By SHERWIN DE VERA
CABUGAO, Ilocos Sur — In a fitting commemoration of the World Indigenous Peoples Day, members of the different tribes in Ilocos gathered in this town on August 9 for the First Ilocos Indigenous Peoples Convergence and Consultation.
More than 60 representatives from the Bago, Isnag-Yapayao and Tingguian tribes from Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur and La Union shared their experiences and concerns in a workshop.
The Ilocos Region Ecumenical Council (IREC) organized the activity.
“This activity aims to attune our member churches to the issues of our IP members so we can come up with the appropriate response,” said IREC Chairperson Israel Bangsil in Ilokano. He is a pastor of the United Methodist Church and a member of the Bago tribe in Salcedo, Ilocos Sur.
He added the meeting is of utmost importance since many infrastructure projects in the region under the government’s ‘Build, Build, Build’ program are located in ancestral lands.
The cleric explained that hydropower and ecotourism projects are “compounding the environmental damages and displacement caused by mining.”
Victims of greed
In his message, Bishop Vermilion Tagalog of Iglesia Filipina Independiente Dioceses of La Union, Ilocos Sur and Abra said IPs become victims of human rights violations because “the government allows aggressive businesses to venture into their ancestral lands.”
“IPs only takes what they need from the environment to survive while businesses take everything they want for profit, plundering resources and destroying the land,” he lamented.
Non-recognition of IPMR
Participants from La Union raised the refusal of the provincial government to let the indigenous peoples’ mandatory representative assume his office.
“Provincial official claim we did not follow the local guidelines when we selected our IPMR, Sonny Solimen, in 2016,” said Ms. Melita Estillore, secretary of La Union Federation of IP Organizations.
However, she narrated representatives from the Department of Interior and Local Government and the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP) were present during the selection.
Solimen, in a text message, said the NCIP administered his oath to office on June 16 last year.
“The complainant filed for a temporary restraining order but was denied by the court, yet they still refuse to allow me to take my position,” he said.
Two IP leaders from Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte shared how government agencies violated the Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) process.
Rolly Purdos , an Isnag-Yapayao narrated that the officials of Adams, Ilocos Norte, in partnership with some organizations, worked for the designation of a forested area as a critical wildlife habitat. The parcel of forest lies within their ancestral land, however, they were not consulted.
“Our livelihood is now affected because we are now prohibited from gathering forest products and hunting in the area,” he said.
While Nick Lacaden, a Bago from Salcedo and leader of Timpuyog ti Mannalon ti Karayan Buaya shared their experience with the National Irrigation Authority, that proposed for the construction of a dam in their municipality without even securing their consent.
Members of the Isnag-Yapayao in Caunayan, Pagudpud in Ilocos Norte expressed dismay with the NCIP.
“They are sowing disunity among our people. The agency colluded with energy corporations to put up another IP elders and an organization because they cannot coerce us to submit to their terms,” Benny Aguinaldo told the participants. He is the chieftain of the group and leads the Oggayam Tribal Organization.
Several energy corporations have put up and are planning to add more wind turbines in their ancestral land.
“At the moment, the Northern Luzon Renewable Energy Corporation still has to meet our demands, other companies are already forcing their way without our approval,” he said.
In their Declaration of Unity, the participants claimed that many of them are “denied of our rights to use, manage and develop our ancestral land.” They also underscored the government violate their right to determine how they govern, develop economically and practice their culture.
“The government designates our lands as resource base yet continues to neglect our needs. Places where IPs are located remain to be among the poorest and lack basic social services,” reads the document.
They vowed to “expose, opposed and fight” destructive projects, government neglect and state violence committed against them. # nordis.net