Long-time indigenous peoples' rights activist wins international award

RIGHTS. Joanna Cariu00f1o receives the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights. Photo from the The May 18 Memorial Foundation

RIGHTS. Joanna Cariu00f1o receives the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights.

Photo from the The May 18 Memorial Foundation

MANILA, Philippines – An activist and champion of indigenous peoples’ (IPs) rights was awarded the 2019 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights.

Joanna Cariño is the first Filipino to receive the prestigious award which commemorates the pro-democracy uprising in Gwangju, South Korea, in the aftermath of the 18-year authoritarian rule of Park Chung-hee. 

An Ibaloi, Cariño has long worked for the rights of the IPs, especially in the Cordilleras. She co-founded the Cordillera Peoples Alliance in 1984 and continues to push for programs and advocacies that will benefit national minorities, including those that concern ancestral land issues.

Cariño is currently the co-chairperson of Sandugo, a national minority alliance formed in 2016 that seeks to address growing threats against IPs in pursuit of self-determination.  

In her speech, Cariño said the award is a “vindication of a lifelong vocation to defend and promote democracy and human rights.” She also highlighted the threats human rights activists are facing in the Philippines, especially under President Rodrigo Duterte.  

“It is ironic that while the repressive Duterte regime labels human rights activists such as myself as terrorists, prestigious foreign institutions such as the May 18 Memorial Foundation recognize my human rights activism as honorable,” she said.

Cariño is one of at least 649 people the Department of Justice sought to tag as terrorists in 2018, an action aligned with the government’s offensive against progressive groups that they alleged were fronts of the Communist Party of the Philippines. (READ: Sagada council urges DOJ: Drop terror tag vs indigenous activists)

Human rights groups have consistently denounced the Duterte administration for red-tagging, profiling, and surveillance.  

Despite the continuous attacks, Cariño emphasized that standing up against tyranny and an oppressive system is justified.  

“We have to prepare ourselves for sacrifice and even death in the struggle against tyrants for people’s democracy and a better world,” she said. “It is honorable to stand up for democracy and to defend human rights, especially for the less unfortunate and downtrodden.”

A torture victim detained for two years under dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ Martial Law, Cariño urged the public to hold close the lessons in the Philippines and the Gwangju Uprising “in the face of historical revisionism and the resurgence of tyranny and dictatorship.” 

“We should always remember, we should never forget,” she said. “The people, united, shall never be defeated.” – Rappler.com

Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.