SONA silent on program for indigenous people, Lumad leaders say

SONGCO, Lantapan, Bukidnon (MindaNews/27 July) – President Benigno Simeon Aquino III’s first State of the Nation Address was silent on his program for the indigenous peoples, Lumad leaders said.

“Where is his policy for the assertion of the rights of indigenous peoples? None!” said a number of participants of the State of the Indigenous Peoples Address (SIPA) held at the Talaandig Tribal Hall.

About a hundred tribal leaders from all over the country joined the SIPA, intentionally scheduled in time for the SONA.

“With Aquino stating nothing on his programs for the IP, we have nothing to account him for,” lamented Higaonon Datu Tony Lumandog of Misamis Oriental.

Two participants spoke from their seats that former President Glorial Macapagal-Arroyo did better by promising to issue 100 certificates of ancestral domain titles (CADTs) every year even if she was not able to accomplish it.

The only time President Aquino talked of the Lumads was when he committed to include them in the Mindanao peace process. (See separate story.)

Datu Hawadon Cesar Batao, provincial tribal chieftain of Surigao del Sur, said the President did not mention if the Lumads are part of his priorities.

“We feel he promotes investors more, who are a big disgrace for us. They exploit our natural resources in our ancestral domain,” Batao told MindaNews.

He reacted to President Aquino’s statements on streamlining the business registration process.

“This might jeopardize our assertion that mining applications should pass through an FPIC (free and prior informed consent) process,” he said.

“The business of mining and logging common in our area put our ancestral domain at risk as they are destructive and will help destroy our ancestral domain, life and culture,” he said.

“We want business in our areas, but not those that will destroy our environment and will not share the outcomes to us. If we the IPs use our natural resources, we will make sure we will not destroy it, too,” he said.

Christina Batiel Moyaen, a Kankana-ey from Malama, Conner in Apayao province, told MindaNews they fear that in the process of streamlining and in Aquino’s silence on the IPs, the government might entice business at the expense of shortcutting the process protecting the rights of the IPs.

B’laan Robina Poblador, of Malungon, Sarangani province, lamented Aquino’s silence on his mining policy. “He should be clear about it because many could die because of mining in our communities,” he said.

She said they are very near Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI) mining site in Tampakan, South Cotabato.

Arumanen Roldan Babilon, of Carmen, North Cotabato, also lamented Aquino’s silence on the protection of the environment. Babilon was part of the group that opposed the construction of the Pulangi V hydroelectric power complex in southern Bukidnon.

He said Aquino should also consider pushing for a tri-partite peace panels with the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Talaandig Datu Migketay Victorino Saway noted that at the start of the SONA, no tribal leader was included in opening rites.

But he said Aquino’s proposal to “recodify” Philippine laws to ensure there are no conflicting laws is worrisome.

He said the lumads must be vigilant as it may mean that the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA), no matter how problematic, may be compromised.

“For mining business, IP rights could be an obstacle,” he noted.

But Saway said he gives Aquino the benefit of the doubt and will give him opportunity to prove himself.

He also felt assured that Dean Marvic Leonen chairs the government peace panel.

“We know Atty. Leonen knows the Lumads too well and he will not commit something unjust to the Lumads,” he added.

Datu Ompongan Romando Sambile said if Aquino is serious about giving importance to the Lumads, he should empower the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) so it could defend the sector it is mandated to protect. He advised the President to find ways to instill among NCIP officials to be sincere in their dealings with the Lumads. He claimed that NCIP commissioners and officials “run away” from the Lumads.

Angkong Limikid, of Maragusan in Compostela Valley, said even if Mr. Aquino stated his priority for the Lumads, he might not believe him. “The framework at the moment makes it impossible for any leader to claim sincerity to carry the Lumads’ interests,” he said.

Anyone, he noted, could mention his Lumad agenda, but it could only be political positioning.

The SIPA, organized by the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center – Kasama sa Kalikasan since 2008, aimed to gather the Lumads, consolidate their position on issues affecting them, and voice these out to the national government.

A day after the SONA, they scheduled a whole workshop dedicated to crafting the Lumads’ agenda, including their reactions to the speech, to be presented to President Aquino later. (Walter I. Balane / MindaNews)