• Baguio City, Cordillera Administrative Region, Philippines

Freedom of Expression is a must in the Free, Prior and Informed Consent Process

January 22, 2024

Tomorrow, UN Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of Expression (FoE), Ms. Irene Khan, will commence her official visit to the Philippines. This is a perfect time for us to present the situation of FoE in our country as we expect the Philippine government to deny or hide our grassroots experiences. For years now, our communities here in the Cordillera have been experiencing threats, harassment, intimidation, and bombings due to our opposition against destructive mining and energy projects. Our assertion of our right to ancestral lands and self-determination, especially in the FPIC process, has been met with physical and psychological violence committed by the police, military, and the notorious National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

Central to the FPIC is the indigenous peoples’ right to collectively express their stand on the projects being proposed to them. In order to do that, appropriate and comprehensive information about the projects must be provided to the community. Eventual traditional or customary ways of decision-making must be respected and upheld. In essence, freedom of expression should be innate in the FPIC.

Recent experiences in the Cordillera reveal how the freedom of expression is violated at the onset (or even prior) the FPIC process. Community decisions are overturned through manipulations and fearmongering of state forces. Those who oppose dams, for instance, are red tagged or silenced. Communities fear conducting assemblies or meetings due to military presence. There is no safe space to express opinions and insights as indigenous communities.

Indigenous activists and organizations experience judicial harassment- some of them illegally arrested, designated as terrorists, charged with trumped-up cases, and some declared persona-non-grata as ordered by state security forces. CPA Secretary-General Bestang Dekdeken, for example, was convicted guilty on the cyberlibel case lodged against her by a former police chief. Expression, in the form of dissent, is easily taken as basis for human rights violations.

It is in this light that CPA submitted a report to the good office of the UN SR on Freedom of Expression, and we hope that the UNSR can see how freedom of expression and opinion is a relevant aspect of the FPIC.

Lastly, it is important to note that the FPIC process is a product of the long struggle of indigenous peoples for the right to ancestral lands and self-determination. While it has its own flaws as a policy, indigenous peoples invoke such process in hopes that the government will listen. Years of protests and barricades in the Cordillera alone prove however that assertion of indigenous peoples’ rights can go beyond the legal definitions of the FPIC.