23 January, 2020

Media Statement on the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

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Two decades after IPRA, indigenous peoples still lag behind



Quezon City, Philippines, 09 August 2017 - 20 years since the adoption of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA), indigenous peoples continue to lose their lands, territories and resources, are unable to fully access basic social services, and are subjected to various forms of human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings and displacements.

This is the resounding assessment of 103 indigenous women, men and youth from 39 indigenous communities from all over the Philippines who have come together to commemorate the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples at University of the Philippines.

They said that while there is a law that clearly defines the rights of indigenous peoples, their rights continue to be disrespected and violated.

This year also marks the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This landmark global declaration adopted in 2007 by member-states of the United Nation General Assembly enshrined the individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples and established the minimum international standards which will ensure the survival, dignity and well-being  of indigenous peoples. IPRA was largely based on the earlier drafts of this UN declaration.

Titay Bleyen Leticio Datuwata of the Mindanao Peoples’ Peace Movement (MPPM) and a member of the Lambangian tribe laments that the rights of indigenous peoples will never be fully realized unless and until there is genuine peace in the country.  



“We have been greatly affected by wars which are not ours. These wars between the government and the MILF and the MNLF have internally displaced many indigenous peoples permanently,” he said.

He added that the conflict is made worse by the recruitment and deployment of Lumads by all parties to the wars.

Since these wars are waged in their territories and involve their own people, he emphasized the importance of involving the Lumad in any peace process, the recognition of the IPRA and the full respect of their rights in peace agreements or laws, such as the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

Indigenous peoples also continue to lose their lands, territories and resources, which are the bases of their livelihoods and cultural identities.

Johnmart Salunday, a Tagbanwa from Puerto Prinsesa, Palawan shared that while indigenous peoples are apprehended for practicing their traditional swidden farming in their ancestral domain, agri-business companies that take away large tracts of lands without their Free, Prior and Informed Consent are being incentivized for planting monocrop oil palm that destroys the biodiversity of their lands and encroaches in their ancestral domains.

Two decades after the IPRA adoption, Indigenous peoples continue to suffer unequal access to basic services, including healthcare and education. 

Jaguar Manginlaud, a Mandaya youth of Sitio Luyong, Binondo, Bangangga, Davao Oriental is a picture of the dire situation of education for indigenous peoples.  

“I am now 18 years old but I am still in Grade 5,” he says. “The SILDAP community Learning Center only started to operate in my community five years ago, so that was why I was able to go to school,” he added.  (SILDAP is an NGO that services Lumad communities in Mindanao.)

According to Jaguar, the government has never established any school in their community. Before the learning center was put up by SILDAP, the nearest school to their village was a good 100-kilometers away.

“We either had to walk for 3 hours or pay P600 .00 for habal-habal to reach the nearest school. Almost no one attended school then because of the distance and the lack of resources to pay for the necessary expenses.”

He sadly speaks of a bleak future for him in education since the training center only provides until Grade 6.

When asked if he heard about the pronouncement of President Rodrigo Duterte in his State of Nation Address on bombing Lumad schools as these are allegedly NPA schools, he shrugged and simply said, “I am very worried if this will happen because then, we will again have absolutely no access to education.  Our school is not NPA. We are not NPA.”

Meanwhile, Bae Magdalena Suhat-Herbilla recounted that the burden of lack of indigenous peoples’ access to quality services is being intensified by the criminalization of indigenous traditional practices on health care.  

“Indigenous peoples do not have access to quality health care simply because they are far from the service centers, and we lack the resources for the high cost of health services,” Bae Magdalena, a Matigsalug from Arakan, North Cotabato said.

Traditional health practitioners are penalized by local ordinances if they assist in births without any government-recognized health practitioner. She added that cultural insensitivity also hampers access to quality health care.

“The birthing practice of indigenous peoples is different from those that are performed in the birthing facilities and these make indigenous women uncomfortable,” Bae Magdalena shared.

These lamentations are not far from the cries of indigenous peoples worldwide.

While these violations continue, indigenous peoples persist in operationalizing their self-determined development in their own communities. They have built community-based renewable energy systems, such as micro-hydro dams in their communities in the past twenty years. These are the main sources of energy, which have lit their communities and ensured food and water security.

To date there are 17 indigenous communities in the Cordillera region and Mindanao who continue to maintain their micro-hydro dams which have been supported by SIBAT, according to Alford Cobangbang from Balbalasang, Kalinga. SIBAT is an NGO that supports sustainable renewable energy in communities.

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, reported that a huge gap remains in the realization of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples worldwide.

Ten years since its adoption, vast challenges remain. “In too many cases, indigenous peoples are now facing even greater struggles and rights violations than they did 10 years ago,” she said.  

In the past year, she admits to having received information about extrajudicial killings against indigenous peoples because of their assertion of their rights or opposition to mining or other activities that deprive them of their lands and resources.

According to the report of the Global Witness, in 2016, the Philippine “is consistently one of the deadliest palaces to defend lands and environment, with 28 killings mostly linked to struggles against mining.” Since the start of the Duterte government in June 2016, the UNSR has received 20 cases of killings of indigenous peoples.

She also recognizes and fully supports efforts of indigenous peoples to build resilient and strong communities so that they are able to assert their rights and undertake their own development, based on their priorities and needs.

Tauli-Corpuz challenged indigenous peoples to “build [their] confidence, strengthen [their] own forms of governance and representation, for them to be able to establish constructive dialogue and engagement with international and national authorities, public officials and the private sector.”



She recognized that there are still a lot of tasks ahead for indigenous peoples to fully enjoy their rights as enshrined in the UN Declaration and the IPRA. But she remains positive that with the right tools and spirit, these are attainable.



NOTE: The Philippine celebration of the "International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples: Harnessing Resources and Knowledge for Indigenous Peoples’ Development,” 8-10 August at the University Hotel, UP Diliman, Quezon City is organized by Tebtebba and Sibol ng Agham at Teknolohiya (SIBAT).



Helen Magata

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