Sharing for the UN women-organized Discussion-Forum on POLICYMAKING and ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT and RELATED RIGHTS OF WOMEN AND MARGINALIZED SECTORS: Issues and Opportunities, Perspectives, Other Frontiers. October 15, 2020. 5:00 PM.
Magandang hapon po sa ating lahat [Good afternoon, everyone]. I will be sharing with you this afternoon some stories from our indigenous women partners, and LILAK’s reflections on these; and offer some recommendations which I hope are worth your while.
The question has always been – how many are the indigenous peoples in the Philippines. As of11:00 am today, we have a population of 109,421,6901¹.
And the estimate is that indigenous population stands something between 10-20% of the total population. There is no official figure for the indigenous population.
There have been attempts in 2010 to include ethnicity variable in the population census. But still have not resulted to an official number. For 2020, there is the ongoing census of population and housing where again ethnicity variable is included.
But are the IP communities reached by this census? Are these serious efforts to reach indigenous communities?
Unless the indigenous peoples are counted, then they remain invisible to the government, and therefore excluded in the policy considerations and services.
The pandemic has surfaced the continuing problems - the exclusion and isolation of indigenous women.
Yolanda, the super typhoon, has shown this to us in 2013. When we asked the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) for their official record of the number of IP communities who have been affected by Yolanda, and how much budget has been directed to their assistance, they said they relied solely on the reports from the region.
So if no report from Mindoro about Mangyan then they officially do not know about this. When we were in Antique then for relief work in the town of Valderrama, we coordinated with the PDRRMO - Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office - and they went with us to one of the farthest barangays - San Agustin. Sabi nila, “Piso na lang nasa langit ka na” [They said, “Just one more peso and you’re already in heaven]. And the PDRRMO men who joined us said, “May ganito pala dito! Buti na lang sumama kami sa inyo [We didn’t know there was a place like this. It was a good thing we came with you].”
No radio transmission, that’s how far high the Iraynon Bukidnon are. And they were not on the radar of PDRRMO, nor the NCIP. And so no relief reached them. It was through the efforts of a few non-government organizations, including us LILAK, that they were able to seek an audience with the local government unit, and asked that they be included in the trainings, in other development programs of Antique. This has been the core issue - their invisibility, therefore exclusion and isolation.
And COVID-19 has reiterated this again ever so sharply. A lot of indigenous women whom we have tried to reach from our homes, given that we are all in lockdown, were surprised, and anxious about the lockdown. No coherent information has reached them about COVID-19; what is this? and how can we protect ourselves from this? All they knew is that they were being prevented to go out of their communities; military and police were everywhere, including their farms and entry to the forests. These were the stories from our Mangyan leaders, Dumagat, Manobo, Mamanwa women.
IMAGE: "Pagkain at kalusugan; Hindi Kulungan" [Food and health; Not prison]. Indigenous women protest against the Duterte government's militaristic response to the COVID-19 pandemic. March 23, 2020. Artwork by Shar Balagtas.
In Lake Sebu, the land conflict between T'boli and DM Consunji Incorporated resulted in what is now known as the TAMASCO massacre - eight leaders were killed by the military in December 2017. After the murder of her father, the community’s datu, and her husband and her two brothers, a T'boli young woman had to assume leadership of her community. When the lockdown was put into place, she found security guards and armed men guarding the remaining plot of land where her community were planting corn. These men told them they could not farm anymore because of COVID-19. "We are afraid that after the lockdown, we will lose all of our remaining small plots of farm," she told us.
Why? Because the mining permit of OGPI expired last year. And it has not been renewed. So it has no business continuing its operations in Didipio. Last March, a hundred policemen accompanied oil tankers of OGPI and forced their way through the small barricade of the village road. Binuwag ang barikada ng sampu hanggang 15 na katao ng isang daang pulis [A hundred policemen demolished the community’s human barricade of ten to fifteen people]. Imagine. The video that they sent us was hard to watch - and listen to. Uniformed men carrying the leader like a pig, his clothes torn; the wailing of women could be heard. After that, 14 indigenous women were charged with breaking the quarantine protocols. They have pending cases against them.
