Indigenous peoples dismayed by their absence in Sona

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/26 July) — Delegates to an assembly of indigenous peoples expressed dismay at their being not mentioned in the second State of the Nation Address of President Benigno S. Aquino III during the joint session of Congress on Monday.

They also lamented that Aquino did not say a thing about the peace process with rebel groups.

Jennifa Bat-ao of Cantilan, Surigao del Sur said the omission meant that they were still discriminated against and marginalized.

Bat-ao, speaking to 129 delegates to the State of Indigenous Peoples’ Address at the Christ the King Retreat Center, said she voted for Aquino because she thought he represented changed.

Teresa dela Cruz, an Aeta from Zambales said it was an insult to see lawmakers applaud the pantawid gutom (conditional cash transfer) program because the indigenous peoples did not benefit from it.

Datu Tabunan from Agusan del Sur said Aquino should relate the issue of environment protection to the lives of indigenous peoples and their rights to their territories.

Rizaldo Anggay, a Teduray noted that Aquino did not mention a thing about the peace process. He said it is important for Lumads because they are affected by the conflict.

Roldan Babelon of Carmen, North Cotabato shared Anggay’s concern on the peace process, adding he wanted the president to support their advocacy on mandatory representation in local legislative councils.

Judy Pasimio, executive director of Legal Rights and Natural Center-Kasama sa Kalisakasan (LRC-KsK), said: “What is glaring here is that he was silent on critical matters which he raised in his first SONA. He appointed credible persons to head the peace process and I wondered if he’d end there—only choosing the right people to raise hope. But hope is not enough; he should be serious for peace process to prosper.”

“This is not quite a good signal. I’m beginning to doubt his sincerity on it,” Pasimio added.

Carl Cesar Rebuta, program coordinator of SIPA said that Aquino had no clear agenda for the indigenous peoples. He said the president praised large plantations and corporations whose presence supposedly means displacement of people and human rights violations.

“Make us feel like Filipinos too,” Leticia Gomez, an Aeta from Zambales asked Aquino.

“But we must not cry. We must not cry. Gagawa tayo ng paraan para marinig tayo ni PNoy bukas,” Remedios Panganiban, an Aeta in her 80s said.

Rommel De Vera, international program coordinator of LRC-KsK, explained that SIPA is a venue where indigenous peoples assess whether government programs have served their interests.

In previous gatherings, they had assessed government response to their ancestral domain claims, right to self-determination and social services, as well as their position on mining and other development projects.

This year’s SIPA was attended by 129 delegates representing most of the country’s ethno-linguistic groups. (Violeta M. Gloria/MindaNews)