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Indigenous peoples lobby for recognition in Philippines Moro region

Identity, territory at the heart of the matter
Indigenous peoples lobby for recognition in Philippines Moro region

A Teduray spiritual leader performs a ritual outside the House of Representatives on Sunday in Manila "to seek divine intervention" regarding the Bangsamoro Basic Law currently being formulated (Photo by Jimmy Domingo)

Published: May 12, 2015 10:05 AM GMT
Updated: May 11, 2015 11:06 PM GMT

Indigenous peoples in the southern Philippines are making a last-ditch attempt to have their voices heard prior to the finalizing of a law that is poised to implement a long-awaited peace deal in the troubled Mindanao region. 

The indigenous peoples of the Teduray, Lambangian, and Dulangan Manobo tribes are lobbying that their identity as non-Moro peoples be recognized in the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that is undergoing final deliberations in Congress this week.

"Things are not black nor white. One cannot be pro-BBL or anti-BBL," said Teduray tribal leader Alim Bandara, adding that there are "a lot of serious issues" that the tribes raised regarding the content of the proposed law.

During consultations, tribal groups raised specific concerns about what will happen to their "identity and territory" as non-Moro peoples in a Muslim-dominated autonomous region, he said.

"But they failed [to hear] us," Bandara said.

"We hope that Congress will be enlightened to hear our voices and pass a law that is truly inclusive and just," the tribal leader added.

Congress on Tuesday postponed the vote on the proposed law to May 18 "to consolidate proposed amendments to the law" that were submitted on Monday.

Abay Rendaw Mosela, a Teduray spiritual leader, said the postponement represented a chance that issues raised by tribal groups could be included in the law.

"What should be drafted and passed is a fair and just law, not a law that would discriminate against the minority population," said Mosela, adding that indigenous peoples do “not collectively nor individually call themselves as Bangsamoro”.

Several indigenous groups in Mindanao have expressed support for the passage of the BBL, which will govern a new autonomous political entity that will replace the present Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Tribes that will be part of the new autonomous region are, however, demanding that the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA), a law passed in 1997 that recognizes and promotes the rights of indigenous peoples, including ancestral land rights, cultural integrity, self-governance and empowerment, be included in the BBL.

In the ARMM, tribal groups were not able to exercise these rights because the IPRA does not apply in the autonomous region.

At the heart of the issue is identity.

Tribal groups say that any legislation addressing the new Moro autonomous region should respect the identity of non-Moro peoples and their rights.

"This should be part of the BBL," said Jennevive Cornelio, a Teduray tribal leader. "There should be an equal treatment of the rights of the people.”

The Teduray, Lambangian, and Dulangan Manobo tribes are traditional inhabitants of areas that will be covered by the proposed autonomous region. More than 80 percent of the total population of these tribes is found in the province of Maguindanao.

History and tradition bind these tribal communities with the Moro people but differences arose when Islam arrived in the region in the 14th century.

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