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November 26, 2008

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Indigenous women in the Philippines joins the world-wide commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (IDEVAW). BAI, a national network of indigenous women's organizations with Asia indigenous Women's Network (AIWN) commemorates this day with indignation over the intensifying plunder of our land, food and natural resources, the militarization of our communities and the continuing human rights violations which include harassment and threats of indigenous leaders and organizations.

On 23-25 November 2008, BAI leaders held a workshop in Baguio City to discuss particular and distinct violence against indigenous women in the Philippines using the situation of 9 indigenous communities in Mindanao, Palawan, Cagayan and the Cordillera. The case presentations showed various forms of violence resulting from the violation of their collective rights to include economic, political and socio-cultural rights and which are rooted from the violation of ancestral land rights and self-determination of indigenous peoples as a whole.

Based from the case presentations, the violation of ancestral land rights and control of natural resources resulting from the imposition of development projects like mining in the case of indigenous peoples in Palawan, Mindanao, Cagayan and the Cordillera, corporate monocrop plantations in the case of Mindanao and the declaration of their territory as military reservation in the case of Tumanduk people in Panay.

The presence and serious plan of government and corporations to set up these projects impact on the economic rights particularly destroying traditional occupations of indigenous women and killing existing sources of their livelihood. Of the case study areas, almost the whole area of Conner, Apayao (81%), the whole community of Kinam along with several other indigenous communities in Saranggani province in Mindanao, the whole community of Siocon in Zamboanga del Norte and the whole community of Mariwara in Princess Urduja in Palawan along with other areas, are covered with applications by foreign mining corporations. Ongoing operation is already happening in Siocon despite resistance of the affected communities since the start of the application. The whole village of Colalo in Mankayan Benguet (Cordillera) is also threatened with the expansion of Lepanto mines.

The community of Tacayan in Tapaz, Capiz (Panay island) is one of the communities covered by the 310,000 hectares of military reservation declared by the Diosdado Macapagal government in the provinces of Capiz and Jamindan. The village of Tungaw in Magpet, Cotabato is threatened by a banana plantation and the whole village of Pag-asa in Alabel, Saranggani province (Mindanao) is threatened by Jathropa plantation.

BAI leaders noted that hunger and poverty is already prevalent in these communities. The situation is further aggravated by the lack of social services like health, education facilities and basic infrastructure. The full implementation of development aggression will surely mean deeper impoverishment and dislocation, with the indigenous women displaced from their traditional occupations and current sources of livelihood.

What is also noted is that almost all these areas are militarized hence indigenous women who are part of the resistance suffer from threats and harassment. Violence related to militarization as documented in these case study areas include rape, sexual harassment and building relationship with local young women and eventually abandoning the girls when the soldiers move out from the community.

"We are literally fenced off from our own land and from our source of livelihood with the declaration of our territory as military reservation", explained Erlinda Pedroso, a Tumanduk leader. Curfew is imposed by the 27th and 12th IB from 8pm to 4AM. Land mines are installed by the military during the curfew hours to ensure that the people will all be home by that time. "This is a big threat to our security and limits us to work and stay in our fields as much time as we like to catch up with the survival needs of our families", Pedroso exclaims.

"Pests which we strongly attribute to the banana plantation, are attacking the farms of indigenous peasant families", says Norma Capuyan, a Bagobo woman leader from Cotabato and spokesperson for BAI in Mindanao. Particularly in Tungaw, the banana plantation is asking the residents to rent out their lands to the company for P12,000 a year for 1 hectare. According to Capuyan, this only creates division among residents in the community. "The people are able to generate more for their survival when they till their lands than renting these to the company", says Capuyan.

In a similar situation, Lorna Mora, a B'laan woman leader from Sarangani province says that a jathropa plantation which intends to expand to the village of Pag-asa, Alabel is offering the indigenous residents a rent of P20,000 per year per hectare. "This is as good as surrendering your land to the plantation", says Mora. Until now, none of those who rented out their lands are receiving any rental payment. Jatropha plantations for biofuel production and run by corporations, are supported by the government as a response to climate change.

Apart from economic violence, indigenous women experience cultural violence. Their traditional knowldege is exploited for tourism and for profit by traders in the handicraft business with the facilitation of government. Catharina Estavillo of Amihan who did the case study among Agta women in Sanchez Mira, Cagayan shared about the experience of Agta women on commercialization of culture. For several occassions, the Agta women were invited to showcase their handicrafts in trade fairs as far a Manila through the Department of Tourism. Marketing of their products however is in the hands of traders who pay them in installment and at a very low price. The Agta women handicraft producers bear the burden of going after the trader for the payment. "This is a clear form of exploitation accompanied by deception", says Estavillo.

"These are the clear issues of violence against indigenous women that we want indigenous women and the wider public to be aware of. These are the violence against indigenous women that we want the Arroyo government to be accountable and responsible", says Vernie Yocogan-Diano of Innabuyog and national coordinator of BAI. The rights, welfare and survival of indigenous women continue to be imperilled by development aggression and state repression even if the Philippine government subscribed and is a signatory to international human rights laws to include CEDAW and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

"The situation therefore requires the development of capacity of indigenous women to be able to articulate their issues of violence, present their recommendation to the government, corporations and other concerned bodies including the UN and make use of other avenues like the CEDAW to raise issues and concerns of indigenous women", says Eleanor Bang-oa speaking in behalf of the Asian Indigenous Women's Network which BAI is a member of.

Indigenous women's organizations in the Philippines through BAI will pursue in addressing particular issues of violence against indigenous women along with the general issues faced by indigenous peoples and women in the Philippines. It is therefore necessary for indigenous women to deepen their understanding on the various forms of violence that they face as a special sector of women, build the strength and capacity of their organizations to assert their collective rights to land , resources and self-determination as well as their basic individual rights and against feudal-patriarchal and commercial views that discriminate them as women and limit their full participation in all spheres of engagement and development.###

Innabuyog, BAI, national network of indigenous women's organization in the Philippines and Asia Indigenous Women's Network (AIWN)

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