On Tribal Filipinos Sunday: Support The IP Continuing Struggle For Self-Determination & Human Rights
In celebration of the Tribal Filipino’s Sunday, or Indigenous Peoples’ (IP) Sunday, we support the calls for solidarity with the Indigenous Peoples of the Philippines, bringing to the fore the IP continuing struggle for self-determination and recognition of rights amid the worsening human rights situation in the Philippines. And yet, despite the series of militaristic lockdowns imposed country-wide, as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, aggressive entry of corporate-led development projects have not ceased.
Resource plunder accompanied by militarization of IP communities continues; environmentally destructive projects such as mining and dam-building, without the free, prior and informed consent of the Indigenous communities are allowed. Concerns of affected indigenous communities regarding the adverse environmental impact these projects pose are swept under the rug. Instead of addressing these concerns, the government has directed its efforts in maintaining its image by shifting the blame onto IP leaders and rights defenders, tagging them as “enemies of the state”. In the face of these challenges, the struggle for the rights of IP for land and self-determination persists. Globally, Indigenous groups are reclaiming their rights, challenging the dominant historical narratives that continue to undermine IP existence and resistance.
The histories of the Indigenous Peoples in the Philippines are filled with lessons on collective resistance. Since the time of Spanish colonization up until the Japanese and American periods of occupation, the IP have been fighting for their rights to their lands against these colonizers. IP lives and identities are closely tied to their lands. To defend their lives, IP communities struggle to defend their lands against resource plunder. Up until now, IP communities continue the struggle to defend their land, lives and honor amid intense militarization and human rights violations against them.
Attacks against Human Rights
For instance, the Lumad evacuees taking refuge in the Haran compound of the United Churches for Christ in the Philippines, have suffered attacks from paramilitary troops. The Lumad evacuees have been fleeing from the terror of intense militarization in their communities. Cases of human rights abuses at the hands of state forces are not uncommon; Lumad communities are constantly terrorized and red-tagged by paramilitary troops and state forces driving them out of their lands. Displaced and dispossessed, the Lumad evacuees have been offered sanctuary by concerned church groups. For so long, the UCCP Haran has been offering its services to the poor and marginalized sectors and supporting the struggle of the Lumad communities that it has been continuously targeted for harassment by police and government agencies. And although the Lumad evacuees have strongly expressed their desire to return to their homes, heavy military presence in their communities and the continuing government-sponsored attacks prevent them from safely returning.
Militarization of IP ancestral domains is directly linked to resource plunder to sustain the profits of big businesses, progressive IP leaders and environmental defenders are tagged by police, military and government officials as “enemies of the state”. Red-tagging IP leaders and rights defenders as terrorists provide state forces an excuse to continue their violent militarization of IP communities.
In the Cordillera region, similar cases of harassment are experienced by IP advocates and rights defenders. The Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) has been falsely accused by state elements as recruiters for the New People’s Army. Since its inception, the CPA has been at the forefront of IP struggles in the Cordillera, advocating for IP rights and environmental protection against corporate plunder. Strong resistance from Indigenous communities in the Cordillera against the entry of aggressive development projects has gathered national and international support. The success of the anti-Chico Dams struggle in defending ancestral lands and IP rights have been a source of inspiration for IP advocates and organizations worldwide to continue the struggle. Recently, government-sponsored attacks were made to undermine the history of the Cordillera peoples’ resistance. Police regional director Gen. Pagkalinawan machinated a barangay resolution to demolish the monument for heroes of the anti-Chico Dams struggle. This attempt at dismantling the heroes’ monument is but a step for the government to revise the history of the Cordillera peoples and weaken the continuing struggle initiated by these brave martyrs of the Cordillera.
The history of Indigenous resistance against the entry of aggressive development projects is not without cause or reason. Aggressive development projects, funded by foreign corporations, have threatened to displace thousands of Indigenous families and cause environmental damage. The Kaliwa Dam project, for instance, has been widely opposed by environmental and Indigenous groups since it threatens the lives of IP and local biodiversity. People-centered and sustainable alternatives should be sought to address concerns about water security. Dumagat and Remontado tribes, in Quezon and Rizal, are those who would be adversely affected by the dam project. Despite the lack of consent from these indigenous communities, construction for the dam has begun in 2019.
The struggles of Indigenous Peoples to assert their rights for self-determination and defense of ancestral lands against imperial plunder persist around the world from the fires in the Amazon to the forests in Africa and jungles of West Papua, and mountains in Asia. Indigenous groups in the Americas organize mass demonstrations to demand the recognition of their rights and challenge the celebration of Columbus Day that institutionalizes colonial values and glosses over the history of genocide against Indigenous Peoples and slavery.
Let us celebrate Tribal Filipino or IP Sunday, and October as IP Month by recognizing the history of Indigenous Peoples. Let us celebrate their years of resistance against colonial and imperial forces, and stand in solidarity in continuing defense of their land, territories and ways of life. Indigenous traditions, cultures and knowledge should be included in our study of history so that we are also aware of the rich and diverse ways of living and defending our environment.