• Baguio City, Cordillera Administrative Region, Philippines


(For the Study Conference on West Papua Self Determination March 26-27, 2017, Mergrande Ocean Resort, Davao City)

Anecdote re Victor Kaisepo who attended the International Solidarity Conference in the Cordillera in 1987 for a happy start.

It is an honor and privilege to be able to address this Study Conference on West Papua Self Determination. I learned of the national oppression of the West Papuan people from my involvement with Commission 10 of the International League of People’s Struggles (ILPS) and the Indigenous People’s Movement for Self-Determination and Liberation (IPMSDL). IPMSDL and ILPS have sponsored a number of international conferences where there have been presentations on the struggles for self-determination, and where Jerry, Mr. Leonard Imbiri of Dewan Adat Papua, has presented the case for West Papua. I have also kept up with the developments and supported the West Papuan struggle through your Free West Papua Campaign Facebook page.

I will speak specifically on the theme of self-determination and liberation as we seek to see its application to our specific struggles in the Philippines and West Papua. I propose to do so from the concrete experience of the national democratic mass movement in the Cordillera region and my organization, the Cordillera People’s Alliance, and relate this to some theorizing on these themes.

The Cordillera Struggle for Self-Determination and National Democracy

The significant events which sparked the militant mass movement in the Cordillera region Northern Philippines in defense of indigenous peoples’ rights were the Kalinga and Bontok people’s struggles against the World Bank funded Chico mega-dams, followed soon after by Tinggian opposition to the huge Cellophil logging and paper-pulp concession in Abra. Chico and Cellophil were so-called priority “development projects” of the US-Marcos dictatorship throughout the dark years of martial law during the 1970’s and 80’s.

These indigenous peoples of the Cordillera, long-considered as among the most neglected and powerless sectors of Philippine society, were able to stop development aggression against fearsome odds, by asserting their collective human rights to ancestral land and self-determination. Their steadfast and uncompromising defense of their life, land, livelihood and resources earned the respect and support not only of the other indigenous peoples in the region, but also other progressive forces both here in the Philippines and abroad. When they finally resorted to armed resistance after peaceful methods to seek redress of grievances had proved futile in the face of unbridled militarization, many were convinced that this was but a logical step for these warrior societies in defense of their collective human rights.

The Chico and Cellophil struggles gave a deeper dimension to human rights, going beyond the narrow definition of individual civil and political rights as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to the collective human rights of indigenous peoples. The Chico and Cellophil struggles were waged in uncompromising defense of ancestral land and the assertion of the right to self–determination, to freely determine our continued existence as distinct peoples, and our economic, political and socio-cultural development, at a pace which we ourselves define.

Chico and Cellophil led to an increased self- awareness among the indigenous peoples of the Cordillera and paved the way for the formation of a Cordillera-wide indigenous peoples mass movement, as it marked the shift from spontaneous localized reaction to more conscious and concerted unified action. As the different Igorot tribes and sectors were increasingly exposed to each other in mass meetings, inter-tribal activities and peacepact (bodong) conferences, there was the opportunity for dialogue and mutual sharing and learning. From here, the different groups realized that beyond their diversity, they shared a common history of national oppression; a common geography and territory – the Cordillera mountain range; a common persistence of their indigenous lifeways in the face of various threats, albeit in varying degrees; common problems and common enemies.

Chico and Cellophil brought to the fore the fact that the present-day problems of tribal peoples and indigenous communities are much bigger and more complicated than any faced in earlier historical periods. More concretely, Chico and Cellophil showed the indigenous peoples of the Cordillera that their problems cannot be taken in isolation from the wider Philippine realities, and the incursions of imperialist globalization.

The indigenist romanticized view of tribal society as a static autonomous entity which should be preserved in its pure form shattered, as Igorots united with as broad an alliance as possible for the defense of indigenous peoples collective rights, alongside the wider defense of human rights. Although the Chico resistance at the start was the spontaneous tribal response to outside threat, it soon positioned itself firmly within the mainstream of the national democratic struggle in the Philippines.

Towards Defining the Substance and Features of Self-Determination in the Cordillera

We organized the Cordillera Peoples Alliance for the Defense of the Ancestral Domain and for Self-Determination in 1984. At that time, the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations was still in its infancy and the international process was just starting, unlike today when we already have the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We had to exercise our brains Towards Defining the Substance and Features of Self-Determination in the Cordillera.

After the Marcos dictatorship was toppled through a people power revolution in 1986, the CPA successfully lobbied the new government of Corazon Aquino for the recognition of ancestral land rights and regional autonomy, which were included in the new Constitution of 1987.

