Message of Senator Loren Legarda
Launching of Specialized Integrity, Transparency and Accountability in Public Service (ITAPS) Modules for Indigenous Peoples (IPs)
10 May 2016 | Office of the Ombudsman, Quezon City
Our indigenous peoples never fail to amaze me. Whenever I visit a province and go to IP communities, I always discover marvelous things about our culture and heritage. Our indigenous cultural communities (ICCs) are rich in traditional knowledge covering almost all aspects of life—agriculture, health care, forestry and fishing, mining, architecture, arts and crafts, music and literature.
Despite their overwhelming contributions to our history, culture and heritage, our IPs remain among the most underserved, unserved, and neglected citizens.
The Philippines is home to 14 to 17 million indigenous peoples.They share a common situation with other indigenous peoples in other parts of the world. Because of historic injustices of the past — dispossession of lands and resources, and continuing discrimination — indigenous peoples are one of the sectors most adversely affected by globalization. This phenomenon not only threatens to marginalize indigenous communities, it threatens the very foundation of their existence and identity.
Our IPs are threatened by unsustainable extractive industries and development projects that encroach and ravage their lands without their informed consent. Their way of life is also adversely affected as they are uprooted from the very soil to which they are spiritually and fundamentally linked.
Despite modernization and acculturation, inevitable as these may be, we cannot turn a blind eye to these concerns because our indigenous communities, along with their vast knowledge, rich culture and traditions are vital in solidifying the mold of every nation’s identity. If we lose it, we may as well have lost who we are.
As a legislator, as well as in my personal capacity as an advocate of cultural preservation, I have introduced programs and converged with some agencies of government to address the concerns of our IPs.
We had regional assemblies in 2012 and the national indigenous cultural summits with the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP). This yearly National IP Summit engages our indigenous peoples in policy development, implementation and evaluation of programs for their communities.
We have also opened livelihood opportunities, especially for indigenous weaving communities through trade fairs, in partnership with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions (CITEM). We continuously showcase the indigenous knowledge systems and practices of ICCs through projects such as the Hibla ng Lahing Filipino,the country’s first permanent textile gallery at the National Museum; the Dayaw TV series on the preservation of the country’s culture and heritage, in partnership with the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA); and the Cordillera Region’s coffee table book on indigenous knowledge systems on agriculture and forest conservation.
We continue to implement these programs and initiate many other projects to protect our IPs and promote our heritage. But we know that there are many other concerns and more pressing needs we need to address for the benefit of our IPs and ICCs.
Basic services remain wanting in most geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas. 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 is: How sincerely will we address these issues that affect our IPs’ very survival?
The challenge here is that, in order to safeguard our indigenous communities and our heritage, we must refrain from extracting our IPs from the communities they live in, otherwise, we expose them to influences which could alter the very tradition we aim to preserve. We should not take them out of their community, rather, we should bring the services to their community.
To address this, we have proposed the establishment of Indigenous Peoples Resource Centers, which shall serve as access centers to enhance delivery of basic, social, technical and legal services. Centers shall be composed of the following service areas, namely: Statistical Service Area, Human Development Index Service Area and Domains Management Service Area.
These Centers will help address problems of IPs and provide essential services such as employment, livelihood, enterprises, health services, scholarships and trainings.
Further, these Centers shall embark on the documentation of indigenous knowledge, systems and practices, indigenous political structures, and customary laws which are vital in achieving cultural integrity.
The proposed measure I submitted to the Senate has been approved but we are awaiting the approval of the counterpart measure in the House of Representatives. But last February, we have inaugurated the country’s very first IP Resource Center housed at the University of the Philippines Visayas (UPV) – Center for West Visayan Studies (CWVS). I hope that our SUCs in other provinces and regions will host an IP Resource Center as well even without the legislation yet.
These IP Resource Centers can also be a venue for the Office of the Ombudsman’s outreach service to our IPs to provide them with the needed information about the role of the Ombudsman and other agencies of government in granting permits for the exploration of their land and natural resources.
I am glad that the Ombudsman is reaching out to our IPs to know more about the impact of government programs in their communities.
We, in the Senate, will also continue to work on legislation for the benefit of our IPs—to preserve their traditions; to safeguard their cultural property rights; to guarantee equal employment opportunities; and to prohibit discrimination based on ethnicity, race, religion or belief, among others.
We still have a long way to go in effectively protecting the rights of our IPs, but we should not lose hope. We must continue to work together and assure the role and significance of our IPs in our country.
I am hopeful that this program of the Ombudsman will be an effective tool that would lead us to a clearer path on how we can confront the challenges and effectively build policies to protect our indigenous peoples.