By PHILIPPINE TASK FORCE FOR INDIGENOUS PEOPLES RIGHTS
Indigenous peoples (IP) month in October is supposed to be a celebration of IPs rights to ancestral lands and self-determination; basic rights that they have fearlessly fought for through generations. However, this year’s IP month is drenched with terror due to attacks against indigenous peoples’ human rights defenders (IPHRDs) and communities.
Attacks in all forms against dissenting IPs from Luzon to Mindanao have escalated as the government implements its age-old witch hunt strategy, now branded as “Red October” under Oplan Kapayapaan. Harassment, illegal arrests, filing of trumped-up charges and killings continue unabated. IPs have no other choice but to fight back.
In a cramped detention cell in Ilocos region, Rachel Mariano languishes like many other human rights defenders all over the country. Rachel, an Ibaloi-Kankanaey activist and development worker, was outrageously accused of 14 counts of unfounded criminal cases by the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Rachel started her activism in the 1990s during the struggle against large-scale open pit mining that decimated the vegetation and mountains in her hometown in Itogon, Benguet. For many years, she dedicated her time for community-based health programs of the Center for Development Programs in the Cordillera (CDPC). She not only attended to the medical needs of communities but empowered them to assert their right to health services from the government. Rachel is a mother, a wife, a passionate health worker, and a human rights defender. But now, she is one among the rising numbers of IPHRDs and communities who are branded as criminals and terrorists and robbed of their fundamental rights and freedoms.
A climate of impunity reigns in the country as the government has resurrected the Human Security Act of 2007 that illegalizes any form of protest. Government agencies have colluded in the establishment of the Inter-Agency Committee on Legal Action (IACLA) to systematically clamp down on and persecute political dissent. Aside from this, indigenous communities from North to South face intensified militarization. Around half a million Lumad have forcibly evacuated from their ancestral lands. More than three hundred thousand people in indigenous communities have been affected by bombings. Thousands of students are affected by the closure and military occupation of Lumad schools. Around 40 IPs have been murdered since President Duterte assumed office in 2016.
This is the price that IPs have to pay for putting their lives on the line in defense of their rights and protection of their ancestral lands and environment. These IPHRDs and indigenous communities are fearlessly waging battles against destructive and profit-driven corporate projects, which are mostly located within the territories of indigenous peoples. These destructive projects range from large mining, monocrop plantations of fruits and biofuels, large dams, energy projects, special economic zones, tourism development, and environment programs encroaching IP territories. These projects have already displaced communities, destroyed forests, mountains and rivers, degraded the environment, alienated land rights, deprived IPs of their traditional livelihoods and caused social conflict and dissolution of culture. Many more are being planned and are in the pipeline. These will all lead to ethnocide or the death and extinction of indigenous peoples’ lives, culture and identity. That’s why indigenous peoples and other freedom-loving citizens resist.
In the spirit of IP month and for the sake of our future, it is not too late to act. The Philippine Task Force for Indigenous Peoples Rights (TFIP) calls on every person, institution and organization to resist the ethnocidal attacks against indigenous peoples. We enjoin local governments to issue resolutions and ordinances defending their constituents who are falsely accused as terrorists or criminals. We join the call to abolish Martial Law in Mindanao and to end the tyrannical rule in our country. # nordis.net