The process defined in the Philippine Constitution towards setting up the Cordillera Autonomous Region is for Congress, with the help of a Cordillera Regional Consultative Commission, to draft an Organic Act to establish the autonomous region. The Organic Act is to be submitted to the people for ratification in a plebiscite called for the purpose.

In 1990, RA 6766, the Organic Act to create the Cordillera Autonomous Region was submitted to the people in a plebiscite but was rejected by the voting population. Again in 1997, a new Organic Act, RA 8438 was the subject of a plebiscite, and again it was resoundingly rejected.

On both occasions, our mass movement campaigned for its rejection, notwithstanding that it was the CPA that had lobbied for the inclusion of such a provision in the Constitution. The CPA interpreted rejection to mean not necessarily a rejection of the concept of genuine regional autonomy as the form of self-determination in the Cordillera. Rather, the rejection was of the collusion of central government and local reactionaries to coopt the earlier gains and derail the mass movement, the infighting and corruption of traditional politicians and opportunists who had jockeyed themselves into position in the new Cordillera bureaucracy, and the insincerity of government to substantially recognize indigenous peoples rights.

The militant mass movement has learned valuable lessons from the failed government experiment with regional autonomy. Genuine regional autonomy cannot merely be structural nor mechanical. For it to be truly meaningful for the indigenous peoples, it has to be predicated on a full and substantial recognition of indigenous peoples rights to ancestral land and self-determination. It cannot be merely granted from above; it has to be asserted by a conscientized and empowered people. It cannot be rushed, as it can only succeed when the people are fully knowledgeable and prepared for it

Historical Context of National Oppression and the Right to Self-Determination

This year, 2017, is the centennial of the October Revolution in Russia and the establishment of the first socialist state. As we commemorate this centennial, it is good to be reminded that the right of nations to self-determination was a key issue in the formation of the first socialist state. In fact, Lenin wrote two treatises on this theme: The Right of Nations to Self-Determination in 1914, and The Socialist Revolution and the Rights of Nations to Self-Determination in 1916. Before this, Stalin also wrote on Marxism and the National Question in 1913. As Stalin was a Georgian minority nationality, he was appointed as the minister for the nationalities, and he would prepare regular reports on the matter. We will use these references for the historical background.

Historically, the concept of the right to self-determination was originally applied to nations in creating their own independent states, and in asserting national sovereignty and territorial integrity against those that would impose upon them. The process of the elimination of feudalism and the development of capitalism was also the process of the formation of nations as historically constituted, stable communities of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up as manifested in a common culture.

Such was the case in Western Europe where the market economy integrated formerly self-sufficient feudal estates and other pre-capitalist formations into forming the German, French, Spanish and Italian nations with their own independent nation states. (The United Kingdom was the integration of the England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland nations, with the uneven integration of Ireland, leading to its division).

Capitalism brought trade and commerce, money, improved the system of communication, led to the development of a common language, etc. The bourgeoisie led in nation-building and the integration of what were formerly separate and self-sufficient feudal estates in order to widen and secure their own markets against the competition from the other arising capitalist nation-states. Thus the protectionism of early capitalism.

Unlike in Western Europe, where the development was towards integrated nation-states, in Eastern Europe where capitalist development was uneven, multi-national states were formed, states consisting of several nationalities. Thus minority nationalities were formed side by side with a dominant nationality in the multi-national states (eg. Austria-Hungary, Poland, Russia). There existed inequality and national oppression between the dominant nationality and the minority nationalities, which often broke out in ethnic strife, then and up to the present. It is important to note, though, that these wars were between the bourgeoisie of opposing nations.

Thus the issue of the right to self-determination was a major concern in the formation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) after the victory of the October Revolution. One of the major achievements of the socialist USSR before its revisionism and dissolution in 1991 was the unification of the various nationalities of what were once 15 separate republics in Eastern Europe, the Baltics, Central Asia and Transcaucasia for the socialist cause. They willingly joined the USSR with the guarantee of the complete equality of rights for all nations, full recognition of the right of nations to self-determination, regional autonomy for national groupings occupying their own territory within a multi-national state, and the principle of the international solidarity of the working class. Their right to self-determination was guaranteed such that they would be free to leave the Union should their rights be trampled upon.

Expansionism and colonization then, and present-day neo-colonialism have stunted the natural course of development of many nations in Asia, Africa and Latin America, for whom the autonomous development towards the capitalist nation-state has already been effectively closed. Instead, there is the continuing underdevelopment in the so-called “developing” countries, with monopoly capitalism at the root of this phenomenon. The oppression and exploitation brought about by direct colonization then and imperialist globalization now have resulted in the rise of national liberation movements in the colonies and neo-colonies, with the demand for sovereign independence as the form of self-determination.

