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August 11, 2008

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We mark the 2008 Indigenous Peoples Week or National Minority Week Celebration with greater challenges in our struggle for self determination and defense of our ancestral domain. We celebrate the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples with our achievements including the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), as we face the real condition of indigenous peoples under intense national oppression, exploitation and extreme poverty especially in the Philippines. National oppression of indigenous peoples in the Philippines worsened under the exploitative and fascist regime of the fake and extremely-isolated president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. In our struggle, we draw lessons from our historic experience. In our celebration this year, we declare to intensify our struggles against imperialist plunder and state terrorism and consistently move for the ouster of GMA.

Greater hunger, graver human rights violations
As Filipinos, indigenous peoples are also victims of the national political and economic crisis. In fact, they bear heavier the impact of the national crisis aggravated by the policies and programs of the illegitimate regime. We are poorer and hungrier more than ever as imperialist globalization takes its toll on the basic survival needs of the people, such as food and social services. Government's subservience to imperialist globalization steadily increased our dependence to rice imports over the years, making local markets vulnerable to speculations by international and local rice cartels.

Oil prices took a P3/liter hike for the 20th round this year, making the pump price of oil four times more expensive than its price in July 2001 when GMA took office, or from P14.50/L to P58.94/L, or a 306% increase. Minimum daily wage in the Cordillera region for non-agriculture workers is pegged at only P250, yet the cost of living for an ordinary family to survive decently is P830. Unemployment now reached 16 million or 28% of the total labor force. The number of poor Filipinos increased by 3.8 million between 2003 to 2008, or from 23.8 million to 27. 6 million. Inflation hit 11.4 percent in June 2008, the highest in 14 years.

The human rights situation is at its worst, with the regime being the perpetrator under its policy of political killings, the Oplan Bantay Laya, and the recent Anti-Terrorism Act. Since GMA assumed presidency, there are over 900 victims of extrajudicial killings and 193 victims enforced disappearances. Just before her eighth State of the Nation Address (SONA), 3 indigenous farmer-hunters were again summarily executed in Kalinga and Abra provinces. Organizations and individuals critical of the regime, especially those asserting their basic individual and collective rights were killed. Some of the most committed leaders of the legitimate national peoples movement and Cordillera peoples' movement were killed and assassinated leaving children, families, clans, tribes and communities orphaned and deprived of having a father, a mother, a sister or brother, leader and peacepact-holder, like the families of Markus Bangit, Alyce Claver, and Albert Terredaño. Justice remains elusive, as the Arroyo government which rules under de factor Martial Law does not show any sincerity in pursuing this. Causing massive human rights violations is the heightened militarization and terrorism by the AFP in indigenous peoples' territories especially in areas with strong struggles against large-mining and imperialist plunder. Laws and policies such as the Mining Act of 1995, National Minerals Policy, Anti-Terrorism Act, OBL and political killings are deliberate and systematic violation of indigenous peoples rights and human rights, which have been unprecedented under the Arroyo regime.

Ethnocide in Imperialist Globalization
As indigenous peoples, national oppression adds to the brunt we bear on top of the national political and economic crisis. Our inherent collective human rights are systematically violated, manifested by the worsened cases of development aggression, heavy militarization of indigenous communities; threats, harassment and extrajudicial killings of indigenous peoples asserting their democratic rights. Records from the Indigenous Peoples Rights Monitor show that since GMA assumed presidency in 2001, there have been 120 documented cases of IP killings in the country, with 33 of the cases coming from the Cordillera region. The fascist regime has done nothing but heighten ethnocide in its desperation to comply with unconditional subservience to the imperialist US and monopoly capitalists.

Eighteen of government's priority mining projects are located in indigenous territories, 5 of which are in the Cordillera region. It is deplorable to note that big local and transnational mining companies' applications including government treat our ancestral lands and territories as a resource base for plunder and extraction of profit while sacrificing IPs. To further revitalize and prioritize the plunder and destruction of our ancestral territories there are 125 pending mining applications in the Cordillera covering 1.2 million hectares of the region's total land area, or 66% of its 1.8 million hectares. Nine (9) Mineral Production Sharing Agreements (MPSA) and four (4) Exploration Permit Applications (EXPAs) were approved without the genuine free, prior, informed consent (FPIC) of the affected communities. The affected communities don't even know of such MPSAs approved with the connivance of NCIP only to be shocked when mining companies are already going into their territories.

The GMA regime has twistedly defined our opposition to destructive projects and the assertion of our legitimate rights and the right to survive as "terrorism," making us open targets to extrajudicial killings and military terrorism. The regime has massively militarized indigenous communities to break community opposition to destructive projects and repress the communities. Militarization of indigenous communities include physical basing of the Philippine Army in ancestral territories and houses, regular military operations such as unwarranted searches of houses, imposed food blockades, curfews, and other restrictions. The OBL maliciously and unjustly branded communities and legitimate organizations like the Cordillera Peoples Alliance and its members as fronts of the revolutionary CPP-NPA-NDF, making them open targets to military attacks, vulnerable not only to harassment but to extrajudicial killings.

