Indigenous peoples join call for Aquino ouster at the People’s SONA


July 29, 2014

“Why are they depriving people of their lands?” – Mayeth Corpuz, an
Agta, secretary general of the Samahan ng mga Katutubo sa Sierra Madre

MANILA — At the People’s State of the Nation Address on July 28, about
100 indigenous peoples came down from their mountain villages in Luzon
and joined protesters in Metro Manila to call for a change in government
policies, and President Aquino’s ouster.

From the Igorots of the north to the Mangyans of southern Luzon,
indigenous peoples decry the same development aggression, dispossession
of their ancestral lands and militarization.

Among the indigenous peoples at the People’s SONA were the Aytas from
Tarlac and Pampanga and Agtas from Aurora who joined peasants from
Central Luzon. From Southern Tagalog, the Mangyans of Mindoro came with
peasants, workers and urban poor from Cavite, Laguna, Quezon and
Batangas. The protesters from the two regions have been on the road
since last week, some of them as early as Thursday. They had encamped in
front of the Department of Agrarian Reform since Saturday, July 26.

“What can we expect in this situation? It has been four years and he did
nothing for us tribal peoples even as we brought our issues to him.
Instead, government deployed soldiers on us,” said Mayeth Corpuz, an
Agta and secretary general of the Samahan ng mga Katutubo sa Sierra
Madre (SKSM). Corpuz had left her home in San Luis, Aurora after
soldiers threatened her life in 2007.

She said that droves of soldiers continue to operate in the Agta
communities, as the indigenous peoples of Aurora province resist the
Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport (Apeco). Corpuz said APECO
exemplifies how a project that was put into law supposedly “for the
people” are divesting people of resources.

“Why are they depriving people of their lands?” Corpuz said farmers can
no longer use once-productive farmlands that have been turned into an
airport. She added that some parts of the national road and
farm-to-market roads in Dibet, Casiguran are now inaccessible to farmers
because these were covered by APECO.

Other government “development projects” have been eating into the farm
areas in the ancestral domains of indigenous peoples.

Edwin Danan, secretary general of the Central Luzon Ayta Association
(Claa) cited the Clark Green City, which spans 36,000 hectares of
ancestral territories in Capas and Bamban in Tarlac province and in
Angeles City in Pampanga.

“They will construct big buildings, golf courses, and subdivisions,
while some indigenous peoples will be kept as tokens for ecotourism,”
Danan said.

In his hometown in Porac, Danan said, the government refused to
acknowledge the people’s refusal to allow the Aboitiz Geothermal plant
in their communities. Instead, the National Commission on Indigenous
Peoples (NCIP) is trying to convince the Aytas to accept the power
project. The plant will affect up to 20,700 hectares of ancestral lands
in Porac and Floridablanca, Pampanga, and in Olongapo City and Botolan
in Zambales.

Danan said government tactics range from bribing indigenous peoples to
threatening them. In Sta. Juliana village in Capas, Tarlac, the presence
of soldiers of the 56th Infantry Battalion in the community drove up to
20 Ayta families to leave. They are now living under a bridge in Angeles
City, Pampanga. “Many others are able to keep their ground because they
are resisting,” Danan said.

Among those threatened with displacement are the Aytas of sitio
Suclaban, Anupol village in Bamban. The Bases Conversion Development
Authority (BCDA) had put up a large signboard saying that the land in
their community is a private property of the BCDA and any other occupant
is an informal settler.

“They called us informal settlers in our own ancestral domain,” the
Aytas lamented.

The same situation goes for the indigenous peoples down south of Luzon,
the Mangyans of Mindoro.

“We joined the SONA to express the problems of the indigenous peoples,
who are one of the most marginalized sectors of society, deprived of
social services and support from government, such as education, health
and livelihood,” said Amit Gabriel, 50, secretary general of the Hagibbat.

Hagibbat stands for the seven Mangyan tribes of Mindoro island: Hanunuo,
Alangan, Gubatnon, Iraya, Buhid, Bangon, and Tadyawan.

“We never felt any benefits from DAP. There were no facilities built for
schools in the mountains. The government has scholarships but these are
for a selected few, and very few indigenous peoples benefit. It also
becomes a platform for traditional politicians to promote themselves,”
said Gabriel.

In Mindoro, there are 99 mining applications covering ancestral lands
and threatening displacement of indigenous peoples.

Gabriel said the Mangyan’s main livelihood come from swidden farms,
which are getting smaller and smaller with the entry of mining and
government projects. This means less income and less food to eat.

Pepe Mendoza, a Mangyan of the Tadyawan tribe, said they are barely
keeping up, with the prices of their products very low, while other
basic goods are skyrocketing. Bananas are sold at P80 ($1.80) per 100
pieces, with at least 20 pieces thrown in for free. Meanwhile, rice is
priced at up to P44 ($1) per kilo, even just after harvest time.

“Tribal peoples are very industrious, specially the youth,” said
Mendoza. “But what good will it do to make the land productive, only for
the mines to come in and destroy the land.”

“Land to the indigenous peoples is our life, our school, our home,”
Claa’s Danan said. “As we call for respect to our right to ancestral
domains and self-determination, we join other sectors in the efforts to
oust the Aquino regime.” (