FUNDAMENTALLY, the indigenous peoples (IPs) want to be left alone. They want to work their lands according to their customs and traditions, see to the education and welfare of their children, and be happy within the national fold of Filipino peoples.
That desire is their right. The law guarantees it. It says: “The State shall protect the rights of the Indigenous Cultural Communities (ICCs)/Indigenous Peoples (IPs) to ensure their economic social and cultural well being and shall recognize the applicability of customary laws governing property rights or relations in determining the ownership and extent of ancestral domain” (Sec. 2b, Chapter 1, RA 8371).
But the IPs are sitting on minerals which others want. Or they are living on land that others covet. Big money and big profits are involved, or the messianic illusions of a religious leader. The driving force is huge private profit. Or the establishment of the Kingdom of God. The ideological justification is the economic welfare of the country, or the will of God. Both are lies: Mining has not brought about national prosperity. God creates land; he is not a landgrabber.
To any development project, the IPs are supposed to give their “free and prior informed consent “ (FPIC). Otherwise, clearly, the development project ought not proceed. The law defines FPIC carefully. It means: “the consensus of all members of the ICCs/IPs to be determined in accordance with their respective customary laws and practices, free from any external manipulation, interference and coercion, and obtained after fully disclosing the intent and scope of the activity, in a language and process understandable to the community.” (Sec. 2g, Chapter 1). But FPIC is roundly manipulated. “Consensus” is division prior to conquest, “free from external manipulation” is unabashed bribery, “free from coercion” is the imposition coming ultimately from the State that has decided illegally that the exploitation of natural resources justifies setting aside the rights of the IPs. So, when the IP still refuses to give his FPIC, he is killed.
Here the State can impose its intent on the National Commission on ICC/IP (NCIP), “the primary government agency responsible for the formulation and implementation of policies, plans and programs to promote and protect the rights and well-being of the ICCs/IPs and the recognition of their ancestral domains as well as the rights thereto” (Sec. 38, Chapter VII). Instead of protecting the rights of the ICC/IP, the NCIP mediates the interests of the State, including the interests of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which chooses – lamentably – the exploitation of natural resources over its mandate to protect the environment. Of course, it is unfortunate that in this work-in-progress for the good of the country, the IPs are killed.
The companies deny the killings. The religious leader denies the killings. The military deny the killing. Yet, accounts of the killing of the IPs abound.
The military do not free the IPs from the mining intrusion and the murders; they do not enable them to live according to their rights under the law. Neither do the national police.
The National People’s Army (NPA) take on the cause of the IPs. Initially, the IPs ally with the NPA; they think the NPA can help them defend their ancestral domains. But in time the IPs learn that the NPA revolutionary agenda to topple the Philippines’ democratic government is different from the agenda of the IP just to live quietly in peace on their ancestral lands. The IP withdraw from the alliance. But not with impunity. The IP are killed in withdrawing from the alliance.
Meanwhile the NPA and their allies insist on taking on the IP struggle and embed it in their communist rebellion and their international socialist struggle; of this the IPs have no understanding. They have no understanding of the importance of the NPA struggle for the so-called ultimate humanization of humanity in communism. The NPA presume the IPs accept this, whether they give their FPIC to it or not. Their protection is their humanitarian mission.
So the NPA recruit many IPs to its noble cause: full understanding of this is not necessary; raw readiness for battle is sufficient. The military reject its nobility and oppose their rebellion. The IPs are sucked willy-nilly into the NPA-military conflict. The military clash violently with the NPA, militarizing whole neighborhoods, disturbing the work on the fields and the learning in the schools. The IPs flee the militarization for their lives. They flee the conflict. In fleeing, they are killed.
Not being able to tolerate the armed rebellion of the NPA the AFP defends the state in fighting the NPA. Seeing that many of the NPAs are IPs, the IPs take on the face of the NPA. So IPs are killed.
Militarized zones. Schools are disturbed. Villages caught in cross fire. IPs killed. IPs flee militarized areas. Where they flee, they are killed. All in the context of the national recognition of the rights of the indigenous peoples.
Meanwhile President Aquino, far from keeping his campaign promise to be rid of Pres. Arroyo’s E.O 546 arming civilian volunteer organizations (CVOs), has approved the military proposal for a Special CAFGU Active Auxiliary (SCAA) unit in Surigao del Norte to protect the interests of the Taganito Mining Corporation of the Nickel Asia Corporation and the Sumitomo Metal Mining Corporation after allegedly 3 billion pesos worth of mining property has been destroyed by the NPA. Even more disturbing is the reported approval of the military’s request for more budget to arm the Citizens’ Armed Forces Geographic Units (CAFGUs), the SCAAs and the private armed groups in the area.
Fundamentally, the IPs want to be left alone. They want to live their lives as they judge fit. More guns won’t help.