Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Vol. VI, No. 24      July 23 - 29, 2006      Quezon City, Philippines








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Five Years Down the Drain for Indigenous Peoples

In the report, KAMP indicated that atrocities committed against indigenous leaders are aimed at silencing them because they espouse causes that undermine the interests of big investors in mineral exploration.

By Jhong dela Cruz

Their ethnicity may not immediately surface in the list of persons killed in the past five years but the number of indigenous peoples joining the tally is disturbingly growing.

The figure stands at 70, since President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo took office in 2001, according to a report prepared by the Indigenous Peoples Rights Watch. The report will be filed with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The figure is part of the 711 persons killed under Arroyo’s term, the latest count tallied by rights group Karapatan (Alliance for the Advance of People’s Rights).

The IP rights watchdog said most casualties who belonged to various tribes across the country were killed due to conflicts resulting from development projects which the victims vehemently opposed.

Cordillera indigenous leader Markus Bangit, slain June 8.

Undetermined number

Himpad Mangumalas, a Lumad from Higaunon tribe in Mindanao and spokesman of the Kalipunan ng mga Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (KAMP or Assembly of Indigenous Peoples of the Philippines), said their reports reveal the same pattern of violations committed against activists.

Of the 70 casualties, 39 were victimized from January 2003 onward, “which accounts to an unprecedented average of one killing per month succeeding (a UN Special Rapporteur) country visit in December 2002,” the report read.

Mangumalas noted that political killings that targeted indigenous peoples victimized mainly leaders and members of KAMP and the Cordillera Peoples Alliance, two of the progressive groups tagged by the military as legal fronts of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

In the report, KAMP indicated that atrocities committed against indigenous leaders are aimed at silencing them because they espouse causes that undermine the interests of big investors in mineral exploration.

The Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) had laid out plans to make way for 24 priority mining projects meant to raise a total investment of over $8 billion in 2013. The government has granted mining rights to 762 medium and large-scale companies as of December last year.

Leaders and members of indigenous peoples formations found in at least seven regions are highly prone to extra-judicial killings, including the Cordillera Administrative Region, Central Luzon, Southern Tagalog which includes Mindoro and Palawan islands, Caraga (Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur), Southern Mindanao, Zamboanga Peninsula and Socsargen (South Cotabato, Saranggani, North Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat).

In the Cordillera alone, recorded human rights abuses affected 2,312 individuals, 710 families and at least two communities.

Evils of development

Aside from having to suffer various types of human rights abuse, indigenous groups also have to contend with the threats that accompany mining explorations and other development projects.

In spite of government pronouncements it will distribute some 100 certificate of ancestral domain title (CADT) yearly to members of indigenous tribes, some 12.2 million hectares are up for grabs by medium to large-scale mining companies which already applied for mining rights, MGB records show.

This covers at least 40.65 percent of the country’s total land area.

Based on the Mining Act of 1995, about 15 million hectares will be opened for mining operations, 53 percent of which are located within indigenous territories.

KAMP said that of the 24 identified priority projects of the government for large scale mining, 18 cover indigenous territories. Ten of them are in Mindanao, one in Palawan, one in Mindoro and six in the Cordillera and Northern Luzon.

MGB has so far received 272 mining applications covering a total land area of 1,270,343.86 hectares in the Cordillera and nearby provinces.

KAMP estimates this to be about two-thirds of the Cordillera land area. Should the government approve the mining applications, more than 16,000 indigenous small scale miners and more than 100,000 indigenous peasant families will lose their livelihood sources.

Two are already operating in Benguet, namely the Teresa Gold Project in Mangkayan which has an $80 million investment; and Padcal Sto. Tomas Copper Expansion Project in Tuba, which has a $17 million investment. The first one, by Lepanto Consolidated Mining Co and Far Southeast Gold Resources, Inc. has projected gross sales of about $60 million a year. The latter is being operated by Philex Mining Corp., with projected annual gross sales of $50 million.

Some $2 million to $2.2 million yearly in excise taxes goes to the national coffers but they spell brutal and unabated military operations in the communities where lucrative mining businesses operate.

According to a KAMP report, the IP tribes’ experience shows how militarization “facilitates the entry and operation of so-called development projects.”

A shortlist of these projects include operation of large dams and hydropower plants; open pit and large-scale underground mining; large-scale logging of forests including watersheds and communal forests; and the conversion of indigenous territories into agro-industrial plantations, ecotourism, protected areas and military reservations.

He said committed violations range from forced evacuation, massacre or murder, torture, arbitrary arrests and illegal detention, hamletting and food blockades.

