THE march continues for indigenous peoples in the Cordillera and Mindanao who dream to finally enjoy their rights in full as the country observes Indigenous Peoples Month this October.
More than 3,000 indigenous peoples (IPs) and advocates from the Cordillera and Mindanao are joining the historic caravan and alliance of national minorities from October 12-21, dubbed as “Lakbayan ng Pambansang Minorya para sa Sariling Pagpapasya at Makatarungang Kapayapaan” (Journey of the National Minorities for Self-Determination and Just Peace).
Young Bontok Igorot leader Wyndle Bolinget with direct roots from hinterland Guinaang in Bontoc, Mt. Province speaking for the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) said that the caravan “demonstrates the unity of the national minorities to assert their right to self-determination – the right to fully control their land and resources, implement their own form of self-governance, and practice their culture, traditions and religion.”
From the plains, valleys, mountains to the farthest villages of the Cordillera, each tribe and ethno-linguistic group will be represented in the national caravan and alliance of national minorities, Bolinget said.
The 200-strong Cordillera contingent will forward “the struggle for the genuine regional autonomy and call for an end to the control and plunder of the natural resources and militarization of communities,” he added.
Meanwhile, lumad leader Kerlan Fanagel called for the scrapping of the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA) for its alleged failure to protect and promote the rights and welfare of the country’s cultural minorities.
“Instead, the IPRA protects big corporations in exploiting and destroying our ancestral domain,” Fanagel, spokesperson of Lakbayan ng mga Pambansang Minoriya ng Mindanao 2016, said during their stopover in Bicol on their way to Manila on Monday.
Fanagel, a Blaan from Saranggani province, said that the IPRA is ambiguous in some of its provisions, citing as example its different definition of ancestral domain and ancestral lands.
“For us lumad, the two are encapsulated in just one term, yutangkabilin (ancestral domain), it covers even our cultural and spiritual claims to these areas dichotomized by the legal definition,” he added.
During a program at Plaza Quezon in Legazpi City, Albay participated in by more than 2,000 marchers from Mindanao, Higaonon leader Datu Jomorito Guaynon expressed support for President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to end the Balikatan military exercise with U.S. troops.
“It is just meant to protect American interests in the Pacific lake as well as in Mindanao,” he said.
Another marcher, Yenyela Undayon, 16, a Manobo student from the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural Development in Surigao del Sur also called for an end to militarization in their areas as she recounted the killing of the executive director of their school in September last year by members of a para-military group.
“We will ask President Duterte to assure us of our right to live in peace and our right to education,” she said.
The minorities will converge at the National Capital Region for activities like the protest caravans of different regions and the Kampuhan sa UP Diliman where each delegation will pitch camp at the university grounds.
FRANK PENONES JR.