Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen:
It is my distinct pleasure to speak before you today in this important National Indigenous Peoples Cultural Summit.
Today, we take pride in our cultural rootedness and recognize the people whose lives take us through many centuries of struggle to protect the land we live in, preserve the virtues we uphold and bring us back to who we are.
Our indigenous peoples have shaped our story as a Filipino people- our music, arts and dance, our native knowledge and skills, our deeply held beliefs, our creativity, our sustainable ways of living with our physical environment and most important, our self-worth.
Despite these overwhelming contributions, we have admittedly underwhelmed them as opportunities, services and share in decision-making, that are embodied in the Indigenous Peoples Rights law, have yet to be fully accorded.
Through our Regional Assemblies in Baguio City, Tagum City and Iloilo City and this Summit, we have created venues to hear the voices of our IP leaders.
Our actions and inaction have placed lives on the line, despoiled their lands, threatened their culture and deprived them of their rights. Our eyes were opened to the depth and diversity of the challenges our IPs face. The question I now pose to everyone of us: How sincerely will we address these issues that affect our IPs’ very survival?
On the legislative front, the Senate is in the final stages of approving Senate Bill No. 2814, An Act Prohibiting Discrimination, Profiling, Violence and All Forms of Intolerance Against Persons Based on Ethnicity, Race, Religion or Belief, Sex, Gender, Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, Language, Disability or Other Status, which I sponsored. Through this measure, acts of discrimination in employment, education, delivery of goods, facilities and services, accommodation, transportation, media, in search and investigatory activities, and in political, civil, cultural and social life on the basis of ethnicity will be penalized. This is in consonance with our desire to transform our society where each individual’s beliefs and principles are respected and everyone is given equal opportunity to achieve his full potential as a person and as a Filipino citizen. As a gift to our IPs, I am working on the passage of this measure before Christmas.
Beyond legislation, I will initiate a partnership with the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts to document our oral traditions as an essential step in preserving our cultural heritage. I have likewise shared some resources to the state universities and colleges in the Cordillera Administrative Region for the documentation of indigenous knowledge systems and practices, a project which I aim to replicate in all regions.
Certainly, efforts can be launched, pursued and sustained through collective action. We have started to engage our indigenous peoples as active partners in development processes. It is now within our hands to fire up partnerships and make sure this convergence works.
I am thankful for the presence of our diplomatic corps, colleagues in Congress, development partners, national and local governments, academe, non-government organizations, IP organizations and the media for joining our IPs in this gathering. Through this platform, we hope to break the walls that divide us, build bridges and open doors for our indigenous peoples.
I am most grateful to our event partners, who are in the frontlines of providing culturally-sensitive development services to our IPs. I am aware of the enormous efforts made by all to make this happen.
I hope this Summit gives a sign that a long-term engagement, which will redound to improved lives of our IPs, has begun.
Tomorrow, our IPs will travel back home with a good reason to hope – that while they may be in far-flung areas, we do not have to live apart. I am confident that our common vision and values will weave us together as we seek to empower those who have given meaning to our being Filipino.
Thank you very much.