Indigenous leaders say govt move is a total sell-out of the Philippines’ resources
Tribal leaders in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao are opposing a government plan to bring in investors to develop indigenous peoples’ lands.
President Rodrigo Duterte announced the plan last week supposedly to protect indigenous communities from exploitation and being influenced by communist rebels.
He told tribal leaders in Mindanao to prepare to relocate to temporary shelters while indigenous communities — locally known as Lumad — are developed with the help of investors.
He said the government would provide jobs and a weekly stipend of about US$20 for each family that leaves their communities.
Dulphing Ogan, secretary-general of the tribal alliance Kalumaran in Mindanao, said Duterte’s plan would mean “a total sell-out of the remaining ancestral lands and mineral resources” in the region.
He accused the president of facilitating the “plunder of the environment and natural resources” instead of helping tribes protect their ancestral lands from land grabbers and foreign investors.
In 2017, the Philippine government struck a deal with Chinese investors to develop mining areas in Surigao del Norte and Compostela Valley provinces.
The government has deployed 65 troop battalions in Mindanao as part of its campaign against communist rebels and other armed groups.
Ogan said the soldiers are there to secure the investments of foreign multinational corporations.
Last year, Duterte angered indigenous people in the region when he threatened to bomb tribal schools for allegedly teaching children about communism.
Datu Jomorito Goaynon, chairman of Kalumbay, another indigenous organization, said the government plan is “a direct violation of the rights” of tribal people of Mindanao.
“If they take our land from us, it is just like they are taking away our lives,” the tribal chieftain told ucanews.com.
He said their ancestral land is not just a place where they live but is also their market, place of worship, and venue for their rituals.
“We cannot allow this. This is land grabbing,” he said, adding that the issue will be discussed during a national assembly of tribes in Manila next month.
Catholic nun Jean Amar of the Medical Mission Sisters said the government will “certainly displace thousands of tribal people” who rely on their ancestral land for survival.
Sister Amar, whose congregation works in indigenous communities, said the government is making a “desperate move” to encroach into ancestral territories.
With 41 land and environment-related killings recorded in 2017, the Philippines was declared the “second deadliest country” for land and environmental defenders in the world and the deadliest in Asia in a study by Global Witness and Britain’s Guardian newspaper.
Human rights group Sandugo said at least 30 tribal people have been killed since 2016 when Duterte came to power, while at least 30,000 people were forcibly evacuated due to military operations.
Mindanao’s tribal people account for 2.1 million out of 6.5 million indigenous people in the Philippines.