But mining and dam projects remain to be “the most notorious” for the indigenous peoples, he said.

Mineral policy

According to Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, executive director of the indigenous center Tebtebba Foundation, the Arroyo administration is generally a failure in alleviating the indigenous people’s plight.

Tebtebba Foundation maintains links with international lobby groups, and enjoys a special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. Corpuz heads the UN’s Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

“She has not really achieved anything positively significant,” she said, citing policy reforms by the Arroyo administration that became detrimental to indigenous peoples.

The government had mapped out plans to accommodate at least 24 mining projects contained in the National Mineral Policy.

The policy she told Bulatlat, has become the way to fast-track the implementation of the Mining Act of 1995.

“Many of the mining priorities she identified are in indigenous peoples' territories,” she said citing examples such as the Toronto Ventures Incorporated (TVI) in Canatuan, Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte and Climax-Arimco (now renamed APMI) in Didipio, Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya.

Corpuz also noted that the free, prior informed consent (FPIC) stipulated in the 1997 Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) are obtained fraudulently in several communities.

“Like what happened in Canatuan in favor of Toronto Ventures Inc. (TVI) or in Conner, Apayao in favor of Anglo-American Platinum Inc. Indigenous peoples in these communities are deliberately divided through manipulative actions done by government and company representatives until they get a manufactured FPIC,” she said.

The government’s National Commission of Indigenous Peoples has consistently denied the indigenous communities’ opposition by issuing FPIC, as in the case of the Arimco Mining Company in Nueva Vizcaya, affecting the Ifugao people; the Anglo American mining exploration in Conner, Apayao and Balbalan, Kalinga affecting the Isneg and Buaya tribes.

Corpuz also scored the government’s decision to put the NCIP under the Department of Agrarian Reform.

“This is a step backward in terms of strengthening governance structures…while at the outset, the NCIP has not been configured to be an independent body, putting it under DAR  further limits what it can do,” said Corpuz. She added that agrarian reform does not relate to the proper recognition of ancestral land rights.

Another case of divide-and-rule tactic by the government involves the claims of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to ancestral land rights. This could bring conflict between Muslims and Lumads, she said.

Review needed

In 2002, Dr. Rodolfo Stavenhagen, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of indigenous peoples rights, recommended to the Philippine government to review its laws, programs and polices for the sector.

Even then, the UN envoy told the government the need to immediately address blatant human rights violations against indigenous tribes. Unfortunately, the FPIC provision in the law has invited more abuses for the indigenous peoples.

Recruitment of tribe members in paramilitary groups has aggravated the indigenous peoples’ plight, said KAMP. It cites the case of Bai Bibyaon Ligkayan Bigkay, 65, a leader of Ata-Matigsalog who has received a series of grave threats reportedly from the Alamara paramilitary group. In February this year, 16 Alamara members from Talaingod led by the 73rd Infantry Battalion raided and opened fired at her house where 38 lumad (28 of whom are teeners and children) were resting.

Mangumalam said that the implementation of FPIC has deteriorated because of development aggression and militarization, while concerned government agencies have failed to properly address human rights cases filed by or in behalf of the indigenous peoples.

KAMP is demanding government withdrawal of licenses and permits of companies acquired by cheating the FPIC, and for the government to scrap the Mining Act of 1995 which has become instrumental in imposing vague development projects.

UN Declaration

Last June, the United Nation has adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, seen to strengthen worldwide attention for the struggles of indigenous peoples.

Corpuz said the UN declaration “contains the minimum standards for the protection and respect of indigenous peoples' rights.”

“IPs can use the Declaration as the moral authority to judge whether the government’s actions are consistent with internationally agreed standards on human rights of indigenous peoples,” she said.

She cited the administration-backed Charter change proposal. “If the IPRA is repealed or significantly weakened because of charter change, indigenous peoples can still invoke the Declaration for the protection of their rights.”

“The collective rights recognized in international human rights instruments like the Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights are the right to self-determination and right to free association.”

“Other than this, all the rights recognized are individual rights. The contribution of the Declaration, therefore, in terms of recognizing collective rights of indigenous peoples is very crucial for their continuing existence as distinct peoples.”

For its part, KAMP asserts that the government should abide by its commitment for the adoption of such declarations.

“We strongly demand request the Philippine government to pursue impartial and speedy investigation and prosecution of those involved in political killing of indigenous peoples, and call for the end to harassment and intimidation of indigenous activists and leaders,” Mangumalam said. Bulatlat 



© 2006 Bulatlat  Alipato Media Center

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