Amnesty International Urges President Aquino To Deliver Justice And Basic Services To Indigenous Peoples


Amnesty International, a human rights organization, called on President Aquino and local government officials to deliver justice to victims of human rights violations and deliver basic services to indigenous peoples in the country, particularly in Zamboanga Peninsula.


“In our conversations with indigenous peoples from Zamboanga del Sur, particularly from ten (10) municipalities of Zamboanga del Sur, Subanens revealed very disturbing human rights concerns in their communities. The problems ranged from killings without justice, inadequate health care and medicines, education which do not integrate cultural information about the lumads, discrimination against some Subanens and absence of respect for traditional leaders, practices and ancestral domain. All these problems were being shared to us while the Megayon Festival was being held in relation to Zamboanga del Sur’s 50th anniversary celebration,” lamented Dr. Aurora Corazon Parong, Director of Amnesty International Philippines. Dr. Parong was in Pagadian City to conduct Human Rights Advocacy and Campaigns training from September 16-19, 2010. The 40 participants of the training came from Molave, Midsalip, Bayog, Kumalarang, Josefina, Lakewood, Dimataling, Sagun, San Miguel and Lapuyan.


Dr. Parong expressed concern over the absence of justice for victims of killings in Bayog which some leaders said are related to the previous May elections and maybe associated with the mining explorations in their community. The Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center reported extrajudicial killings in various parts of the country in the last 10 years who have not received justice, including those who were asserting their rights to participate in decision making regarding mining operations and explorations.


Amnesty International views this justice gap as a failure on the part of the government to fulfill its obligation under national and international law to protect the right to life of every individual and provide remedy for transgressions in people’s rights. Amid reports of ineffective investigations and with the failure of the state to provide effective witness protection program, perpetrators are rarely brought to justice. The right to remedy is a right of anyone, yet even those whose lives were cut short are deprived of justice.


“We reiterate our recommendation to President Aquino to establish a presidential commission that will review all reported cases of extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances during the last decade, with the aim of enabling speedy prosecution of cases with enough evidence, or reopening of investigations for cases whose progress is stalled due to lack of effective investigation.We have sent this recommendation to P-Noy in June of this year hoping that he can act on this in his first 100 days as president. We have also raised this in a meeting with Secretary of Justice De Lima last month. The local police and prosecutors have a big role in ensuring justice at the local level. It is almost 100 days since the new government was installed but we have yet to see very concrete actions on our recommendations,” said Dr. Parong. President Aquino will be on his post as the highest leader of the country by October 7, 2010.


Amnesty International recognizes the link between the fight against corruption as important in delivering justice, respect for lumad leaders and the indigenous peoples’ cultural practices and basic services to peoples including health services, basic elementary education services.


“We urge local government officials from barangay, municipalities, city and provincial levels to ensure that the rights of lumads and everyone in their jurisdiction are respected, protected and fulfilled. If there are abuses, the perpetrators must be brought to justice,” added Dr. Parong.


Amnesty International expressed deep concern about the plight of individuals, mostly indigenous peoples, whose sources and means of subsistence are taken over and destroyed by large corporations, including mining companies. The human rights group noted that Indigenous Peoples groups are only demanding for their rights as enshrined in the UN Declaration for Indigenous Peoples Rights (UNDRIP) and the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) of the Philippines when they want to take part in decisions affecting them. Subanen leaders present in the human rights training informed that communities have not been consulted regarding development projects for their Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), they remain invisible and voiceless in decision-making that greatly affect their lives, ancestral domains and most importantly, their cultural heritage.


Amnesty International firmly believes that actions of the local government that deprive the indigenous peoples of information about development projects and decisions that are made without the participation of the affected communities are wrong and unacceptable. These actions of the government that violate the rights of peoples to information and to partake in decisions affecting their lives must be stopped. Indigenous peoples in remote communities deserve the same respect and equal rights as those who live in the towns and cities.


The human rights watchdog asserts that the human rights of indigenous peoples must not be traded-off for economic growth and alleged benefits from development projects. “Attitudes and actions of government officials that dis-empower already marginalized community must end now. It is in direct violation of the Philippines’ international obligations under the UNDRIP to which it is a signatory and the IPRA!” explained Dr. Parong.


Amnesty International calls for a new approach, grounded in the genuine respect for traditional culture and with human rights principles at its core, to tackle the complex subject of ancestral domains vis-à-vis development programs and policies, including the mining industry. Amnesty International calls on President Aquino, to order the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), to develop an integrated approach that places all human rights – not merely some human rights – at the center of their projects which will ensure that all human rights of marginalized communities especially the indigenous peoples are respected and protected.


“Amnesty International demands that governments, big corporations and others who have power must listen to the voices of the marginalized communities especially those living in poverty. The principle of equality of rights cannot be compromised. Immediate and long term solutions to problems plaguing us from the communities to the whole country may only be achieved if people and their human rights are placed at the center of the Medium Term Philippine Development Plan (MTPDP) in the next six years. Amnesty International is hoping that President Aquino will make a difference in the lives of marginalized communities in our nation.” Concluded Dr. Parong.

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