THE VOICE: Nothing

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/24 July) — There’s nothing really in the 4th SONA that we have not heard about in the last twelve months. At least for those of us who have access to conventional and social media.

The choir wore ethnic-inspired costume that to my untrained eye looked Teduray. Why it didn’t seem to be a portent of things to be mentioned in the SONA, I have no idea.

Throughout the applause-interrupted 104-minute speech, I waited for issues regarding indigenous peoples to be mentioned. Nothing. Oh sorry, there was the choir. Then a wee bit about “katutubo” getting health insurance. And then images of indigenous people ready to give baskets to tourists. Then nothing.

I must have expected too much. The SONA should have been titled State of Metro Manila Address. What would a P200 million profit from water services mean to a Mindanawon, anyway? Or a fantastic railway system that would run the rat race faster? Instead of decongesting a sinking metro by dispersing resources, it seemed like an invitation for people in the provinces to congest it further. That then gives more justification for passing the Reproductive Health Law, maybe.

Surely there’s a connection between floodwaters and illegal logging; between rice and cartels; between full coverage and the spike in hospitalizations; between cash transfers and NGOs; between wealth-sharing and environmental protection. But in the speech the connections did not cross over. Di tumawid.

I leave the Alleluias for the accomplishments to each government office with its own press relations budget.

The non-mention of indigenous peoples’ issues is actually a reflection of the outright neglect of the Aquino administration to fulfill its part as duty holder. Issues like mining, logging, foreign investors, human rights. Moreover, it seems to have forgotten, too, that when the government passed Republic Act 8371 or the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA) in 1997, it signed a Peace Agreement with the indigenous peoples of this country.

A Peace Agreement? Yes, it is. And what makes IPRA unique as a Peace Agreement is that it was largely fought in the legal arena, not in the war zone. It was won without a solid armed front. That makes two Peace Agreements that the government has become wanting in fulfilling its side of the pact. Do we know what is usually done to a party that reneges?

Despite its flaws, the IPRA is also a poverty alleviation program. Why subject IPs to the indignity of dole-outs and plastic cards when their indigenous knowledge, skills, and practices are still existing? Why give them investors even if they sorely ask for schools? When they know how to read and write and be competitive, can’t they then decide for themselves what business endeavor to undertake? When given the chance to manage their resources by themselves, can’t they not also show stewardship and prudence like their forefathers? Government is only the facilitator, the guide – and not party to the business. Hindi na dapat makipag-kumpetensya ang gobyerno sa negosyo ng pribadong pamayanan.

Despite its flaws, the IPRA provides legal bases of many actions the IPs are doing in the protection of their rights i.e. Right to Ancestral Domain, Right to Cultural Integrity, Right to Self-Governance and Empowerment, and Social Justice & Human Rights. Imagine protecting your ancestral lands with unseen walls? Imagine decongesting anglo-saxon influenced courts with cases that cannot be decided speedily if filed anyway? Imagine deciding collectively so that accountability is not shouldered only by one person? Imagine not having had to bow down and be perpetually subservient to all forms of domination?

Oh, the Pork Barrel. Though it was not mentioned, it shone like lard in the gowns and cars. It was also exciting to note, too, that behind those glam and false eyelashes – are actually nothing.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Ms Gulo is  the Project Manager of IPDEV, an EU-funded project for IPs in the ARMM, implemented by the consortium of the Institute for Autonomy and Governance, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and Development Consultant. The article is a personal account and the responsibility of the author and can in no way be taken to reflect the view of the European Union and IAG-KAS-DEVCON.
“It would have been nice to hear the President mention at least the new appointments to the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP),” she said. “Especially if they have plans to strengthen it.”
She is also the convenor of Vetiver Forum, a volunteer-driven citizen action towards environmental disaster risk reduction with the use of Vetiver Grass Technology).