By Glemir Sordilla and Joshua Villalobos
Did you know? Over 476 million indigenous people live in 90 countries all over the world, accounting for 6.2 percent of the global population.
August 9 marks the annual celebration of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People. This honors the same day back in 1982 when the very first United Nations human rights body specifically dealing with indigenous people’s rights was established.
The theme for this year’s celebration is “Leaving No One Behind: Indigenous peoples and the call for a new social contract”. One of the main reasons this theme was chosen is to highlight the stark difference between how the pandemic took its toll on the indigenous and non-indigenous communities.
In the Philippines, Indigenous Peoples (IPs) face unique predicaments in protecting their ancestral domain and their human rights as well as their fight for self-determination. The national minority are vulnerable victims to a phenomenon called “red-tagging.”
Under the presidency of President Rodrigo Duterte, “red-tagging” as a term became popularized and more widely practiced. People who have been red-tagged include activists, development workers, community organizers, progressive leaders and legislators, vocal students, indigenous peoples, and many others who raise their voices on social injustices and unjust legislations and policies.
In fact, Duterte’s Anti-Terrorism Law, principally authored by Senator Ping Lacson, victimized two aeta (part of a major IP group of the same name in the Philippines) by tagging them as terrorists who murdered military men. They were later acquitted by the court and the truth prevailed.
Aside from widespread political persecution, various tribes are also victims of development aggression. Companies, and sometimes government agencies, threaten the rightful ownership of indigenous communities of their ancestral domains.
In early 2019, the Dumagat-Remontado’s (a Negrito ethnolinguistic group) ancestral land was encroached on by a government project. The project, called Kaliwa Dam, is part of the New Centennial Water Source and the Duterte administration’s Build, Build, Build program. Had it been finished, the dam’s reservoir would have flooded 113 hectares of forest land in which the tribe lives and get their livelihood from. Fortunately, the dam project was stopped because of the opposition of environmental and indigenous rights groups.
These are only a few examples of the most recent problems that indigenous communities in the Philippines face. They have fought and endured various attacks on their right to self-determination and judging by the administration’s overall attitude towards them, this will not stop any time soon. The right to self-determination is defined by the UN as “the rights of all peoples to pursue freely their economic, social, and cultural development without outside interference.”
With this year’s International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, we honor and value their dignity and pride. More importantly, may we continue to shed light on IP’s ongoing struggles and battles for the protection of their properties and welfare.