Indigenous People’s Sunday and the struggle for self-determination

By: ATTY. DENNIS GORECHO - Columnist/CDN Digital | October 11,2023 - 07:46 AM

Indigenous People. Indigenous People’s Sunday and the struggle for self-determination. Artwork by Federico "Boy" Dominguez

Artwork by Federico “Boy” Dominguez

The struggle of the indigenous people against the destruction of forests and mountains is the struggle against the worsening global climate change.

Thus said the of the Episcopal Commission on Indigenous Peoples (ECIP) of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) during the 46th Indigenous Peoples’ (IP) Sunday last October 8 with the theme “Katutubong Pilipino Kapamilya sa Diyos”.

ECIP is CBCP’s arm that assists the IP on issues affecting their culture, self-determination, ancestral lands and domains.

In their July 1978 assembly, the CBCP designated every second Sunday of October as IP Sunday wherein priests are expected to give homilies and  commentaries on the plight of the IPs as well as encourage Christian lowlanders to express their solidarity with the IPs’ struggle for self-determination.

On October 8, 1978, the first IP Sunday was celebrated across the country.

“We appeal to the authorities to heed the pleas of our indigenous brothers and sisters. We call on government agencies to fulfill their sworn duties and respond to the cries of the people, especially the marginalized and oppressed,” says ECIP chairman Bishop Valentine Dimoc.

Bishop Dimoc cited escalating issues faced by indigenous peoples, including extensive and destructive development  projects, that continue to ravage not only the environment but also community relations inside and outside these areas, like dams and  mining operations.

“Given the worsening global climate change situation, it is imperative that we no longer permit the destruction of our forests and mountains,” Dimoc said.

The ECIP earlier said that it has consistently supported the true stewards of creation in the call to protect the ancestral lands (that are part of nature) against the intrusion of destructive development methods.

The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples estimated the total IP population in the Philippines will reach more than 11 million.

The Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA or R.A. No. 8371) was signed into law by President Fidel Ramos on October 29, 1997 to support the cultural integrity of IPs, the right to their lands, and the right to self-directed development of these lands.

In 2009, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued Proclamation No. 1906 designating October as the month to honor indigenous peoples’ contributions to the country and to promote their welfare and cultural rights.

IPRA defined IPs as “a group of people or homogenous societies identified by self-ascription and ascription by others, who have continuously lived as organized community on communally bounded and defined territory, and who have, under claims of ownership since time immemorial, occupied, possessed and utilized such territories, sharing common bonds of language, customs, traditions and other distinctive cultural traits, or who have, through resistance to political, social and cultural inroads of colonization, non-indigenous religions and cultures, became historically differentiated from the majority of Filipinos.”

“The indigenous peoples’ struggle for their rights has long been enduring. Their struggle for the recognition of their rights to land and self-determination is rooted in their effort for cultural and human survival. We should honor the struggle of our people,” according to my UP Law professor and now Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonon in the case of  Sama vs People (G.R. No. 224469, Jan. 05, 2021)

Leonen underscored that IPRA recognizes that IPs have a claim of ownership, not only upon the ancestral domain but also on the resources found in them. It acknowledges that the ancestral domain and the resources located therein constitute the IPs’ basis for their cultural integrity.

Leonen quoted Macliing Dulag’s famous lines on the people’s reverence for the land, affirming their right to stay states: You ask if we own the land and mock us saying, ‘Where is your title?’ When we ask the meaning of your words, you answer with taunting arrogance, ‘Where are the documents to prove that you own the land?’ Titles? Documents? Proof of ownership. Such arrogance to speak of owning the land when we instead are owned by it. How can you own that which will outlive you? Only the race owns the land because the race lives forever.”

Former Senator Juan Flavier, one of the law’s authors, noted that the IPs are the offsprings and heirs of the peoples who have first inhabited and cared for the land long before any central government was established.

In Isagani Cruz vs Secretary of Environment (GR 135385 December 6, 2000), former SC Chief Justice Reynato Puno said  that the IPRA was enacted  not only to fulfill the constitutional mandate of protecting the IPs’ right to their ancestral land but more importantly, to correct a grave historical injustice to our indigenous people.

(Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, e-mail, or call 09175025808 or 09088665786.)

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