COMMENTARY: The President’s Salvation for the Indigenous Peoples

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MALITA, Davao Occidental (MindaNews / 07 Feb) — I believe that the President honestly would like to help the Indigenous Peoples of Mindanao based on the statements he had made at the Naval Station Felix Apolinario in Panacan in 1 February. However, I believe that it is a case of the monkey’s salvation for the fish.

There was once a monkey going about its own business in the jungle. It was swinging from tree to tree as was its custom when it felt a yearning for water. It then headed toward a river nearby in order to quench its thirst. As it was drinking from the river, a fish swimming in the water caught its attention. It felt pity for the fish. Then, with a swift motion, it plunged its hand into the water, grabbed the fish, and took it out of the water. It gently laid the fish down on the ground and looked fondly at it. The fish squirmed as it began to choke due to lack of oxygen. The monkey took the fish’s frenzied wriggling as a sign of its joy to be out of the water. The monkey was pleased with itself and scrambled up a tree. It grabbed a vine and went about its own business once more leaving the fish to die. It was elated that it had saved a fellow creature from drowning.

The President claims that his administration is “doing its best to help” the Indigenous Peoples. Even if it were true, the method with which he aims to achieve this would eventually lead to more harm than good. It is true that the IP communities need help; it is true that they would like their lives to improve. However, not in the way the President thinks. He needs to see their needs not from the settler point of view but from the IP point of view. He said the IP communities were given their ancestral homes but did not use it. In the first place, the IP communities of Mindanao need not be given their ancestral lands because it had been rightly theirs long before the Visayan forebears of the President had settled in Mindanao. They had lost their rights to it through laws made by the King of Spain, then by the government of the United States of America, and later by the Republic of the Philippines. The government merely recognized this right in the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA) of 1997 (see Chap I, Sec 2, b).

If one were to look closer at how IP communities understand ancestral lands from their point of view, one would realize that the reason why IP communities are poor is not because “they do not use” their land. The reason they are poor is because their very right to this land that is protected by the law is not even upheld by the government agency tasked to do so and not respected by local governments. They have twisted it and have turned it into a tool to help multinational corporations and the mining industry to take over the ancestral lands of IP communities. The IP communities of Paquibato had every right to reject the Paquibato palm oil project. Had they accepted it, it would have been another classic case of IP communities losing their ancestral lands under the guise of development with the government acting as pimp.

The President’s statement to “choose investors” to develop the ancestral domains is alarming. It would certainly not solve the current predicament of IP communities, on the contrary, it would even exacerbate it. He could also end up violating a number of provisions under the IPRA law and the highest law of the land for that matter, which would not come as a surprise. After all, he already has Mindanao under martial law and his cohorts in the House of Representatives are salivating at the prospect of getting their hands on the Constitution. If he were to act on this statement, it would be like the monkey saving the fish from drowning.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Fr. Joey Gánio Evangelista, MJ, heads the Malita Tagakaulo Mission of the Diocese of Digos in Davao del Sur)


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