philippines: supporting indigenous peoples’ struggle
Millions of hectares of indigenous lands are being destroyed by mining and plantations for agrofuels and timber. Only 1% of the entire indigenous territory of the Philippines is covered by Certificates of Ancestral Domain Titles, and even these have proven ineffective in preventing foreign corporations from exploiting the land in question.
There is massive militarization in the indigenous territories, and the government’s counter-insurgency programme is targeting community resistance against development. People have been summarily executed and forcibly evacuated from their homes.
33.7% of the population of Mindanao (the second largest island and one of the three island groups in the country) now lives in poverty, with Indigenous People most affected by the economic crisis.
In July 2008, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo delivered her 8th State of the Nation Address, presenting her government’s extractive, corporate-led, import-dependent and export-oriented development agenda. Friends of the Earth Philippines / Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center took this opportunity to present a State of the Indigenous Peoples Address (SIPA), setting out the true state of affairs and demanding that the government fulfill its human development goals.
The Legal Rights & Natural Resources Center-Kasama sa Kalikasan/FoE Philippines (LRC-KSK/FoE Philippines) organized a three-day conference in Davao City, the largest city in Mindanao, in July 2008. 130 participants attended, including 80 people from 12 tribes in Mindanao, local support groups and local officials from Davao City.
The conference had three main parts:
- First, the participants watched the President’s State of the Nation Address on television. Many were aghast at the lies told and felt insulted by the promise of a food subsidy, which did not compensate for the massive conversion of their lands for agrofuel crops and other uses. They were outraged by the lack of reference to Indigenous Peoples’ rights or sustainable agriculture.
- Next, there were workshops on key thematic issues, including mining, plantations, womens’ issues, Free Prior and Informed Consent, and international legal instruments.
- Finally, conference participants wrote the SIPA statement, and sent it to the media and local, national and international networks. On 31 July, they marched through Davao City to a rally in Freedom Park, where they read the SIPA statement and presented it to a representative of the Davao local authority.
The conference and statement showed the collective strength and political determination of Indigenous People, and gave fresh impetus to their struggle for rights over their ancestral territories.
“This project was a clear demonstration of the Indigenous Peoples’ collective strength as it directly challenged the government’s so-called pro-poor and pro-IP programs and policies…the conference participants were able to outline clear demands and recommendations to the government and reiterated their call for the full and genuine recognition of their existence and their rights over their ancestral territories.” said Judy Pasimio, executive director of FoE Philippines The event brought the Indigenous communities of the Mindanao region together, giving them an opportunity to learn from and be inspired by each other. The workshops provided a space for people to share ideas about key issues and to outline clear demands. The workshop on women’s issues enabled men and women to discuss gender realities.
Invited advocates and allies from academia and religious groups gained a deeper understanding of Indigenous Peoples’ situation in Mindanao, and good media coverage of the event and the statement raised public awareness of the indigenous perspective.
There was a clear wish for FoE Philippines to be a key partner to indigenous communities. A number of participants affirmed FoE Philippines’ crucial role in supporting indigenous groups and helping them to develop a unified political, economic and socio-cultural agenda. FoE Philippines’ regional offices were also able to initiate discussions with local officials.
Participants called for another SIPA to be agreed and published in 2009, and for this process to be regularized as an alternative to the President’s State of the Nation Address.
FoE Philippines now plans to hold another SIPA in the Luzon region, to expand from Mindanao.
with thanks to our funders: the dutch ministry of foreign affairs (dgis)