Indigenous women – still at the margins of development

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“In a period of lethargic global economic activity, we registered an astounding 6.8 percent gross domestic product [GDP] growth in 2012. We surpassed this in the first quarter of 2013, when we reported growth of 7.8 percent—the highest recorded GDP in East and Southeast Asia.” This was what President Benigno Aquino 3rd declared in his most recent State of the Nation Address (SONA). According to him, the Philippines is now considered a “rising tiger” by the World Bank.

These indigenous women felt excluded in President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s SONA  Photos Courtes Y Of Susan Corpuz

These indigenous women felt excluded in President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s SONA Photos Courtes Y Of Susan Corpuz

While there is a broad acknowledgement of these growth statistics, there is also a widespread analysis that this growth has not trickled down to the masses, and that inclusive growth is necessary. The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) defines inclusive growth as “sustained growth that creates jobs, draws the majority into the economic and social mainstream, and continuously reduces mass poverty.”

So what is the grand plan of President Aquino in making this much-touted growth more inclusive? Does he have any? If he does, he did not discuss that in his SONA. His emphasis was on sustaining growth. PNoy apparently believes that this number of 7.8 percent actually means that the lives of poor Filipinos have improved. He goes on further, “The transformation of our society is not just evident in the economy or in statistics. Now, Filipinos know: Rich or poor, with or without political connections, when you do wrong, you will pay the consequences. Now, justice is truly blind.”

Here are the thoughts of indigenous women who personify the poorest of the poor in our societies. Listening to what the President considered as the accomplishments of his administration, these women expressed disappointment, sadness and even outrage on the lack of attention on, and the exclusion of the plight of indigenous peoples, and the natural resources, on which this so-called development of the government has heavily relied on, and on which the survival of indigenous communities depend on.


Indian writer and activist, Arundhati Roy said, “There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. They are only deliberately silenced or preferably unheard of. The indigenous women will not be silenced, until they are heard.”

Bae Ruth Tilaon from Manobo, Surigao del Sur says, “I am not happy with what PNoy said in his SONA. We, the indigenous women, once again feel let down. The President didn’t even talk about us, and how we are part of the development that he was talking about. It was even better for the carnappers who were killed (Osamis Gang), he seeks justice for their deaths. The Ampatuan Massacre, until now, has not been given justice. And our community leaders who have been killed, still no justice for them. PNoy is really biased.

“On the 4Ps program that he was so proud of—Here in our community, a lot of the receipients are not poor like me. The program is being used by the politicians, and it is them who determine who becomes part of the program and who are not.
“And I felt hurt seeing what happened to the protesters. They could have been given even a short time to be listened to. They did not have to get hurt. It was really saddening.”

Robina Poblador a B’laan from Saranggani adds, “I was really angry with the SONA of PNoy. So many problems are happening in our territories, and he has not even mentioned any of these, or any of our issues as Indigenous Peoples. There’s the issue of mining. And the killings of our indigenous leaders, who up until now, have not received justice. The criminals of the Osamis Gang even received special attention from him, seeking justice for their deaths. But our B’laan sister Juvy Capion, and her two young boys, who have been killed by the military, have yet to receive justice. And we don’t hear him strongly calling for justice for Juvy! And till now, a lot of B’laans are being killed because of the conflict brought about by mining. Still no justice!

“PNoy talked about coconuts. Before he even distributes his coconuts, he should resolve our problems first. What use will be his coconuts for us when we have lost our mountains already to the mines.

“We hope PNoy gives attention to our issues as indigenous Peoples.”

Kakay Tolentino of Alta-Dumagat, KATRIBU, shares, “In the overall platform of PNoy, there is no direct plan to respond or to take steps to address the decade-long demands of the Indigenous Peoples (IPs) to respect their rights to their ancestral domains and their right to self-determination. This is especially crucial now, given the continuing encroachment into our ancestral domains and plunder of our natural resources by the giant and destructive mining companies, affecting the communities who depend on natural resources for their livelihood and their very lives. The mention of IPs in his SONA was only in reference to us as beneficiaries of Philhealth. This does not address the lack of basic social services, which the Aquino regime claims will be provided for by the mining industry.

