Blue Jeans

Indigenous Peoples in the Time of Duterte

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THE PHILIPPINES was the first country to pass legislation like the Indigenous Peoples' Rights Act (IPRA) of 1997, upholding the inherent and inviolable rights of all indigenous peoples in the nation. At the mention of rights, this already seems incongruent with the current political discourse of the Duterte administration. President Rodrigo Duterte does a disservice to all Filipinos when he refers to human rights as the obstruction of justice. Indigenous peoples’ rights are also human rights. For many indigenous peoples, it is precisely these rights which provide access to justice that has been historically elusive.

The IPRA enshrines four bundles of indigenous peoples’ rights: rights to ancestral domains and lands, rights to self-governance and empowerment, rights to social justice and human rights, and rights to cultural integrity. Rights to ancestral domains and lands allow IPs to own and manage their territories and resources, while rights to self-governance and empowerment refer to self-determination. Rights to social justice and human rights shield indigenous peoples against discrimination and ensure provision of basic services. Rights to cultural integrity uphold the preservation of indigenous knowledge systems and values.

These are the standards by which any administration must be evaluated with regard to indigenous peoples, but one year of the current administration has not seen much change. The Free Prior and Informed Consent process has controversially been manipulated to favor development projects over indigenous consent. Instead of focusing on improving indigenous peoples’ access to quality and culturally-appropriate education, President Duterte has threatened to bomb Lumad schools that are serving indigenous communities. Indigenous peoples’ ways of life and environment are still being continuously threatened by invasive land usage and acquisition. In conflict areas, indigenous peoples are still caught in the crossfire of wars that are not their own, and are forced to leave behind their homes, lands, and livelihoods.

Granted, these are all problems that have beset indigenous peoples for years before the current administration. Under Duterte, however, indigenous peoples are met with uncertainty. In a nation where institutions and services are dependent on the whims of a volatile and unpredictable leader, the protection of rights is fragile and in danger of becoming insubstantial. If the government fails to address growing inequalities and persisting injustices being committed against indigenous peoples on their own lands, conflict will continue to fester. Adding Duterte’s politics of excluding human rights to the volatile minefield of state violence, private armies, rebel forces, and the militant left leaves little room for indigenous peoples to freely and peacefully pursue their own agenda of economic, political, and sociocultural development.

Instead of discarding human rights and relying on excessive self-promotion and vindictive bluster, President Duterte must recognize that human rights are wider in scope and essential for change. Human rights–and especially indigenous human rights–must be integral to the change that his government pledged to bring. The Philippine government must proactively work for the protection of indigenous peoples and their rights to live in peace and freedom, accomplishing this through the strengthening of government institutions and provision of basic social services. Dominant political forces in the nation and organizations in the country’s private sector that claim to be serving indigenous peoples must likewise interrogate their own orientations and methods to guard against exploitation and manipulation of indigenous peoples, no matter how noble or seemingly justifiable the cause may be.

For indigenous peoples, the work and struggle is far from over. Indigenous peoples must organize and assert themselves. The welfare and development of indigenous peoples is holistic–ranging from areas such as culture, health, economy, and education to peace and political participation. The nation needs indigenous teachers, doctors, government workers, political officials, businessmen, soldiers, police, lawyers, journalists, and more. Fields and agendas regarding indigenous peoples’ issues must be charted and led by indigenous peoples themselves. The challenge for President Duterte is to provide the basic social services and political environment that allow indigenous peoples to pursue their own agenda free from harm or discrimination. Ultimately, the building of such political environment and the provision of such services are dependent on the recognition and preservation of indigenous peoples’ human rights. Indigenous peoples must now take the lead, and it is imperative for the nation and the President to listen and learn.


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