These as they worry about their source of food for the next week, while others, for the next day. Even pre-COVID, food security has been a major issue for them. Their lands and forests have been ravaged by open pit mining; huge tracts of coffee plantations; logging; and are being secured for mega dams, as in Kaliwa Dam. Pre-COVID, the impacts of climate change have been harsh to their harvests - intense rainfalls, intense drought; and the drought brings with it pests, like big rats, as in the case in Saranggani. COVID and the lockdown, and the militarist response of the government have worsened their situation - yung mga arawan na kanilang pinapasukan - for their daily expenses - makikitanim sa ibang may lupa, maglalaba, mamamasukan bilang kasambahay, magtitinda ng non-forest products - all these have been affected
[COVID and the lockdown, and the militaritst response of the government have worsened their situation - their jobs where they earn daily wages - farming other people’s land, washing clothes, working as housekeepers, and selling non-forest products - all these have been affected].
But what do they get from the government? Harsh militarist responses. Ang LILAK po ay naglunsad ng BABAYEnihan, women-to-women solidarity, in response to COVID-19 [LILAK launched BABAYEnihan, women-to-women solidarity, in response to COVID-19].
The indigenous women are our first responders. They bravely risk exposure to COVID-19 and passing through military checkpoints.
Our Mangyan partner said to the military, “Hinaharang n’yo ko, bakit, may dinadala bakayong ayuda sa amin? [“How dare you stop us when you’re not giving us any aid?”]. The other experience, from our Mamanwa partner, her village was surrounded by 4 military trucks one morning in May, looking for her - kasi daw she was providing supplies to rebels up in the mountain [she was accused of bringing supplies to rebels up in the mountain]. The tribal leaders said that she was doing BABAYEnihan, going to areas that the barangay could not, would not go. Two of our leader-partners are now in sanctuary, because of harassment, being tagged as NPA sympathizers. But still, they face the risk, to share the little relief that we collect.
Because they hardly benefitted from BAYANIHAN 1². The Social Amelioration Program (SAP) hardly reached the targets. In the community of Kirinteken Erumanen Menuvu up in North Cotabato, we were told that the SAP for their barangay was raffled. It was so little, and to avoid conflict among them, the barangay decided it was the best thing to do. Others receive one-time relief all throughout the four months they were in lockdown.
BAYANIHAN 2³ - based on my understanding is that it is focused on corporate bailout; for small and medium-sized enterprises (SME). But the indigenous women are not part of these. They have no business, no enterprise. Maybe some of them, but majority do not.
For the indigenous women, for us in LILAK, we say, fast-track the ancestral domain delineation. That has been the promise of IPRA or the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act, 23 years ago when it was passed. Even with its issuance of 243 certificates of ancestral domain title (CADT) as of 2019, many more are waiting for delineation; many more are waiting to be recognized; meanwhile, there is continuing corporate occupation of ancestral lands, communities are displaced.
When we recognize ancestral domains, we strengthen then their own indigenous governance systems. Then they themselves can govern their resources and their communities in a more informed, grounded, and appropriate way.
But the state has also to support them -subsidies, funding, technical assistance - based on the ancestral domain development plan that they develop collectively.
Indigenous women are rising to the challenge - they continually assert their roles, and their rights to participate and be heard.
So now we see, even just within our small LILAK universe, we witness the formations of indigenous women’s community organizations; we women in the indigenous political structures taking prominent space; we have women, nariri-tualan bilang mga Timuay [being anointed as Timuay], or leaders in their communities.
