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CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY—Fifteen years after the implementation of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) and four years since Philippines adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), indigenous peoples (IPs) continue to wallow in poverty, harassed, discriminated upon—and worse slain while defending their ancestral lands against encroachment of mining firms and other development aggressions.

Once touted as a “novel piece of legislation,” IPRA (RA 8371)—enacted in 1997—is an “act to recognize, protect and promote the rights of indigenous cultural community/indigenous people, creating a national commission of indigenous people, establishing implementing mechanisms, appropriating funds therefor, and for other purposes.”

There is currently an estimated 14 to 17 million IPs—who belong to 110 ethno-linguistic tribes—living in the Philippines. Most of whom are in Mindanao (61 per cent), Cordillera Administrative Region (33 per cent), while the rest are sporadically spread throughout the Visayas islands.

October IP month, nothing to celebrate

Nobel Peace prize awardee, Amnesty International-Philippines (AIPh) has denounced the Aquino administration for not prioritizing the vulnerable and the marginalized sectors, the IPs in particular.

In an emailed statement, over the weekend, AIPh reiterated that it stands by the IPs in its call for justice to the continuing attacks and killings against IPs “specially in pursuit of their struggle for self determination and in defense of their territories against extractive corporations.”

“It is about time that the Lumad’s struggle for their rights and lands become visible in the eyes of the government and local authorities. The scale and inter-sectional nature of human rights abuses and violations that the IPs experience in the hands of corporations of extractive industries particularly logging and mining companies in Mindanao,” AIPh said in its statement for this year’s National Indigenous Peoples Month.

In an interview, Romel Devera, AIPh human rights officer, said they are concerned with the increasing number of IP leaders killed which he added were due to the IPs struggle to defend their ancestral domains—that almost always are mineral-rich areas.

“The Aquino government should use the SCAA (Special Civilian Armed Auxiliary) and Cafgu to protect the IPs instead of the foreign large-scale mining corporations. The state’s security agents should be held accountable for the atrocities and human rights violations against the lumads,” said Devera.

“Like in the years past, we have nothing to celebrate in this year’s National IP Month. Fifteen years since the implementation of IPRA but even the mandatory representation of the IPs in provincial and municipal legislative councils—as guaranteed in the law—has yet to be fully implemented,” he added.

Continuing attacks

In the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) website—http://www.undp.org.ph—IPs have continuously “faced exclusion, loss of ancestral lands, displacement, pressures to and destruction of traditional ways of life and practices, and loss of identity and culture.”

“In the Philippines, IPs have been subject to historical discrimination and marginalization from political processes and economic benefit,” UNDP’s Fast Facts on IPs reads in part.

According to Cristina Palabay, secretary general of the Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights (Karapatan), under the Aquino government along—from July 2010 to September 30, 2012—they have documented some 112 extrajudicial killings.

“Most of the victims died asserting their rights to ancestral domain, land, decent housing and livelihood,” said Palabay.

Here in Northern Mindanao, there have been three IP leaders under Kalumbay, a region-wide federation of lumad groups, killed since President Benigno Simeon Aquino III took office in 2010, Beverly Longid, national president of Katribu Partylist, said in a phone interview, over the weekend.

“First was Jimmy Liguyon of San Fernando, Bukidnon, second was Genesis Ambason of San Luis, Agusan del Sur and the latest victim of extrajudicial killing was Gilbert Paborada,” said Longid.

Land conversion

The most recent IP victim was Pangalasag (indigenous shield) chair Gilbert Paborada. On October 3, motorcycle-riding-in-tandem gunmen shot Paborada five times while the lumad leader was alighting from a motorela (public tricycle) in San Nicolas, Barangay Puntod, this city.

Pangalasag—an organization of Higaonon tribe based in Opol town, Misamis Oriental and a member-organization of Kalumbay—have been opposing the encroachment of the palm oil plantation of A. Brown Company, an American company, into their tribal territory. Pangalasag members claimed, Paborada had relocated in the city because he has been constantly harassed and threatened by the palm oil company’s guards. Although he still goes to their area to lead their tribal community’s campaign against the palm oil company.

The palm oil company has vehemently denied the allegations and has even issued press releases, here, which warned of a possible lawsuit against people and IP support groups who will be “connecting” the company to the killing of Paborada as this allegation will “malign the good name and reputation of the company.”

However, in an emailed statement, Kalumbay argued that “documentations compiled by local, national, and international support groups clearly expose the anti-peasant and anti-environment practices that already stain A. Brown Company’s name.”

Kalumbay claimed that the American company gave its subsidiary—Nakeen Corporation—permission to establish a 520-hectare palm oil plantation over a contiguous land of the villages Tingalan and Bagocboc, Opol town in Misamis Oriental.

Opposing large-scale mining

On September 13, Genesis Ambason, secretary-general of Kalumbay member-organization Tagdumahan, was tortured and killed in Km. 39, Barangay Binikalan, San Luis town, Agusan del Sur, allegedly by members of the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu) of the 26th Infantry Battalion.

Ambason has been actively leading Tagdumahan in its campaign against the encroachment of large-scale mining operations into their ancestral domain. During Kalumbay’s 4th General Assembly on December, last year, Ambason has reported that their community organization has been resisting the Malampay Mining, Tambuli Mining and the Makilala Mining companies.

In a statement, the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines-Northern Mindanao Region (RMP-NMR) believes that the killing of Ambason is “part of the historical and sustained suppression against Tagdumahan as an organization doing human rights work for the IPs in San Luis.”

“Aladino ‘Datu Mansubaybay’ Badbaran was killed by a paramilitary group in the last quarter of 2009. He was the chair of Tagdumahan when he was assassinated,” the statement continues.

Another lumad leader victim, Jimmy Liguyon was shot dead by two assailants armed with rifles inside his home in Purok 2, Barangay Dao, San Fernando town, Bukidnon on March 5, this year. Liguyon was the village chieftain and vice chair of Kaugalingong Sistema sa Igpasasindog to Lumadnong Ogpaan (Kasilo)—an organization of the Matigsalug-Manobo tribe of Bukidnon.

Before his murder, Liguyon had publicly declared that the people in Barangay Dao did not want the entry of large-scale mining firms in their village and as barangay chair, “would not force them to it.”

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