Philippines: One hundred indigenous defenders killed in the last three years

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples, at the State of the Indigenous Peoples Address in UP Hotel, Manila. Photo: Bernard Testa/

By Tricia Aquino

How are indigenous peoples in the Philippines doing? UN Special Rapporteur talks about the struggles to keep their ancestral land free from destructive projects.

August 12, 2015.-  Over the last three years, 100 indigenous peoples have been killed protecting their homes and the environment, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNSRRIP) Victoria Tauli-Corpuz said on Tuesday.

"When indigenous peoples protect the forests and the water resources, as well as assert their claims over these, they become subject to arrests or even extrajudicial killings", said Corpuz, a Kankana-ey from Besao, Mountain Province.

UN Special Rapporteur joined 79 leaders from 38 indigenous communities who delivered the State of Indigenous Peoples in the Philippines Address (SIPA) at the University of the Philippines-Diliman in Quezon City.

“This needs to be addressed, and this kind of violation of the right to participate and to assert their claims to their lands must be avoided,” she said.

"And with the Philippines bearing the brunt of environmental degradation now more than ever, indigenous peoples have an important role to play in preserving the country’s biodiversity", Corpuz stressed.

In the SIPA, the indigenous leaders lamented that indigenous peoples were only mentioned once in President Benigno Aquino III’s final State of the Nation Address on July 27, in the context of the Alternative Learning System, which would lessen the number of out-of-school youth among indigenous peoples and street children.

But absent in Aquino’s last SONA, Corpuz said, is the IPs continuing struggle to fight to keep their ancestral land free from destructive projects such as mining, big infrastructure, hydroelectric plants, and plantations which destroy the natural environment.

"If one looked at the Philippine map, the only forests left untouched are those in the territory of the indigenous peoples", she said.

“Indigenous peoples have a big contribution to the national development of the Philippines. And this contribution is in maintaining the sustainability and the integrity of these ecosystems which provide ecological service not just for the indigenous peoples, but for the entire country,” Corpuz said.

“We are talking about clean water, clean air, the various plants, and knowledge about microorganisms which promote the health of the people,” she said.

Indigenous peoples not prominent in Sustainable Development Goals

With the former institution she worked with, Tebtebba Foundation (Indigenous Peoples International Centre for Policy Research and Education Network), Corpuz had been pushing for indigenous peoples’ issues to be included in the Sustainable Development Goals, which would set the development agenda for the UN member-states for the next 15 years.

“To a certain degree, there are recognitions, like the importance of ensuring the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples, respect for the land tenure systems of indigenous peoples, but the reference to indigenous peoples are really very, very few,” she said.

“This is also why we are not that happy about the Sustainable Development Goals that have been reached. But I think we are not giving up. We are still looking at putting indicators that will measure the progress as far as indigenous peoples’ rights and development are concerned,” she added.

Earlier this August, the 193 UN member-states agreed on 17 SDGs and would formally commit to their attainment in September. The SDGs would forge a path toward economic development alongside environmental sustainability and social inclusion.

Corpuz said IPs want the data showing the attainment of the SDGs to be disaggregated so they could better monitor the progress of indigenous peoples.

While indigenous peoples made up five percent of the world’s population, they also made up 15 percent of people living in extreme poverty, she said.

"The Philippine government has to pay more attention to them because not only do they make the country more culturally diverse, their knowledge and practices would also ensure that Filipinos up to seven generations ahead would live in a world that was better than it is now", Corpuz ended.


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