Privilege Speech on Indigenous Children

October 18, 2016

Senator Loren Legarda
Privilege Speech on Indigenous Children
18 October 2016 | Senate Session Hall


Mr. President,


October is National Indigenous Peoples’ Month, a celebration of our cultural diversity, an opportune time to honor our IPs and their overwhelming contributions to our history, culture and heritage.


The Philippine Constitution recognizes this diversity and under the framework of national unity and development, mandates State recognition, protection, promotion, and fulfillment of the rights of indigenous peoples.


The Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) of 1997 outlines the special measures to ensure that the rights of IPs to lands and territories, economic development and self-determination, cultural integrity and access to basic social services are promoted, respected and fulfilled by the government.


Likewise, numerous international treaties, conventions and declarations with similar objectives were entered into by the government. We have supported a historic United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which articulated their individual and collective rights.


Despite concerted efforts exerted by the government, in partnership with various private organizations and adequate financial support from international communities, still our IPs remain a marginalized sector of our society.


Mr. President, this speech is not only a call to celebrate but also an earnest plea to call everyone’s attention to a segment of the indigenous population who are invisible, disenfranchised and discriminated – the indigenous Filipino children.


We acknowledge that there are initiatives within government agencies to fulfill the rights of indigenous children.


The Department of Education (DepEd) has established the IP Education Office, which helps implement education programs for IPs, and developed education programs that will meet the learning needs of the IP communities; the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) has the IP Participation Framework (IPPF) and Modified Conditional Cash Transfer for Indigenous Peoples in Geographically Isolated and Disadvantaged Areas (MCCT-IP-GIDA) under the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program; while the Department of Health (DOH) has joined with the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) to address various issues in the provision of basic health services for IP communities.


However, even with these initiatives, the lack of data on indigenous children makes it difficult to measure the results of existing programs.


Lack of data makes indigenous children invisible

There are no accurate figures on the IP population given the lack of census data. The most recent figures based on an unofficial survey conducted by the NCIP estimates the IP population between 12 and 15 million, accounting for approximately 10 to 15 percent of the total population of the Philippines.


There are an estimated 7 million indigenous children in the country but without accurate data on IP population, how sure are we that we are designing evidence-based and results-based programs and budget for indigenous children? Are the indigenous children really benefitting from government programs?


The issue of inequity in access to quality education continues to be an alarming situation in the Philippines.


Based on the estimate of NCIP and the 2010 Philippines Census data, there are around 4 to 5 million school-aged children from 5 to 15 years old who should be enrolled in Kindergarten to Grade 9. However, the data of DepEd in School Year 2015-2016 shows that the enrollment of IP children at Kindergarten to Grade 6 (elementary level) is around 1.9 million and only about half a million are enrolled in Grade 7 to 11 (secondary level). In total, there are only around 2.4 million IP children enrolled in Kindergarten to Grade11.


Moreover, a main cause of many IP learners’ difficulties in learning and completion of education is the lack of interface between the IPs’ indigenous knowledge, systems and practices on one hand and the mainstream formal education system on the other. This is being addressed by the IP Education Program and Mother Tongue-Based Multi-Lingual Education (MTB-MLE) Program of the DepEd. However, the program presently covers only 19 of the 175 indigenous languages in the country.


And even when they get to school, the learning environment is not safe because indigenous children are targets of bullying and discrimination from other children and even school personnel. In a series of consultation workshops with indigenous children organized by Tebtebba, one child narrated that after walking 10 kilometers to reach the school, the teacher scolded and humiliated her because of her dirty feet, called her a “native” and then sent her home.


Indigenous children affected by situations of armed conflict

Mr. President, our indigenous communities have also been affected by the complex security situation involving the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the New People’s Army (NPA) and paramilitary groups.


In 2015, approximately 17,035 individuals were displaced due to armed conflicts and a significant number of grave violations involved IP children.


An indigenous 14-year-old girl was raped by three soldiers in three separate incidents between May and July 2015. The soldiers were court-martialed and their superior was recommended for administrative sanctions. However, the civilian criminal proceedings for rape were dismissed following an out of court settlement made by the alleged perpetrators with the victim’s family.


Following a series of killings of indigenous peoples in the same year, the UN Special Rapporteurs on the rights of indigenous peoples and on the situation of human rights defenders called on the Philippine government to launch an independent investigation into the deaths and to bring the perpetrators to justice. To date, none of the perpetrators have been arrested despite having been positively identified by the community that was forced to witness the killings.


Review of Government Progress

These are just a few of the many injustices that our IPs continue to face. These are concerns raised by the UNICEF Representative to the Philippines, Lotta Sylwander. In bringing up these issues, she hopes that our government will initiate programs that will immediately address these concerns.


It is worth noting that the 2009 Concluding Observation of the Committee on the Rights of the Child acknowledged the steps taken by the Philippine government to address the situation of indigenous children.


However, the Committee reiterated its concern about the widespread poverty among minorities and indigenous peoples and the limited enjoyment of their human rights, in particular, concerning their access to social and health services and education. The Committee also expressed concern at the lack of information about the actual impact of the application of the 1997 IPRA on children.


The Philippines is due to submit its combined fifth and sixth periodic report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child on progress on the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by 19 September 2017.


The question is: Will the Philippines be able to report good progress for indigenous children?


It is still not too late, but the first step we need to take is to ensure inclusivity, to embrace our indigenous brothers and sisters as part of our society. I am confident that the present administration will provide our indigenous communities the appropriate programs, sufficient basic services and proper recognition they truly deserve.


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.