DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 5 Feb) – Timuay (chief) Alim Bandara stated, “we cannot keep silent anymore,” in his testimony about nine indigenous leaders who were killed from May 1 to the end of 2014, as well as the attempted murder of Melencio Dudoy, a tribal leader, on December 24. This was presented in their litany of concerns to UN envoys Vicky Tauli-Corpuz and Edtami Mansayagan during their January 21 Mindanao consultation, as well as during the Human Rights Stakeholder Summit last Friday January 30 at Ateneo de Davao University. Mrs. Tauli-Corpuz is the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous People and she was accompanied by Mr. Mansayagan, the Asia Pacific Representative to the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Timuay Sannie Bello, the High Chief of the Teduray Tribe, noted that the killing of community leaders is not like a normal killing, and the pattern of assassination-type killings reveals the disconnection between the high level talks and the reality on the ground. Bolstering this claim, local IP leaders revealed that both government paramilitary CAFGU and MILF forces continue to recruit IP fighters into their forces, enticing them with promises of a position in the new Bangsamoro police force. At the same time, Erumanen ne Manuvu leaders from North Cotabato complained about being tagged by the military as members of the Communist New People’s Army (NPA).
Mabel Carumba of the Mindanao People’s Peace Movement (MPPM), an NGO assisting the IPs in Human Rights Advocacy and Peacebuilding, confirmed that IP leaders who actively assert their rights and question mining activities and land invasions have being harassed, followed and threatened. She bared that when IPs reported these incidents to Secretary Deles of OPAPP or to relevant ceasefire bodies such as the International Monitoring Team and the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG), they were told, “they were just isolated incidents,” it was “not in their mandate,” or it was a “local police matter.” Carumba stated that IPs are left in a quandary, with no action by local police, and no place to go while they wait for the next killing. Nor Mindo, a Teduray youth leader and PAMULAAN scholar, emoted in the local dialect, “nalunod mi sa baha, sa culture of impunity and fear, (we are drowning in a flood of the culture of impunity and fear), but we still exercise the principals of our ancestors. We hope to be heard.”
Kinship and identity: traditional peace pacts lost in translation to the BBL
Vicky Tauli-Corpuz observed that the underlying issue involves the principals of identity, equality and non-discrimination as guaranteed in International legal instruments such as UNDRIP. This came in response to a question regarding previous MILF and Philippine government statements promising “IPRA+++” based on Moro-IP brotherhood and shared ancestry. Yet the IPs have been treated as “wards of the state” rather than equal partners in the process, Tauli-Corpuz stated. Top level negotiators from both sides have indicated that the to-be elected Bangsamoro Parliament would “take care” of IP’s rights by passing a law better than the Indigenous People’s Rights Act (IPRA), and thus, the drafters of the BBL refused to reference IPRA in the BBL. However, the UN rapporteur noted an inconsistency since the BBL references other national laws – such as the National Integrated Protected Areas (NIPAS) act – so why not IPRA?
Additionally, Mansayagan clarified that the peace pacts made by Apu Tabunaway and Apu Mamalu, the ancestors of the Islamicized and non-Islamicized tribes of Mindanao, signified both their difference and their equality, not superiority of one over the other. He claimed that the provisions of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (as currently proposed) amount to tokenism and do not reflect this historical equality. Rather, the Philippine government has given full control of the IPs to the Bangsamoro government as an exclusive Bangsamoro power and left them outnumbered in the legislature, with only two IP representatives out of 45 members. He further stated that this does not follow the principal of the right to self-determination (RSD) of the IPs, since RSD is not something to be given by the state, but by its nature, is determined by the struggle of the IPs themselves. This should therefore be reflected in both the process and the legal documents.
Cultural dialogue can delineate zones of cooperation
None the less, IP leaders stated their high hopes and dreams for the success of the peace process as many IPs are members of both the MILF and government forces. Actual delineation of their Ancestral Domain would allow them to support the Bangsamoro Basic Law and help them resist development aggression, which the MILF itself has condemned. Delineation should be based on Sawit, the ancient peace pact between Tabunaway and Mamalu, which provides a cultural foundation for the current peace process.
Sawit has provisions which have already been invoked by the primary parties for affirming Moro-IP kinship and mutual support in times of need. Yet it also contains parts that have been ignored, which provide for clear delineation of their ancestral territories and lands in order to prevent future land conflicts from erupting. It is these traditional boundary agreements that are also the basis for the modern delineation process administered by the NCIP. In fact, IPs see these traditional boundaries as sources of peace, providing “zones of cooperation” between the Muslim and non-Muslim communities, enhancing the unity of the Bangsamoro, rather than fragmenting it.
Yet there is a danger for traditional Indigenous leaders, as the consequence of conducting a partial or incomplete Sawit invites a curse on the parties for disrespecting the elders who made the peace pact. This prevents many IP leaders from fully supporting the process as it now stands because it does not include the provision on traditional boundaries. This is out of concern for the spiritual safety of those involved – Muslim, Christian and IP – and hope for the realization of complete and holistic peace pacts.
Reflecting on their experiences attempting to find a place at the peace table, one IP leader mused that their best intentions seem to get lost when they rely on well intentioned, but biased, intermediaries. Thus, the Indigenous Timuays and Datus of the Bangsamoro hope for a new round of direct “peace talks” at their own peace table, a cultural dialogue based on mutual respect and equality – paving the way for sustainable peace and real justice.
[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Jeremy Simons is currently Director of Training at iEmergence Inc., a peacebuilding volunteer with several Mindanao peace networks, and a writer and analyst based in Davao City. He can be reached at [email protected]]