Indigenous Filipinos protest threats to grab lands

Church organizations say charter changes put local ethnic groups under greater threat from govt abuses
Indigenous Filipinos protest threats to grab lands

Philippine tribal leaders hold a demonstration outside the House of Representatives in Manila on March to protest moves to amend the country's Constitution that would allow foreign ownership of land. (Photo by Maria Tan)


Philippine tribal leaders, religious, and pro-environment groups marched to the House of Representatives in Manila on March 5 to protest moves to amend the constitution and usurp peoples' land.

They said a plan to overhaul land laws, which will allow investors to buy land in tribal areas, will strip indigenous peoples of their right to their ancestral domains.

In a statement, the tribal group Sandugo said the proposal would open up Philippine lands to 100 percent foreign ownership and unbridled exploitation of natural resources.

"Whatever will remain as token recognition of our collective rights as national minorities will be rendered insignificant," the statement said.

Father Benjamin Alforque of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart warned that the proposal would lead to "genocide."

"What God has built for millions of years cannot just be destroyed with a wink of an eye," said the priest who works among tribal communities in the southern Mindanao region.

He said removing a ban on foreign ownership of land and allowing foreigners control of key industries, including mining, would be detrimental to the local population.

President Rodrigo Duterte announced last month that he would choose investors for tribal lands after tribes are relocated to "more accessible sites."

The tribal leaders have voiced concern over the president's and claim government forces have been using violence to discourage communities opposing Duterte's plan.

In Kitaotao, in Bukidnon province, militia groups backed by government soldiers have forced communities opposed to mining operations and accused by the government of being communist rebels to "surrender."

Datu Isidro Indao, leader of 102 tribal families who were displaced by military operations, said armed men herded people to village centers and forced them sign surrender documents.

"They said those who do not will be feel the full force of martial law," said Indao. He said he saw 67 members of his community were on a list of "communist terrorists."

Duterte declared martial law across Mindanao last year when Islamic State-inspired gunmen attacked the city of Marawi. It is still effective and will last until the end of 2018.

Kaylo Bontulan, a tribal leader from Talaingod town, Davao del Norte province, complained of maltreatment by security forces.

"[The armed men] would announce that they will distribute rice, but they would take photos of people and declare them as rebels who surrender," said Bontulan.

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Chris Ablon, a pastor of the Philippine Independent Church who runs a program for tribal people, said the government and Duterte are "playing God" in hinterland communities.

The pastor said the indigenous peoples are "the object of God's love," adding, that "a government that harms them is a government of the wicked."

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