ECIP Statement on the occasion of the celebration of IP Week 2020

ECIP Statement on the occasion of the celebration of IP Week 2020

On the occasion of the celebration of Indigenous Peoples Week during the Season of Creation 2020, the Episcopal Commission on Indigenous Peoples (ECIP) of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) wishes to reiterate our solidarity with the nation’s indigenous peoples in their continuing struggle for self-determination, the recognition of their rights, and the approval of their ancestral domain title applications.

We are made aware of the harsh realities suffered by indigenous peoples (IPs) which comprise 10-20% of our total population. We deplore the present disregard of the indigenous peoples’ rights to their ancestral domain and their right to say NO to development projects which erode and disrupt their life, culture and spirituality.

Since the passage of Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) as a landmark legislation twenty-three (23) years ago, we look at its present implementation and enforcement with foreboding and frustration. Government policies and indifference of responsibility bearers continue to fortify the unjust societal structures and have exacerbated existing inequities.

Discrimination against IPs has affected the whole of Philippine Society. Social exclusion has become widespread, to the point of posing a threat to social harmony and peace, as well as compromising the country’s ability to achieve economic progress and stability. The present COVID-19 pandemic worsened the situations especially of our brothers and sisters, the indigenous peoples.

In many parts of the country, extractive industries particularly large-scale mining not only lead to environmental destructions, these are also forcefully promoted and continued even if communities already rejected and opposed them. Responsibility bearers in Government are blind and deaf to the call and cries of indigenous people who depend on their agricultural lands and forests for their sustenance. These large-scale mining become the vehicle for gross human rights violations, irreparable damage to indigenous communities and culture, and even deaths to those who oppose them. In particular, these are happening in Didipio, Nueva Viscaya and Tampakan, South Cotabato, impacting the Ifugao-Tuwali & B’laan communities, respectively.

Infrastructure projects are considered forms of development aggression when the culture and life of the indigenous people are greatly impacted and their legitimate concerns are being ignored by responsibility bearers in Government. They are forcefully implemented without listening to the cries and concerns of indigenous peoples. Examples are the following: 1. the Kaliwa Dam will inundate communities, displace and socially dislocate the Agta & Remontado in the provinces of Quezon and Rizal; 2. the construction of the Sta. Clara Hydro Electric Plant is also considered against the interest and welfare of the Alangan Mangyans of Mindoro Oriental; 3. the almost 10,000 hectares New Clark City Project is displacing many Aytas in the province of Tarlac; and 4. massive resorts development for tourists in the province of Palawan caused illegal buying and selling of ancestral lands of the Tagbanua people.

The long-standing war between government and rebel groups has had a profound effect on the indigenous peoples. Often, the ancestral territory is where the war is raging. With the current policy of the government against insurgents such as EO 70 and ELCAC- End Local Communist Armed Conflict, and with the presence of rebel groups in IP territories, more IPs are becoming victims. Indigenous Peoples may find attractive to say yes to the recruitment efforts of rebel groups simply because Government failed to defend and protect their indigenous people’s rights. With the presence of armed conflict, influx of evacuees in many urban centers is common. Inside evacuation centers, hunger, disease, and death, especially among IP children, are often experienced. The experiences of the Manobo peoples of Surigao del Sur, and just recently the Aytas of Zambales are the prime examples.

We are impelled, as we walk in solidarity with our Indigenous sisters and brothers, to address the situations which rip the fiber of indigenous culture, spirituality, and life. Thus, we call for:

1. the GOVERNMENT:

    • To heed the call of Indigenous Peoples in recognizing their rights, ancestral domains and self-determination;
    • To stop development aggressions and policies that adversely affect the lives of IPs in many parts of the country;
    • To the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) whose task is the implementation of IPRA, to do its mandate and follow the law in letter and spirit.

2. the CHURCH:

    • To continue the Dialogue of Life and Faith with Indigenous Peoples;
    • To strengthen and expand our understanding on Inculturation as means in discovering Christ and allowing Christ to come out from Indigenous Peoples;
    • To maintain its programs and services with Indigenous Peoples which are vehicles of inculturation and of participation for Integral Human Development.

3. the General Public:

    • To respect the DIGNITY of Indigenous Peoples as Daughters and Sons of the One Father;
    • To recognize that indigenous peoples are our sisters and brothers, and they too are children of our loving God;
    • To deepen our understanding about indigenous peoples, their life, situations and Indigenous Knowledge, Systems, Practices, and Spirituality (IKSPS), and strengthen our optimism to co-create the world with God and prepare for the Kingdom.

As Pope Francis affirms, we also promote real dialogue:

…it is essential to show special care for indigenous communities and their cultural traditions. They are not merely one minority among others, but should be the principal dialogue partners, especially when large projects affecting their land are proposed. For them, land is not a commodity but rather a gift from God and from their ancestors who rest there, a sacred space with which they need to interact if they are to maintain their identity and values. When they remain on their land, they themselves care for it best. Nevertheless, in various parts of the world, pressure is being put on them to abandon their homelands to make room for agricultural or mining projects which are undertaken without regard for the degradation of nature and culture.Laudato Si 146
For the Episcopal Commission on Indigenous Peoples,

MOST REV. VALENTIN C. DIMOC, D.D.
ECIP Chairperson and Apostolic Vicar of Bontoc-Lagawe
October 6, 2020

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