In July of 2023, we, from the indigenous communities of Ayta Abellen, Ibaloi, Subanen, Livunganen, Kirinteken Ilentungen, Kirinteken Pulangiyen, Manobo, Higaonon, Teduray, Lambangian, T’boli, Mamanwa, Mansaka, Bagobo, and Blaan, came together in a historical gathering of indigenous women human rights defenders. One in solidarity with us are the rural women human rights defenders from the mining-impacted island of Sibuyan, Romblon, women farmer rights defenders from Brgy. Sumalo, Bataan, and women human rights defenders from Metro Manila.
From the 22nd to the 25th of July, we, women from different communities, who practice different cultures, and speak different languages, shared our stories, our struggles, and our hopes as we face a new leadership in government. Together we listened to the words of Bongbong Marcos Jr. who enthusiastically concluded in his address to the people that the state of the nation is sound and improving. We call on his lies and present this statement as an account of the true state of the nation from the lived experiences of indigenous peoples, indigenous women, rural women, and defenders of rights.
In the first year of Marcos government, we remain in insecurity amidst multiple crises. We are indigenous and women farmers and the food we grow not only feed our families and communities but the whole country. Yet we are the ones who are hungry. The prices of basic necessities have risen, along with farm inputs, fertilizers, and gasoline, leaving us unable to farm and hungrier.
We indigenous women are the stewards of nature. Since time immemorial, we have protected the environment against destruction for the sake of next generations. We, indigenous peoples, defend the land and environment which mitigate the impacts of climate change. And yet we suffer the worst of the climate crisis. The ayuda (aid) we received from the government in times of crisis is rarely enough. Many of us did not receive anything. In times of calamities, we are forgotten.
Our rights, although enshrined by the Indigenous People's Rights Act, are unrecognized, unprotected, and unfulfilled by the government. Many of us have yet to receive our Certificate of Ancestral Domain Titles (CADT). Our Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC), protecting our rights and empowering us to perform informed decisions in development, is undermined and violated. We have multiple and intersecting identities. We are farmers, workers, and students, we belong to the youth and the elderly, we are health providers, persons with disabilities, teachers, and leaders, and yet we are invisible to the eyes of the government and the president. We believe this invisibility is on purpose, intentionally leaving us vulnerable and disempowered, as corporations, aided by the state, come and encroach on our lands and our lives.
Following his predecessors, the Marcos Jr. government pursues the same corporate-led development, relying on investments from the private sector as economic drivers. The Philippines is being laid bare to foreign investments, and our ancestral domains, our lands, are threatened by this supposed economic and development strategy. We continue to suffer from the irreversible destruction of large-scale mining and tourism which have polluted the soil of our lands and made our water scarce. Life no longer grows from the ground and because we, indigenous peoples, root our cultures, our lives, and our identities in our lands, Marcos Jr., has sentenced us to death.
We, indigenous women human rights defenders, continue to defend our rights, despite the threats we face from all fronts. We struggle against discrimination and harassment within our divided community. Because we dare critique the government, we are excluded from essential social services. We face judicial harassment and criminalization from corporations that see us as hurdles to their businesses and profits. From Duterte to Marcos Jr., violence against defenders has continued. Whenever we speak, we are red-tagged, accused of being communists and terrorists, and forced to lie and “surrender.” We face rape and death threats, physical and sexual harassment, violence, and killings more acutely because we are indigenous, because we are women.
We reiterate our demands to the Marcos government -
Respect and protect our rights to defend our rights.
- Stop the killings of indigenous women human rights defenders.
- Recognize and protect our rights as Indigenous Women Human Rights, Land, and Environment Defenders (IWHRD).
- Recognize, protect, and fulfill the rights of indigenous women as enshrined by the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997 (IPRA) and the Magna Carta of Women;
- Scrap laws that are the basis of threats, harassment, and suppression of indigenous women:
- Executive Order 70 (E.O. 70) and dismantle the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC);
- Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020; and the
- Mining Act of 1995 which allows destructive mining within ancestral domains;
- Disarm all private and state-backed paramilitary groups within ancestral domains;
- Prioritize the passing of bills that protect our rights as IWHRDs:
- Human Rights Defenders Bill;
- Anti-Discrimination Bill;
- Anti-Red Tagging Bill;
- Alternative Minerals Management Bill (AMMB); and the
- National Land Use Act;
- Eradicate trumped-up charges and all forms of intimidation and threats against women human rights defenders;
- Respect and strengthen indigenous women’s and young indigenous women’s representation and participation in different levels of leadership, governance, and decision-making processes;
We call on all other rural and indigenous women human rights defenders:
Join our fight against all forms of discrimination against us as indigenous, and as women;
and our fight against disinformation and the spread of lies by the Marcos government on its achievements and programs, which, in truth, have detrimental impacts on rural and indigenous communities;
Remain critical of the policies and programs of the government, both at the national and local levels, that may affect us and our lives as indigenous and as women.
Continue educating ourselves on critical issues so that we can respond and act accordingly.
We know that we are not alone in our fight. We are one with women farmers, workers, fishers, environmentalists, and feminists in this fight for a society without discrimination, violence, hunger, and poverty.
Magkaisa, at Makiisa.