Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

July 24, 2023

Philippines Labeling Indigenous 'Terrorists' to Silence Them -- United Nations Told

"We urgently call for the support of EMRIP and member states to ensure justice, peace, and the protection of our rights through an independent investigation into the human rights situation, particularly concerning Indigenous Peoples in the Philippines." -- Bevery L. Longid

Study and advice on the impact of militarization on the rights of Indigenous Peoples 

Presented by: Beverly L. Longid, Katribu, National Convener

Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP) Sixteenth Session, Agenda Item 3, July 17-21, 2023, Geneva, Switzerland

We, the Katribu National Alliance of Indigenous Peoples in the Philippines, the Sandugo Alliance of Indigenous and Moro Peoples, the Bai Philippine Network of Indigenous Women, Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), Defend Panay Network, TUMANDUK, and the International Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self-Determination and Liberation (IPMSDL), submit this statement on the impact of militarization on our rights, culture, and existence.

Militarization in the Philippines has taken various forms, serving as a counter-insurgency tool and corporate defense force. It is based on the national internal security policy of the state, as defined in Executive Order (EO) 70, which institutionalizes the whole-of-nation approach. It utilizes all local government units, agencies, state security forces, and other civil society formations for counter-insurgency purposes.

Additionally, it established the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), which is responsible for the malicious red-tagging and terrorist labeling of government critics and dissenters. The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), a government entity entrusted with promoting and protecting Indigenous Peoples’ (IP) rights, is an active element of this national task force and serves more for counter-insurgency than for indigenous rights.

Furthermore, past presidents often appointed many retired military and police generals to top executive positions in the civilian bureaucracy, such as the Chair of the NCIP.

Our communities are unjustly labeled as “rebel areas,” branding us as communists, terrorists, and threats to national security, resulting in severe human rights violations, including:
Bombings, shelling, and strafing
Extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances
Criminalization, trumped-up charges, terrorist tagging, and political vilification
Occupation of homes, schools, places of worship, and gatherings
Fabricated surrenders as rebel soldiers
Declarations of persona non grata against progressive IP leaders and organizations.

In 2019, the government forcibly closed 215 Lumad Indigenous schools, denying 5,500 Lumad youth and children their right to education.

Under the administration of Bongbong Marcos, we have witnessed a significant escalation in these violations. Since July 2022, ten (10) incidents of bombings, shelling, and strafing have occurred in rural communities, impacting approximately 30,000 people. Seven of these incidents occurred in resource-rich ancestral lands of Indigenous Peoples, where there is opposition to dams, mines, and unwanted government projects.

In 2014, the US and Philippine governments sealed the Enhance Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), which could intensify the militarization of ancestral lands. Last February 2023, bombings occurred in Cagayan Province, where two (2) of the four (4) new EDCA sites are located.

Extrajudicial killings are a tragic consequence of militarization. Massacres like TAMASCO, Tumandok, the second Lianga, and the New Bataan 5 exemplify the violence inflicted upon us by state forces.

Furthermore, militarization leads to the criminalization, red-tagging, and terrorist labeling of Indigenous organizations, activists, and advocates. We have documented 63 Indigenous political prisoners facing fabricated charges, and this year alone, the Karapatan Human Rights Alliance recorded eleven (11) cases of enforced disappearances, six (6) of which involve Indigenous Peoples’ human rights defenders. The Philippines is once again the deadliest country in Asia for land defenders and has the highest reported cases of enforced disappearances in Southeast Asia.

The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 and Executive Order (EO) 70 have further weakened human rights safeguards and undermined our rights to self-determination and development. Militarization prevents the exercise of free, prior, informed consent as enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA), as well as other human rights such as free expression and association, as our communities are under constant siege.

Therefore, we urgently call for the support of EMRIP and member states to ensure justice, peace, and the protection of our rights through an independent investigation into the human rights situation, particularly concerning Indigenous Peoples in the Philippines.

We urge you to support our call on the Philippine government to:Cease militarization, bombings, red-tagging, and terrorist vilification of Indigenous Peoples.
Resume peace talks with the revolutionary forces to address the roots of the armed conflict and seek a political settlement as a viable alternative to these escalating attacks.
Abolish the NTF-ELCAC and redirect its multi-million budget to Indigenous Peoples’ social services.
Repeal the Anti-Terrorism Law and EO 70, and enact effective protective measures for Indigenous Peoples’ human rights defenders.

Thank you.

Click here to download the full statement by Beverly


Similar crises exist globally, in the United States and around the world, where land and water defenders are characterized as 'terrorists,' resulting in excessive militarized police forces as happened during the defense of the water at Standing Rock, and exaggerated charges for defenders now in Atlanta's Cop City, forest defense movement following the murder by police of Tortuguita. -- Censored News

Indigenous Peoples Rights International states:

The Philippines: Indigenous leaders killed opposing Jalaur River Multi-Purpose Project Phase II Dam The Jalaur River Multi-Purpose Project - Stage II in Iloilo, Philippines, implemented by the national government, includes the construction of three dams intended to generate 6.6-megawatts of hydroelectric power. The Jalaur River project is expected to displace 17,000 Tumandok Indigenous people from their ancestral lands, as well as at least 1.2m people living near the river basin due to flooding.

Tribal leaders have expressed concern the dam would submerge Tumandok people’s farms and other sources of sustenance and negatively affect their spiritual and cultural practices by destroying the biodiversity upon which these practices are based. An international mission in 2016 found that FPIC was not obtained from the Tumandok by the government of the Philippines. As the Tumandok protested the dam construction, the government intensified militarization and surveillance. In December 2020, nine Indigenous leaders were killed and 17 were arrested during a coordinated police and military operation.

Six of the 17 people arrested and detained were Indigenous women who are active members of Anggoy (an Indigenous women’s organization in Panay island). In a response to the Resource Centre in February 2021, the Export-Import Bank of Korea, which funded the project with a loan, said “linking JRMP-II to the reported incidents is misleading” and “the majority of the IP community members affected by the project are supportive of the project.” Human rights organizations across the globe condemned these gross violations of human rights and called for impartial and credible investigations. There has not yet been any accountability for these murders.

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