LA TRINIDAD, Benguet — Benguet State University (BSU) is one with the whole world as it observed the first year anniversary of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) September 12.
The event also marks the 4thyear of the Second Decade of Indigenous Peoples declared by the UN general assembly in its 74thPlenary Meeting in December 22, 2004.
BSU, through its Gender and Democracy (GAD) focal point, the Department of Social Sciences, in partnership with the Cordillera Indigenous Peoples Historical Society sponsored the celebrations with the Salidummay Performing Arts group leading the gongs and dances.
What transpired during the event is more meaningful than the watwat (share of meat) wines that were feasted upon by those who came to celebrate.
State of IPs
Xavier Akien, vice-chair for Internal Affairs of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), presented in a capsule, the state of indigenous peoples [IPs] with focus on the issues and concerns they are presently confronting.
In particular, Akien mentioned about the construction of the dams and how it adversely affected the life of the community; the land conversions that caused the displacement of Agta and Dumagats and the Aetas of central Luzon, the Lumads of Mindanao, among others.
Lawyer Jose Mencio Molintas , Expert on Indigenous Mechanisms of the UN Human Rights Council, highlighted the advocacy work of IPs at the international level, for the Draft Declaration of IP Rights. He said after more than two decades of lobby work, the UN General Assembly signed the Declaration on September 13, 2007.
Women IPs and Cordillera IPs, for one, were in the forefront in the many years of advocacy work, Molintas said.
The Gambang experience
During the forum on IP issues, Fausto Maliones of the Benguet Anti-Mining Action Network and representing Gambang, Bakun Punong Barangay Alvaro Paquito, their experiences on the Free Prior and Informed Consent [FPIC] experience with regards to the Royalco Philippines’ application for an exploration permit for 986 hectares in Gamban, Bakun.
FPIC is an important provision of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA), which seeks to get the consensus of all members of the affected communities for any development projects. This should be determined in accordance with the community’s respective customary laws and is free from external manipulation, interference and coercion.
Maliones revealed that during the FPIC process, several violations were committed. During the preparations for the field- based investigation, there was no community participation at all. The FBI was only participated in by a representative from the company and the FBI team, consisting mainly of NCIP personnel. This was held in Aug 22-25, 2007.
He said external manipulations and interference were already evident. During the casting of votes on Dec 22, 2007, clustering was done; of the 2,899 registered voters, only 750 actually voted. This shows that not even half of the voters casted their votes.
Despite community tension, signing of the Draft MOA proceeded on January 24, 2008 at a certain hotel in Buguias. This is ironical as the MOA should have been a public matter and could have been done in Gambang itself.
In reaction, the Barangay Council of Gambang passed a resolution to request for the suspension of the FPIC activities in the area. This was endorsed by the Gambang Indigenous Peoples Association and Community Organization [GIPACO] requesting the NCIP to do concrete actions against the MOA entered into by some community members and the Royalco – but to no avail.
This is indeed ironic as the “rights” of the IPs has been recognized in the IPRA law and reaffirmed in a UN Declaration, yet such rights remain wanting.
As of press time, drilling already started in the community. # Contributed by Christine Grace B. Sidchogan