Is Aquino snubbing indigenous peoples?

Voltaire Tupaz
In the Philippines, indigenous peoples comprise about 17% of the population

MANILA, Philippines — On Aug 9, 2010, soon after President Benigno Aquino III assumed power, 65 indigenous organizations and advocates submitted an Indigenous Peoples (IP) Agenda to him through his sister, Viel Aquino-Dy. 

The indigenous peoples were happy to have met the President’s sister and hoped for his consideration and immediate action. But according to Ibaloi leader Jill Carino, head of the Task Force on Indigenous Peoples’ Rights (TFIP), two years later, Aquino has yet to reply.

On the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, members of the TFIP network expressed their disappointment with the President through an open letter.

“Mr President, until now, we have not received any response from you on the IP Agenda, nor has there been any significant development in favor of indigenous peoples,” read the letter which is now circulating on Facebook

Indigenous people’s agenda

The IP Agenda submitted to Aquino in 2010 consisted of 6 issues:

(1)  On the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), titling of ancestral lands and domain, Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), and the Ancestral Domain Sustainable Development and Protection Plan (ADSDPP)

(2) On Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and indigenous peoples

(3) On peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines

(4) On human rights violations

(5) On mining and other development projects

(6) On laws in conflict with indigenous peoples’ rights

LAND RIGHTS. Indigenous peoples promote this online poster to defend their ancestral lands from destructive mining. Poster by TFIP

Mining is most urgent concern

Of the 6 concerns, TFIP considered the impact of large-scale mining operations in many indigenous peoples’ communities as the most urgent. 

“Mining applications and agreements are increasing despite peoples’ opposition at all fronts,” the letter noted.

“For indigenous peoples, large-scale mining spells ‘death’ and displacement from their livelihood sources, aside from the loss of their ancestral domains that were passed on to them by their ancestors,” the letter said.

TFIP is opposing the new mining policy (Executive Order 79) that Aquino recently promulgated, saying that it is just a reiteration of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, which the group wanted repealed. 

“Considering previously approved mining agreements as valid without review despite sustained opposition of the people, and creating a one-stop shop for mining applications is very dangerous for the welfare of indigenous peoples. This is a direct affront to their right to self-determination, free prior informed consent (FPIC) and the right to control their ancestral domain,” the letter said.

People’s Mining Act

Citing government data, Kalipunan ng mga Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (National Alliance of Indigenous Peoples’ Organizations in the Philippines) reported that as of June 2012, at least 184 approved mining applications covered an estimated 595,058.11 hectares of ancestral lands in 28 provinces. 

The indigenous group also noted that 5 of the 6 Financial Technical Assistance Agreements (FTAAs), 118 of the 338 approved Mineral Production Sharing Agreements (MPSAs), 39 of the 89 Exploration Permits (EPs), and eight of the 49 Mineral Processing Permits (MPPs) affect indigenous areas across the country. 

TFIP stressed that the passage of a new People’s Mining Act that imposes stricter environmental and social standards for mining operations is urgently needed.

It asked the President to revoke and review previously approved agreements with mining companies that do not have a proper FPIC and an environmental impact assessment. It also urged Aquino to declare a moratorium on the approval of new mining applications in indigenous peoples’ lands.

Aquino’s contentious mining policy honored all approved contracts before the effectivity of the EO. It also created the Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) which would  implement the EO and other mining industry reforms, conduct dialogue with stakeholders, and review all existing mining-related laws and rules.

Empowering indigenous voices

Carino said that TFIP will e-mail the letter to the Office of the President, adding that her group is maximizing other platforms like social media to pass on their message to Aquino. This time, the indigenous group wanted urgent action. 

“Mr President, your response and action on the IP Agenda is long overdue. We challenge you to take the interests of Philippine indigenous peoples to heart and we expect more decisive action from you,” the letter ended.

In his IP Day message, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted that communities and individuals have been taking advantage of the reach of traditional and new media to tell their story and make their voices heard since the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples five years ago.

“Indigenous voices are recounting compelling stories of how they are combating centuries of injustice and discrimination, and advocating for the resources and rights that will preserve their cultures, languages, spirituality and traditions,” Ban Ki-moon said.

Declaring the theme “Indigenous Media, Empowering Indigenous Voices,” The UN secretray-general called on countries and the mainstream media to create and maintain opportunities for indigenous peoples to articulate their perspectives, priorities, and aspirations.

According to UN data, there are about 370 million indigenous peoples spread across 70 countries. In the Philippines, indigenous peoples comprise about 17% of the population. —

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