“On the other hand, there was no mention about the continuing human rights violations like extrajudicial killings of indigenous children, men and women leaders who were defending their rights to their ancestral domains, and fighting against the encroachment and plunder of imperialist companies.

“On the priority energy projects –Jalaur mega dam in Panay Island, PNoy said that is being built to address the needs of the industry and not the agriculture of our country.

There is also the ongoing feudal oppression against the farmers who are rejecting the inutile CARPER law. It is necessary to implement a genuine agrarian reform, which will benefit poor farmers, respect the rights of the indigenous peoples to their ancestral domains, and the rights to self-determination.”

“PNoy said, ‘This is your SONA.’ This is so good to hear, and as I understand this means that I am part of the developments that he was reporting on in his SONA,” was Wilma Tero’s initial reaction.

“But how come I do not feel that I am part of his SONA? The answer is simple —because as an indigenous woman, I do not feel that there has been any development within our community. PNoy did not even mention how many Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) has been issued in 2012. He also has not talked about his plans as to how his government will help in protecting the remaining lands and domains from the encroachment of giant mining companies.

“President PNoy, it is not only 4Ps (Pantawid Programa para sa Pamilyang Pilipino) that will make us happy. We also want to achieve genuine peace in our community, in our ancestral domains. But how will we, indigenous women, and the rest of our tribes, feel the peace when conflict in our areas intensify with the presence of mining and their armed security guards? How can we continue to relate and commune with Megbebeya’ (God) when our community is in conflict? How can we continue to practice our culture when our remaining lands are being robbed from us? Our land and environment are part of our culture, and heritage. If all of these will be taken away from us, then we lose our culture. President PNoy, turn to us, look at us, and listen to us. We do not wish for the kind of development that destroys and kills us, and our culture. For us, indigenous women, genuine development is one that is culturally appropriate for us, and that responds to our needs.”

For Judith Manares of Ibaloi, Baguio City PNoy’s SONA is saddening. “This is not the SONA of indigenous peoples. This is just his. The mentioned PhilHealth benefits for indigenous peoples is just another form of bribery. It’s just like the 4Ps that is being used by the government to cover up the real problem of poverty of our country, and the various issues of the poor, such as the indigenous people. Critical issues such as unabated destruction of the environment within our ancestral domain by oppressive companies, the killings of indigenous leaders who do not agree to the destructive development, the lack of justice for these killings, and the lack of basic social services to the indigenous communities. PNoy mentioned the Jalaur dam in Iloilo, which he claims will be a big development for the province, but his ears and eyes are deaf and blind to the tears of the indigenous peoples who will be inundated by this dam. I did not feel that his SONA was my SONA because I did not feel any improvement in the lives of indigenous communities, as their lives in the mountains have worsened. His SONA is for those people living in the cities, who benefit on the sacrifices of indigenous peoples. The indigenous peoples are once again in tears. SONA? Let’s just put a stop to this.

“In his SONA, PNoy did not mention anything about mining operations which can be seen within our ancestral domains and which bring about conflict and killings. PNoy has not given any attention to our ancestral domains and territories, considering these are where our natural resources come from. The ongoing killings of indigenous leaders which have not yet been given justice are far from the mind of PNoy.

“PNoy does not care about the situation of the indigenous peoples. Even as he discussed Peace, especially in Mindanao, he has not mentioned us, as if we have nothing to do with the issue of Peace, as if we are not affected by this matter.”

“And that is why we, indigenous women and men, should continue to act and work towards the fulfillment of our interests. Because we have seen that we cannot rely on this government to take care of us,” lamented Bae Rose Undag of Higaonon, Misamis Occidental

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