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Philippine bishops demand protection of indigenous people's rights

Millions continue to suffer from land grabbing and other abuses for the sake of economic progress, they say

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Philippine bishops demand protection of indigenous people's rights

Philippine tribal leaders protest outside the House of Representatives in Manila in this file photo to oppose moves to amend the country's constitution that would allow foreign ownership of land. (Photo: Maria Tan/AFP)

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Catholic bishops in the Philippines have appealed to the government to intensify efforts to protect the rights and dignity of indigenous people who suffer from land grabbing and discrimination.

In an Oct. 6 statement, the bishops’ Commission on Indigenous Peoples urged the government to bring to justice violators of the Philippine indigenous people law.

“Discrimination against [indigenous people] has affected the whole of Philippine society. Social exclusion has become widespread, to the point of posing a threat to social harmony and peace, as well as compromising the country’s ability to achieve economic progress and stability,” the statement said.

The prelates said they had looked at the implementation of a “landmark” piece of legislation called the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act that has prohibited land grabbing of indigenous lands since 1997.

This law gave indigenous people rights to claim ownership over the lands they had occupied and possessed since time immemorial and utilized.

The Philippines has an estimated 14-17 million indigenous people belonging to 110 ethno-linguistic groups mostly concentrated in the north of Luzon and southern Mindanao, according to government data.

However, the bishops said that millions of indigenous people suffer from land grabbing by corporations, while their leaders became victims of extrajudicial killings.

“We [the bishops] are made aware of the harsh realities suffered by indigenous people which comprise 10-20 percent of our [Philippine] total population. We deplore the present disregard of the indigenous people’s rights to their ancestral domain and their right to say no to development projects which erode and disrupt their life, culture and spirituality,” they added.

In 2016, Canadian geography professor William H. Holden conducted a study on environmental science and the effects of its utilization on the Philippines’ indigenous people.

Holden concluded that although the Philippines was rich in natural resources, a mining-based paradigm had been in conflict with the nation’s indigenous people.

“This conflict has entailed disputes between the mining industry and indigenous peoples about the validity of the Philippines indigenous peoples’ rights legislation and alleged human rights abuses on the behalf of the mining industry,” Holden said.

The bishops also said that mining was not the only activity that threatened indigenous people’s rights.

“Infrastructure projects are forcefully implemented without listening to the cries and concerns of indigenous peoples,” they said.

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