Proud Igorota named to UN post

An Igorot from the Kankana-ey tribe in Besao, Mountain Province, will be the first woman and indigenous person from the Philippines to assume the post

INDIGENOUS LEADER. Vicky Tauli-Copruz (front row, 5th from right) was the former chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Photo from Corpuz's Facebook page

MANILA, Philippines – The field of contenders for the position of United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous People “was extremely strong,” according to Human Rights Council (HRC) president Baudelaire Ndong Ella, but in the end the nominee from the Philippines prevailed.

Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, a proud Igorot from the Kankana-ey tribe in Besao, Mountain Province, will be the first woman and indigenous person from the Philippines to assume the position previously held by men.

“Vicky is a very experienced advocate at the United Nations level and establishes a welcome commitment to gender equity in this important post for indigenous peoples of the world,” Ella said when he announced Corpuz’s selection on March 3.

Corpuz helped push for the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007 while she was the chairperson of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), also the first Filipina to assume the post.

As a special rapporteur, Corpuz will report on the human rights situations of various indigenous peoples (IP) around the world, address violations of their rights through communications with governments, and promote good practices on indigenous rights protection.

Created by the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1991, the position was renewed by the HRC in 2007.

Indigenous activist

Corpuz said she did not expect to be chosen among the 14 nominees, most of whom obtained Masters and PhD degrees. Corpuz graduated from the Philippine Science High School in Quezon City in 1969 and finished her nursing degree at the University of the Philippines Manila in 1976.

“I think my best qualification is my many years of work as an indigenous activist,” Corpuz said.

Corpuz joined the indigenous peoples’ movement Cordillera in the 1970s, fought Martial Law, and eventually headed the militant Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) from l992-1994.

In 1996, she founded her own non-governmental organization Tebtebba, an indigenous peoples’ international center for policy research and education which she heads until now.

“The local IP movement will have a hearing ear to their complaints and whatever is reported to me, based on strong evidence, I will reach out to the necessary authorities and actors who should address these,” Corpuz told Rappler.

According to Corpuz, the most pressing issues she expects to face include how indigenous rights to their lands, territories, and resources are “violated on a daily basis by governments, corporations and other players, like big landlords, narco-traffickers.”

Test case for commitment

Violations of indigenous peoples’ civil and political rights through arbitrary killings and illegal detentions are other critical concerns that she will tackle, Corpuz said.

The recent massacre of an Igorot family from Abra might just be the first test case for Corpuz’s commitment to bring indigenous people’s issues to the attention of the international body.

Brothers Fermin and Edie Ligiw, and their father Licuben – all Tingguians and members of Binodngan tribe of Baay-Licuan – were found dead on March 8, buried in a shallow grave in a village in Abra.

“Their hands were bound and their mouths were gagged. They were piled on top of each other. They were obviously buried, in the perpetrators’ hope that they won’t be found, that no one will know,” according to lawyer Reynaldo Cortes of the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA) said in a statement.

The CHRA is accusing the 41st IB of perpetrating the killings, claiming that the military coerced Fermin to serve as a guide for their combat operations against the rebel group New Peoples Army in the area about a week before the incident.

At least 43 indigenous peoples have been reported as victims of political killings since President Benigno Aquino III assumed power, the CPA said. The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said in 2012 the violations against IP rights have become an alarming trend in the country. 

In his visit to the Philippines in 2002, former special rapporteur Rodolfo Stavenhagen urged the Philippine government to take measures that will ensure “the numerous human rights violations committed against indigenous peoples” will not happen again.

It is Corpuz’s turn to reiterate and realize the recommendation of her predecessor in her own ancestral home. – Rappler.com