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International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

August 9, 2011

Mr. President,
Today the international community honors the Indigenous Peoples of the world. Today the struggles of the IPs in the Philippines deserve to be spoken and heard in this august Chamber.
We have begun to make significant strides in protecting the rights of our IPs over the past twenty years. After centuries of disregard, Congress passed a landmark legislation called the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997, which restored the rights of indigenous people over their ancestral domains, upheld their rights for self-governance, and recognized the need to preserve the cultural integrity of their communities. We also have supported a historic United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which articulated their individual and collective rights.
Yet these achievements seem to remain exclusively to the province of principles. Poverty, malnutrition, and lack of access to basic healthcare and education disproportionately haunt indigenous communities in the country. The UN estimates that the life expectancy of a person belonging to these communities is up to 20 years shorter than that of the general population. These communities persist to experience higher levels of maternal and infant mortality and prevalence of diseases such as tuberculosis.
Indigenous women particularly face multiple experiences of discrimination by the society, as members of indigenous communities and as women. They suffer from the introduction of mining into their communities since they were dominant in the subsistence agricultural sector. The entry of mining trucks and equipment also eroded the traditional economic roles of women in these communities. Human trafficking and sexual abuse are widespread in areas where militarization and armed conflicts are present. Indigenous women have less income and less education than women and indigenous people in general. Opportunities are few, but risks to their welfare and health are great.
It is for this reason that the theme of this year’s campaign of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), with this representation as a partner, is “Karapatan, Kasarinlan, at Kapayapaan para sa Katutubong Kababaihang Pilipino”.
Mr. President,
Individually and collectively, we can advance the interests of our IPs and bring their way of life closer to every Filipino’s heart.
It is of utmost importance that we determine exactly where and how many our IPs are. To date, the government uses outdated figures, leading to the inability to address urgent issues and provide basic services to one of the most marginalized sectors of society. This is what impelled me to file Senate Bill No. 2858 or the Ethnic Origin Act. It is my hope that we finally acquire accurate and disaggregated data on our IPs so we can adequately address their needs.
As a means to protect our indigenous knowledge and cultural heritage, I have also filed Senate Bill No. 2831 or the Traditional Property Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, which seeks to make an inventory of all cultural properties and mandates the payment of royalties to our IPs for the use of these cultural properties.
I will soon gladly accept interpellations on the proposed Anti-Ethnic or Racial Profiling and Discrimination Act of 2011, which seeks to place indigenous peoples on a level playing field when it comes to employment, education, accommodation, and delivery of goods and services.
As Chair of the Senate Committee on Cultural Communities, I am also organizing, with the help of the NCIP, the DENR and various partners, the first Indigenous Cultural Summit, a gathering of indigenous peoples from all over the country. This Summit will be started with three Sub-Regional Assemblies to be held in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao this September, with the Indigenous Cultural Summit as the culminating activity in October. It is the objective of the Committee on Cultural Communities to use these events as a platform to identify the issues and concerns of our IPs, gather their views on the priority measures I have outlined and help address their needs through legislation and other initiatives.
Mr. President,
As the nation moves forward and pursues a path of progress, policy-makers have the responsibility to recognize the special needs of approximately 17% of the population, our brothers and sisters who are members of indigenous cultural communities. Their unique situation and needs should be an important part of public discourse. And as we scrutinize the 2012 proposed national government budget, let us use this as an opportunity to ensure that our IPs are afforded basic social services and are empowered to be vital and productive members of our nation.
Mr. President.