Women’s Front: Silence is never an option


This is a reprint of the speech delivered at a side-event of the Asia Pacific High-level Meeting for CSW 62 (Commission on the Status of Women) in Bangkok, Thailand.

I. Brief background on the corporate energy projects in the Cordillera

Good morning. I am Alma Sinumlag, a Kalinga-Igorot, one of the IP groups in the Cordillera, Philippines. Our region has been dubbed as the watershed cradle of the Northern Philippines, the food basket and so many other terminologies that promote its rich natural resources.

The Cordillera Region in the northern most part of the Philippines has a shining history for the defense of land life and resources. We halted the setting up of a supposed biggest dam in Asia with a capacity of 1000 MW which was funded by IMF-WB in the 1970s to the 80s during the Marcos dictatorship. This energy project would have inundated the source of livelihood of 100,000 families, and burial grounds of our ancestors.

Yes, we have won this battle. We could not have won it if not for the participation of all sectors, the unity between and among our tribes, the courageous women who did unimaginable actions to block and ward off the intruders. We won this battle but it was never an assurance that our territories are safe from big corporations salivating to exploit what is left of our natural resources and with our government allowing its sell-out. In the context of neoliberal globalization, our ancestral lands have been continuously opened for big extractive industries mostly owned by huge foreign corporations. This shining history of defense however has given strength to multi-sectoral and indigenous women’s organizations to continue protecting our ancestral lands, our rights as a people, our rights as women.

Our home land today is covered with applications and ongoing operations of mining and energy projects. If not for the peoples’ protests, our homeland would have been no man’s land by now. With the entry of these extractive interest comes the militarization. Battalions of soldiers are deployed in my homeland.

II. The Kalinga geothermal power project

Since 2012, CWEARC, the organization I belong to worked in a community affected by an application of Chevron for a geothermal power facility. This is in Western Uma, Lubuagan, Kalinga where women have been actively leading protest actions to stop the power project. Women led dialogues between the community and the company, confront military encamped in their houses and learning centers, led barricades to stop the exploration activities.

What did the company do? They attacked where the community was vulnerable: They lured traditional leaders with perceived “benefits” of these projects. They picked grantees for educational assistance. They donated to projects or cash to local government and literally paid local influencers to amplify their interests. This created deep divide in the Uma tribe and between 11 other affected tribes. State security forces were deployed since 2015 and recruited local paramilitary units that further deepened the divide. In 2017, despite community protests, the Armed Forces of the Philippines built a military detachment inside the village of the Uma tribe. During this forced encampment, CWEARC documented several human rights violations including sexual harassment against women, threats, harassment, intimidation against leaders of peoples organizations.

III. An experience of a self-sustaining, community based energy project

In this small village in Kalinga province, the people had been self-reliant in order to survive despite the long running government neglect of social services. They worked hard to access and implement a micro-hydroelectric power. This community-based power facility lights their homes, and powers their rice and corn mill. This community reflects the kind of development that the progressive indigenous peoples movement has been fighting for decades – a self-determined and sustainable approach to development.

The initiatives for this alternative kind of development is a painstaking process because we are not isolated from the bigger societal condition. Philippines is suffering from a social cancer that we in the progressive peoples mass movement call a semi-feudal and semi-colonial state . Our economy, politics and culture are dictated on by the foreign corporations, a handful of local elite, bureaucrats and landlords and warlords. That is why, the indigenous peoples mass movement including the indigenous women’s movement in the Cordillera do not only seek to liberate the marginalized and impoverished majority from national oppression but also contribute to changing this rotten condition that keep the rich richer and the poor poorer.

IV. Women Resist Tyranny Campaign

Because of the growing resistance against the so-called development programs imposed on our communities by big corporations and the Philippine state, there is prolonged military encampment in our villages specifically in Kalinga, causing numerous human rights violations in the form of sexual harassment, surveillance against our members, encampment in educational facilities, threat and intimidation against all those whom they suspect as members or supporters of the New Peoples Army.

In the province of Abra, the state security forces bombed the communal forest of Malibcong on March of 2017 using phosphorous bombs. In the province of Ifugao, members of peoples organizations were attacked by the state security forces by conducting illegal searches of their homes and tagging them as members of the New Peoples Army. These people had been active in the campaign against the SN-Aboitiz hydroelectric power project that was halted due to community protests.

Starting February of 2017, there was no let-up of human rights violations committed against women human rights defenders. On October of 2017, five women activists were charged with trumped-up cases of frustrated murder and multiple attempted murder related to a gun firing incident. This has been a very painful ordeal among the WHRDs, their families and the organization they belong to . I know these women. They have committed to serve the communities that are hardly reached by government services. They used most of their time and skills to empower these communities on basic human rights. They led campaigns against development aggression especially in our ancestral territories. And yet the government especially the state security forces are treating them like terrorists. Tagging us as (communist terrorist of CT) members of the said group which make us open targets for extra-judicial killings especially today that President Rodrigo Duterte declared that he will pay P25,000 for every NPA killed by civilians.

We are expecting more human rights violations against us indigenous peoples as the president declared that he will choose foreign investors for the ancestral lands and there will be no social acceptance necessary.

V. Ways forward

Yes, there is no let-up on human rights violations in the Cordillera and all over the country but we are resolved that silence is never an option. We have started the Women Against Tyranny campaign to expose these atrocities. We have started fund raising for the legal battle as we know that this is financially draining. We try our best to rise above our fears and continue our human rights campaign especially in communities that are often militarized. But we cannot do this alone. We need your help. We’ve started an online signature campaign for the government of the Philippines to drop all the trumped up charges against the WHRDs. Everyone is invited to read the petition, sign, and share. We welcome any form action in support to our campaign. You can also write the different government departments raising your concern about the attacks on WHRDs. We are also in need of financial support. Any donation is welcome.

On a final note, we are not opposed to efforts at finding solutions to replace fossil fuel. However, these efforts should not go against our basic human rights, and our rights to self determination. These initiatives should not be corporate and greed driven. We call on the government of the Philippines to demilitarized our communities. Specifically, we call on President Duterte to command his the Philippine Army to protect the people and not the interests of foreign corporations. # nordis.net


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