CHR: Gov’t, stakeholders need to revisit, assess law protecting indigenous people
MANILA, Philippines — A law crafted to protect the country’s indigenous people (IP) should be revisited and assessed by the government and other stakeholders to determine how its implementation is going, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said.
In its message for the 23rd anniversary of the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA) passage, CHR said that they have seen first-hand how IPs still endure abuse and other challenges despite the existence of the law.
CHR Spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia said that a lot of IPs still fall victim to land-related harassment, as businesses seek to take control of ancestral land for their own purposes. Worse, there are also instances when the problems stem from state enforcers themselves.
“Based on the CHR experience on the ground, most of the human rights violations perpetrated against indigenous peoples are land-related harassments, attacks, and killings. Some also endured state repression when caught in conflict situations, while others experience continuing discrimination in accessing basic social services,” De Guia said in a statement.
“Twenty-three years has been a long time to test the teeth of IPRA and to assess the milestones and gaps of its implementation. At this point, we need to revisit if the existing formal mechanisms, including other laws and policies that may pose threats to the rights of indigenous people, are still responsive to the goal of delivering social justice, and if it is really effective enough to hold perpetrators to account,” she added.
Despite being one of the first countries in Asia to recognize the struggles of indigenous people with the enactment of Republic Act No. 8371 in 1997, the countryside has still been rife with reports of IPs being abused.
“But twenty-three years after its signing, the supposed landmark law continues to confront setbacks in fully realising the human rights and freedoms of indigenous Filipinos,” De Guia noted.
Several killings have hounded the town of Lianga in Surigao del Sur, as Lumads are being killed and caught between skirmishes of the communist rebel group New People’s Army (NPA), the government forces, and other paramilitary groups that also include IP among its ranks.
This has led to a widely-known campaign to stop Lumad killings.
Last October 5, an alleged IP paramilitary leader who was accused of burning alternative learning schools and the killing of leaders from the Lumad tribe was slain in an NPA ambush.
According to De Guia, one of the key landmarks of the IPRA was the adoption of the free and prior informed consent (FPIC), which is meant to “protect indigenous rights and interests and give them a voice in matters that affect them.”
“In this context, FPIC requires that indigenous communities be provided with adequate and accessible information; that consensus is determined in accordance with indigenous peoples’ customary laws and practices; and that it should be free from any external manipulation or coercion,” De Guia explained.
“Unfortunately, even with strong legal provisions in place, indigenous peoples have faced considerable challenges in upholding their right to give or withhold FPIC,” she added.
Just recently, a mining firm got the certification precondition (CP) to operate in Tampakan town of South Cotabato — believed to be the largest untapped copper and gold minefield in Southeast Asia. This mining site was originally scrapped by the late former environment secretary Gina Lopez in 2017.
This would mean that the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP) has given their nod for the project, as the CP is a certification that IPs in the community have given their consent for the mining venture that lies within their ancestral domain.
CPs also denote that the FCIP process has been complied. But despite the NCIP’s approval, a lot of groups in Tampakan have sternly opposed the mining project.
“The resources lying within the indigenous peoples’ ancestral territories are being extracted for profits by a few but causes disruption in the lives of many communities. Such projects are usually couched in the language of development and are contrary to the best interest of the people,” De Guia reminded.
“Not only does this leaves indigenous peoples displaced, militarized, or exploited for cheap labour, but this also leaves environmental destruction in its wake,” she added.
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