Such is the case of the Binongan indigenous peoples in Baay Licuan, Abra, who are presently opposing Canadian mining company Olympus Pacific Minerals. Having won an initial triumph in their struggle with the suspension of its drilling, and sustaining their collective stand for Olympus to get out of their ancestral domain, the 41st IB, 503rd and 502nd Reconnaissance and Composite Coys were deployed in the communities after the other. Community leaders, along with CPA and its Abra chapter KASTAN, were tagged as NPA supporters and NPA fronts. Military terror is being sown to break the communities' unity and solidarity. In Conner, Apayao, communities are not giving up the fight against Anglo American subsidiary Cordillera Exploration, and now, Australian mining company OceanaGold which has a notorious record of human rights violations in Didipio, Nueva Vizcaya. Leaders of the local organization SAPO were harassed and death threats continue.

The gravest instance this year is the havoc in Tubo, southern Abra, due to the month-long bombings and intense military operations of the 50th Infantry Battalion starting March 21, 2008, leaving one whole community of the Maeng tribe in deep trauma, fear and terror. The area has been targeted for large mining but was consistently opposed by the people as early as the 1920s. The regime has specifically eyed the Cordillera as a priority area for OBL 2, thus hastening the smooth entry of applications and operations by securing the areas thru militarization.

The extrajudicial killings of indigenous farmer-hunters in the Cordillera by the AFP and PNP has been rampant under the Arroyo regime: Johnny Camareg in 2001, Mt. Province (killed by elements of the 22nd Special Forces Company, 3rd Special Forces Battalion), Etfew Chadyaas in 2003, Mt. Province (killed by elements of the 54th IB under Lt. Sia-ed), Efren Agsayang,a 19 year old deaf-mute from Mankayan, Benguet killed by elements of the provincial PNP; Victor Balais in Pinukpuk, Kalinga (slain by elements 77th IB), Bernabe Bangguey (slain by elements 41st IB) and Gavino Lawagey (Abra) all in 2005-all accused to be members of the New People's Army, and this year, Mariano Galisen (March 2008, killed by elements of the 50th IB) in Tubo, Abra; Rocky Aboli and Rey Logao in Kalinga last April and June, both killed by elements of the 21st and 77th IBs.

Victories in the face of worsened national oppression
While this might be the dismal state of indigenous peoples in the country and the Cordillera, we cite a few of the many significant victories in the struggle for indigenous peoples' rights that have a strategic impact to the wider movement for people's democratic rights.

The Baay Licuan communities thru BALITOK have successfully hosted the 24th Cordillera Day celebration with big mobilization last April 23 and 24 and have drawn in concrete support from other regions and abroad in their local struggle against large mines and militarization, as they continue to strengthen their resolve as a community. In Tubo, the communities did not succumb to the terror inflicted on them. Instead, they continue to strengthen themselves as they brace for more situations that challenge their collective opposition to the unending plunder interests of State and foreign companies. In Brgy. Amtwagan, resolutions were passed embodying their stand against large mines and militarization, strongly urging the municipal and provincial governments to support these. Likewise, communities in other parts of the Cordillera remain vigilant against the entry of large mines.

More recently in Apayao, SAPO has affiliated with the Cordillera Peoples Alliance during its first general assembly this July, making it the 196th member organization since the 9th Congress in December 2006. In time, SAPO will grow to comprehensively address burning issues in the province, aside from presently battling foreign companies' attempts to mine indigenous communities in Conner. In August 7, two days before the International IP Day, mining affected and threatened communities all over Benguet together with their local government officials and advocates affirmed their unity against the entry and operation of large mines and put up the Benguet Mining Action Alert Network (BMAAN) to strengthen their unity and action.

Internationally, we gained concrete ground with the passage of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which the CPA actively lobbied for since 1985. This victory is one we share with the rest of the world's indigenous peoples. The challenge now is the declaration's implementation, which we should not lose sight of but fervently pursue so that its passage is meaningful to indigenous peoples. In response, CPA co-organized and hosted the Asia Workshop for the UNDRIP Implementation. In the international anti-imperialist united front, the Cordillera Peoples Alliance served as the lead organization of Study Commission No. 10 on the Rights of indigenous peoples, national minorities and nationalities for self-determination, and decolonization against discrimination, racism, and national oppression by imperialism and local reaction of the International League of Peoples Struggles (ILPS). It convened the international workshop on this concern in the ILPS' Third International Assembly in Hong Kong.

Continuing Militant Resistance
Cordillera indigenous peoples have a history of militant and armed resistance for the defense of land and life, as shown in the successful anti-Chico dams and anti-CRC struggles during the US-Marcos dictatorship. To date, with the aggressive onslaught of imperialist plunder and exploitation in the Cordillera, Cordillera IPs are still collectively fighting and waging militant resistance as we achieve more victories in our struggle for self determination and right to ancestral domain.

Our notable, small but meaningful victories are a slap to the terrorist regime's face. GMA has nobody but herself and the government to blame for her plunging popularity ratings, extreme poverty and unbearable socio-economic crisis in the country and national oppression of indigenous peoples. We call for her ouster as part and parcel of advancing our struggle for self determination. We call for GMA's ouster being part of the marginalized citizenry the regime so strongly exploits and represses, and in support to the clamor of the democratic sectors.

Scrap the Mining Act of the 1995! Stop militarization and military terrorism in indigenous communities!
Assert our right to self determination! Enough of Mining and Imperialist Plunder! Enough of GMA!

Reference: Windel B. Bolinget, Secretary General
Cordillera Peoples Alliance

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