in the world market, nickel is now much sought after by mining companies.

Resistance from indigenous peoples against mining and other destructive projects were countered with militarization, harassment and threats. This resulted in the displacement of indigenous communities, such as the B‘laan of North Cotabato, Subanen of Zamboanga del Sur, Aetas of Central Luzon, Igorots of the Cordillera region, and some groups in the Cagayan Valley. The IPs of Palawan and Nueva Vizcaya are recent additions to this list.

Can the Aquino Administration provide protection and redress on these violations against IP rights?

Measures are being undertaken to rectify these violations in this Administration. From the legislative, where I head the Committee on National Cultural Communities (NCC) in the House of Representatives, I have co-sponsored the Mineral Management Resources Bill that requires, among other measures, ensuring the conservation and optimal utilization of mineral resources, and protecting the rights of indigenous peoples in the face of expansion of mining interests.

The NCC has also started reviewing and, in close coordination with the National Commission of Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), revamping the procedure for processing the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) with indigenous groups.

I also take this opportunity to applaud the Supreme Court’s recent issuance of a Writ of Kalikasan to stop the processing of mining permits and applications for the Zamboanga peninsula. May this be an indication of the High Court’s position to protect the rights of indigenous communities, especially against powerful commercial interests.

I also hope that the various groups supporting IP rights will consider taking advantage of this avenue of protection that the Supreme Court has afforded. Indeed, the rights of indigenous peoples over their ancestral lands and the people’s right to a healthy environment are closely intertwined. Both deserve protection, and here in our midst is the means to ensure that protection, courtesy of the Supreme Court.

Finally, the newly-reconstituted National Commission for Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) will hopefully fulfill its role as protector of Indigenous Peoples rights and repair or overhaul its previous image as IP “dealers” (not “leaders”) who facilitate mining requests for Free Prior Informed Consent from affected indigenous communities.

NCIP’s new set of Commissioners, led by Commissioner Brigida Pawid, herself a staunch defender of IP rights, has a crucial responsibility to protect the rights of indigenous communities enshrined in various national and international directives.

That objective becomes even more urgent today as our country struggles for economic development. There is an inevitable collision course between indigenous peoples’ rights and commercial interests, especially since indigenous communities, more often than not, occupy areas rich in natural resources.

What many of us fail to understand is that indigenous peoples see themselves not as the owners of these resources, but their stewards, aiming to preserve these exhaustible resources for future generations.

Guiding the country’s indigenous communities, the NCIP must navigate these treacherous waters, where powerful corporations, multinational or otherwise, continue to exert influence. There is a balance that can be achieved, without sacrificing the rights and culture of our indigenous brothers and sisters. That is the challenge for the NCIP. Rest assured though that the NCIP, and all organizations and institutions aiming to preserve IP rights, are not alone in this endeavor.  The Committee on National Cultural Communities of the House of Representatives is solidly behind you in these efforts, ready to support with legislative action.

With that I look forward to our country’s celebration of the fifth anniversary of the UNDRIP. #

Contact:  Solidaridad para sa Makabuluhang Balita, Maricel Tolentino – 09178191089 OR Alyansa Tigil Mina, Jaybee Garganera – 09277617602


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