Members of the Katutubong Lilak have been doing One Week, One Voice since 2011. This is a week-long schedule of dialogues between indigenous women leaders and government agencies - Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), NCIP, Commission on Human Rights (CHR), Senate, Congress, Department of Health (DOH), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), and at some point, with UN Women. During these dialogues, they raise urgent issues they face as indigenous women - mining, reproductive health, the NO Home Birth Policy, killings, access to basic social services, and the recognition of their role in decision-making processes.
In 2016, one concrete result of this continuing dialogue with NCIP was the passage of the en banc resolution recognizing the role of indigenous women, and mandating the commission that indigenous women should be part of the FPIC process - Free Prior Informed Consent. However, this resolution has to be cascaded to the regions. And this was at the time when indigenous women, good, committed indigenous women leaders, were part of the commission. Everything changed of course, with the Duterte government.
The indigenous women are at the forefront of the struggle to defend their land - their food source; their forests which are sources of herbs, traditional medicines, and immunity boosters, which could be part of their protection from diseases; make them less vulnerable. So what policies should be passed; should be enforced to protect them in their struggle? As I said - recognize, delineate and respect ancestral domains.
Then, we should work towards eliminating the sources of threats against their land, and their survival. Mining is not the answer; it has not been. We have been repeating the studies that have shown that mining in the past decade has contributed nothing to our economy, less than 1%. And yet the devastation has cost us a lot; has cost the indigenous communities their food sources, their land, and their cultural integrity. And now we hear the DENR saying that mining is one of the pillars of our economic recovery.
We also hear the Department of Agriculture saying that we should develop idle lands within ancestral domains for food production.
So again, this is a way to legally land grab ancestral domains for the purpose of corporate profit. Because if we are talking about food production - then we talk to the communities and support their own food production, their resource management. Support local agriculture.
The Kaliwa Dam - which will inundate agricultural lands of the Dumagat, and their homes as well - will further make the Dumagat and Remontado food insecure and vulnerable.
The indigenous women oppose these projects, these programs - in defense of their land. Not for any political agenda. Not because they are anti-development. Their survival as a people depends on their land. So no policy, or laws, should be used against them as they defend their lands. As it is, the Philippines is recorded as having the most number, in the whole world, of land rights defenders killed. Why are we killing those who protect their land; Those who struggle for their survival?
NCIP Chair Capuyan has been doing the rounds recently in the provinces, not so much as chair of NCIP, but more as the executive director of the Task Force on Ending Local Communism and Armed Conflict. According to our partners who attended these ‘patawag’ [calls for dialogue], “We were only asked about our issues towards the end”. And they were only given perfunctory responses, “Si regional director na sisilip n’yan; Sige, aayusin natin ‘yan [The regional director will look into that; Okay, we will work on that].” The premise of such assemblies is that the government claims that 70% of the membership of the New People’s Army (NPA) comes from indigenous peoples’ communities.
So the main purpose, we gathered, was to encourage IPs to ‘voluntarily surrender’ and receive kabuhayan [livelihood] packages, ayuda [aid]. And for the others, magmanman [observe], at magsumbong [and report]. Divide and conquer. Who are those active in anti development campaigns? Who are those vocal, critical?
In Zambales, one of the Katutubong Lilak leaders was asked to do just that - surrender,so that she will be given livelihood project. She badly needs that livelihood project for her, her family, and her community. But to ‘surrender’? She refused. With fear in her heart.
We want policies that will benefit indigenous women, that would be relevant to them -then let’s talk to them and listen. Without threats, without dangling corporate promises that would be difficult to refuse especially now in the times of dire wants and needs. Let us shift our priorities - no to corporate profit; more participation from our communities; more local solutions. Let us look at land, and our resources, not as investments, but as part of our communities resource for survival.
I would like to take the last seconds of the time allotted to me, to invite us for a moment of silence - to honor the women from rural and indigenous communities, who have offered their lives, and those whose lives were taken away from them, as they struggled for a life of dignity, of happiness. We salute you as we commemorate today, the International Rural Women’s Day.
Maraming salamat po [Thank you].