8 December 2008 Quezon City, Philippines — Indigenous leaders and representatives from different churches affirmed their unity in upholding indigenous peoples’ rights and promoting traditional knowledge as a means to address food insecurity among indigenous peoples’ communities.
In a dialogue between indigenous peoples and church leaders, indigenous leaders from the Cordillera, Central and Southern Luzon and Mindanao imparted to the church leaders the actual conditions of their communities. This posed a challenge to the churches to respond to the issues confronting indigenous peoples as part of their mission.
Aside from the rampant mining activities in ancestral domains aggressively promoted by the government and the inexorable militarization that accompanies development aggression, other issues were also highlighted during the discussion. Among these are the incursion of genetically modified crops and biofuel plantations in indigenous territories that caused the erosion of traditional agricultural knowledge and practices; the lack of recognition of traditional knowledge and customary laws, with the undermining of such as unscientific and mere superstitious beliefs; and the worsening peace situation in Mindanao.
Strongly linked to these are the conflicting laws in the country that hinder indigenous peoples from fully practicing their rights over their lands and self–determined development. All these contributed to the worsening food insecurity among indigenous communities — an irony considering that indigenous peoples have survived through time with the use of their indigenous knowledge system and practices which are truly sustainable.
Central to the issues confronting indigenous peoples is their continuing struggle for their right to ancestral domain, which is the basis of indigenous identity, life and culture. Once more, the indigenous leaders reiterated the importance of IP control over their ancestral lands and resources.
The Continuing Struggle for the Right to Land, Life and Resources
Carling Domulot of LAKAS, an association of Aetas in Botolan, Zambales, expressed, “Historically, IP groups have harmonious relationship because of the belief that men do not own the land. Natural calamities used to be the only cause of food insecurity among IPs. Now, it is because of man’s greed that IPs are not given the chance to develop their ancestral land.” To this, Danny Salonga, another Aeta leader of Limay Bataan, added, “Our practice of hunting and gathering sustained us for a very long time. But with government policies, especially of DENR, which prohibit us from going to protected areas, we are forced to plant in the lowlands. We can not even use the law to secure land tenure, because even the laws are conflicting.”
Other indigenous leaders who shared their communities’ experiences were Lakay Jaime Tigan–o Dugao of Sagada, Mountain Province; Tony Calbayog, a Mangyan leader from Oriental Mindoro; Ronaldo Ambangan, an Erumanen ne Menuvu of Cotabato; and Norma Capuyan, an indigenous woman leader of BAI, a network of indigenous women’s organizations in the country.
The challenges posed by the indigenous leaders were welcomed by church leaders with vows to truly champion the cause of indigenous peoples. Bishop Manguiran of the Diocese of Dipolog, who has been promoting traditional knowledge on farming, renewed his commitment to work with indigenous peoples in their fight against mining and agrochemical corporations that destroy their ancestral domains and erode their traditional knowledge. He explained through the different images of “David and Goliath”, “the dolphin and the shark” and “the eagle and the maya”, how the indigenous peoples’ communities can overcome their “enemies”; and that the church is one with the indigenous peoples in achieving their victory.
Rev. Rex RB Reyes, the secretary general of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines stated that the problems being encountered, not just in indigenous peoples’ communities but in the whole country, is a crisis caused by greed for profit and desire for power. He added that capitalism is the root of the problems. As a community, we can counter these attitudes through the value of sharing and collective action as a community.
Declaration of Solidarity
To further affirm the unity of indigenous peoples and church leaders, they agreed on a Declaration of Solidarity which calls for the following:
The dialogue, which was organized by the EED–Task Force on Indigenous Peoples’ Rights, was aptly called “Tongtongan”, an indigenous form of communication among Cordillerans that literally means discussion or meeting. It was held on the 14th of November, 2008 at the UP Balay Kalinaw. Participants from various Catholic and Protestant religious groups, non–governmental organizations, students from the Saint Andrew’s Theological Seminary and representatives from the Evanglischer Entwicklungsdients e.V. (Church Development Service of Germany), headed by Dr. Karl Schönberg, took part and contributed greatly to the successful forging of unity between indigenous peoples and church leaders.