Privilege Speech: Isang Habi, Isang Lahi

November 8, 2010

In culmination of the celebration of the National Indigenous Peoples Month that was celebrated throughout October and as we resume our sessions in this chamber, allow me to speak to you on this important subject matter of the protection of Indigenous Peoples Rights and their cultural integrity.
I. Recognition of Indigenous Peoples in the International Arena
Indigenous Peoples (IPs) make up over 370 million or about 5% of the world’s population and live in 90 countries all over the world.[1] While there is no universally accepted definition of who Indigenous Peoples are, United Nations (UN) human rights bodies, the International Labour Organization (ILO), World Bank as well as international law provide for four (4) criteria that guide us in distinguishing who the Indigenous Peoples are[2]:
1. They have geographically distinct ancestral territories;
2. They maintain distinct social, economic, and political institutions within their territories;
3. They remain distinct culturally, geographically, and institutionally and do not fully assimilate into national society; and
4. They self-identify as indigenous or tribal.
Recognizing that indigenous issues received scant attention from the international community all-throughout the 20th century, the UN General Assembly proclaimed the First International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People from 1995 to 2004 and committed itself to seeking improvements in the situation of IPs worldwide, particularly, in the areas of human rights, environment, development, education and health.[3]
It was during this decade that the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on September 2007. After more than 20 years of negotiations between nation-states and Indigenous Peoples, it was adopted with an overwhelming majority of 143 votes in favor and only four (4) negative votes cast. The Declaration recognized a wide range of basic human rights of IPs, particularly: the right to unrestricted self-determination; right to the ownership, use and control of lands, territories and other natural resources; right to maintain and develop their own political, religious, cultural and educational institutions; and the right to protect their cultural and intellectual property.[4]
Despite the UN proclamation of an International Decade for the World’s Indigenous Peoples, their situation remain precarious. IPs continually face systemic discrimination and exclusion from political and economic decision-making, are displaced from their ancestral domains due to wars, environmental disasters and intrusion of extractive industries or development projects in their area. They also suffered murder, genocide, as well as rape as a form of ethnic cleansing, among other human rights violations.[5]
Their cultural integrity is greatly undermined as well, amidst the growing phenomenon of globalization and acculturation. They were robbed and exploited as their traditional and cultural practices were marketed and patented without their consent or participation. TheUnited Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization(UNESCO) estimates that, “of the 7,000 languages spoken in the world today, more than 4,000 are spoken by IPs, and that up to 90% of the world’s languages are likely to become extinct or threatened with extinction by the end of the century.”[6]
Indigenous Peoples are also included in the world’s poorest, with poverty rates being significantly higher as compared to other groups. The UN reveals that although IPs constitute only 5% of the world’s population, they make up 15% of the world’s poor.[7]
In light of the enormous problems and issues that continually plague our Indigenous brothers and sisters, taking into consideration the efforts made during the first decade, the UN General Assembly declared a Second International Decade from 2005 to 2015 with action-oriented goals of: promoting of non-discrimination; Promoting of full and effective participation of IPs in decision-making regarding issues affecting them; Re-defining development equitable and culturally sensitive policies, Increasing monitoring and accountability at the international, regional and national level for the .protection of IPs.
II.The Ongoing Fight of IPs in the Local Arena
As a part of the community of nations that have made IP rights a priority for the second decade in a row, amidst numerous laws acknowledging their centuries-old plea to be recognized and respected by society, the Philippine Government has a compelling moral and legal obligation to promote, protect and uphold the rights of indigenous peoples in the country.
We have numerous state policies and legal instruments that seek to protect indigenous rights as well as their knowledge systems and practices:
• Indigenous Peoples Rights Act or RA 8371, the comprehensive law, which mandates the State to recognize, respect and protect the rights of indigenous peoples and develop their cultures, traditions and institutions.[8]
• The National Heritage Act or RA 10066, which seeks to protect, preserve, conserve and promote the nation’s cultural heritage, its property and histories, and the ethnicity of local communities.[9]
Despite these developments, there are still many forces that work against IPs, those that divide and destroy their distinct way of life and their very existence.
1. The intrusion of development and extractive projects into ancestral lands without the free, prior and informed consent of the IPs living in the area threatens their right to a healthful environment and priority right to the use of their natural resources.
2. The increase in internal displacement due to war, environmental degradation, climate change and other disasters disproportionally affects our ethnic minorities. In the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao and Region 12 alone, where more than half of the IP population of the Philippines are found, a total of 69,327 persons have been displaced and continue to live in evacuation centers as of August of 2010.[10]
3. Regarding human rights violations, the Commission on Human Rights reported that from 1997 to 2009, more than 10 years since the passage of IPRA, a total of 137 cases of human rights violations such as torture, enforced disappearances, forced recruitment as soldiers, murder, among many others have been filed with their office.[11]
4. Poverty as well as the continued racial and religious profiling and discrimination in employment, access to basic services and education hinder the development of IPs and proliferate the vicious cycle of their marginalization; and
5. In the era of Globalization, our distinct cultures are lost to mainstream beliefs, with acculturation erasing indigenous knowledge, skills and practices.
In my capacity as legislator and Chair of the Committee on Cultural Communities, I have filed the following bills:
1. SBN 1342 – Anti-Religious and Racial Profiling Act
2. SBN 1365 – Declaration of No-Mining Zones
3. SBN 1371 – Internal Displacement Act of 2010
4. SBN 1372 – Equal Employment Opportunity for IPs
5. SBN 1371 – Resettlement for Under-Privileged and Homeless Citizens affected by government development projects
The Committee is also working on the Philippines being a state party to the ILO Convention 169 or the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention and has began the work of creating a comprehensive Law on Anti-Discrimination on the grounds of race, color, descent or national or ethnic origin, covering all Constitutionally-protected rights and freedoms.
The exhibit we just inaugurated is but a single reminder of their importance and respect we should accord our indigenous people.
As the culminating activity of the National Indigenous Peoples’ Month, let us take a look at the history of our indigenous peoples as well as experience and learn of their present lives in order to carve our future as one people. Let us all work together to hear the chants of our elders, move with the dances to the deities, weave organic fabrics, learn sustainable agriculture and cure sickness through healing methods that have stood the test of time. Let us preserve our distinct heritage, our Filipino ancestral wisdom, and take pride in our country’s cultural diversity.
Mabuhay and mga Katutubo. Mabuhay ang Pilipino.
[1] State of the Worlds Indigenous Peoples 2010. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. 2009. Page 1.
[2] UNDP and Indigenous Peoples: A Practice Note on Engagement. 2001.
[3] International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs.
[4] International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs.
[5] State of the Worlds Indigenous Peoples 2010. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. 2009. Page 1.
[6] State of the Worlds Indigenous Peoples 2010. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. 2009. Page 1. See Language Vitality and Endangerment, UNESCO.
[7] State of the Worlds Indigenous Peoples 2010. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. 2009. Page 1.
[8] Indigenous Peoples Rights Act, RA 8371.
[9] Philippine National Cultural Heritage law, RA 10066.
[10] Status of Internally Displaced Persons in ARMM and ERGION XII. Department of Social Welfare and Development. August 2010
[11] Commission on Human Rights 2009