October 29, the day the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act or R.A. 8371 was signed into law in 1997 by then President Fidel V. Ramos. Its celebration this year is marked by a posthumous award to the late President Corazon C. Aquino by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) “for enshrining the policy of recognition in the Constitution and the inclusion of the Indigenous Peoples (IP) agenda in the Social Pact for Empowered Economic Development.”
On the this year’s theme, “IPRA ay Gabay sa Kaunlaran, Isaisip, Ipabatid at Isakatuparan”, the ceremony was led by none other than the son of the awardee, President Benigno Simeon Aquino III (PNoy) who was quoted to have said, “This morning, we are gathered not only to look back on the success of RA 8371, the Indigenous People’s Rights Act. We are here to further strengthen our dedication to indigenous people who form an important part of our culture and society”.
On the other hand, indigenous peoples’ organizations whether those labeled the progressive left or those who claim to be neutral, or (ridiculously) apolitical groups, recognize that the IPRA is a result of their peoples’ centuries of struggle for the recognition of their right to keep practicing their community traditions and culture which can never be separate from their rights to their ancestral land, domains, and to common resources, or the right as a people to self-determination, and the inherent right to life.
It has been said that the IPRA stemmed from the more than 100 year old US Supreme Court decision in favor of the rights of an Igorot, Mateo Cariño, to native title over his pasture land, the present area of the Camp John Hay. Since he won this case (including the 15 years the IPRA law was in place), Mateo Cariño (now long gone) and his 3rd , 4th, and 5th generation descendants today have yet to see justice served.
Since the late President Cory, indigenous peoples groups grew to be more openly active and vocal in the legal struggle for recognition and respect of their rights to their ancestral lands/domains, and the right to self-determination. They wrote letters, petitions, manifesto, lobbied, filed court cases, launched mass protests to get their message across.
In 2010, at a meeting of representatives of indigenous peoples communities, groups and organizations from all over the country, they agreed to present a united IP agenda for the new Aquino administration to include in its plans for the country. It was done and presented to Viel, the president’s sister and official representative then.
Among the issues IPs asked to be addressed in the agenda are on: (1) laws and state policies that grossly violate indigenous peoples’ rights like the Mining Act of 1995, the IPRA, NIPAS Law, National Minerals Policy (NMP), Mining Action Plan (MAP); (2) the State’s counter-insurgency policy Oplan Baynihan, and the National Integrated Security Plan for Indigenous Peoples (NISP-IP); and (3) the lukewarm implementation of international agreements on indigenous peoples rights such as the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
Presently, indigenous peoples groups from different parts of the country still complain of the continued disenfranchisement from their lands in favor of corporate farms, tourist enclaves, housing development, mining, energy development, etc. Vocal members, elders, and chiefs aside from their women and children continue to be victims of extra-judicial killings, among other rights violations.
At the awards ceremony, PNoy also said that his administration recognizes the inherent (emphasis added) rights of IP and their cultural communities to self-governance, empowerment and cultural integrity. But then twenty-eight IPs, as of date, were extra-judicially killed under his administration and he did not even say anything about it.
Malacañang’s inability to jump start correcting the historical injustice committed against the IPs in Mindanao, in the Cordillera, or in other parts of the country, and even allowing such injustice to continue renders the efforts of the late Cory and the present president Aquino’s words as simply, EMPTY. In thought and in deed? The award did not come from the people they are mandated to serve. # nordis.net