The Philippines was colonized by Spain. Filipinos asserted their nationhood and waged a revolution to oust the colonizer. On the eve of victory of the Philippine revolution, Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States through the Treaty of Paris. The Filipinos waged the Filipino-American war against the new colonizer. Even after the grant of formal independence, the Philippines continues to be a neo-colony of the United States. The national democratic struggle aims to build a truly sovereign and independent Philippine republic.

Indonesia was colonized by the Dutch. It declared its independence from the Dutch after WWII, while West Papua remained under Dutch control until 1961 when the people there asserted their independence. This was shortlived, however, as Indonesia invaded West Papua and annexed it to the Indonesian State.

Within the neo-colonies, and even in pockets inside the developed countries, there is the persistence of pre-capitalist modes of production and social formations among indigenous peoples and national minorities who have been marginalized and minoritized through colonialism and the historical process over time in the countries that they find themselves in. Indigenous peoples are to be found all over the world and many are self-proclaimed “nations,” while living within a defined national territory of a nation-state. Such tenacious persistence of traditional lifestyles even in the face of neo-colonialism and imperialist globalization are by themselves manifestations of self-determination.

In the Philippines, the national minorities are to be found here in Mindanao, the lumad and the Moro, the Igorots in the Cordillera region, and also in the other regions. We define the national oppression which we are subject to as the following: landgrabbing and the non-recognition of our ancestral lands and territories, political misrepresentation and the non-recognition of indigenous socio-political institutions, historical government neglect, commercialization and vulgarization of indigenous culture, institutionalized discrimination, militarization and ethnocide.

Just last November, we launched SANDUGO, the alliance and movement of the Moro and indigenous peoples of the Philippines for self-determination and a just peace. We have been actively involved in the peace negotiations between the Government and the CPP-NPA-NDF, and submitted our proposals to be included in the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms.

In West Papua, the people continue to suffer gross human rights violations. The Indonesian state sanctions the vilest military atrocities, sponsors the daily transmigration of Indonesians, and institutionalizes racism, while the giant multinational Freeport Macmoran plunders the people’s patrimony. In response, West Papua now wants to be free.From the above, and notwithstanding the changing historical context, we may observe that self-determination has been a response to repression, to inequality, to discrimination. Self-determination is thus an assertion of a people’s collective human rights and identity against national oppression.

Throughout history, there have been different forms of national oppression:

  • Expansion and colonialism of the original nation-states
  • Dominant nationality vs minority nationalities in the original multi-national States
  • Control by imperialist powers over TW countries thru economic/political/ cultural means (neo-colonialism)
  • Within countries, discrimination and oppression of indigenous peoples and minority nationalities (eg. annexation of West Papua by Indonesia)

Whereas national oppression may outwardly appear as the political oppression of a dominant nationality against another, it is important to take note of the class perpetrators of national oppression. National oppression is perpetrated by imperialism and the local reactionary ruling classes against the national minorities. The discrimination from the national majority arises from the bias spread through the dominant culture of the institutions of society and unwittingly accepted by the majority. These are contradictions among the people which should be resolved democratically.

United Nations Framework and Its Limitations

When the United Nations (UN) was established after WWII, it appropriated the term nation (or nation-state) to refer to its member-states, notwithstanding that many of these states are not homogenous entities but are actually multi-national states.

Article 1 of the UN Charter says that among its three purposes is “to develop friendly relations among nations based on the respect for the principle of equality and self-determination of peoples…”

Article 1 of both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) also expressly state that “All peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”

Take note that the application of the right of self-determination as used by the UN has been expanded from its original usage to nations to now include peoples.

The formulation appears to be an unequivocal statement of human rights. This is not as simple as it seems, however, as the controversial question for a long time was how to define the category people/s, and which groups would qualify under this category.

With the approval by the UN General Assembly of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007, indigenous peoples have won international recognition as peoples. But what about other oppressed nationalities and national minorities, or even ethnic minorities, who are not necessarily indigenous peoples but who are presently minority peoples encompassed within wider State systems?

The UN is composed of States which are dominated by local ruling classes who speak as though they represent equally all of the people in their country’s population, when in truth, there are significant sections of the population who are oppressed and discriminated against. Furthermore, the majority of these States are subservient to the US superpower. This makes it difficult for oppressed sections of the national population to qualify, in the view of States, as separate peoples. Thus the modern States which compose the United Nations are threatened by the very concept of self-determination. In truth, it was the indigenous lobby which brought UNDRIP to fruition, often against the position of their own State systems.

There is no explicit UNDRIP provision that refers to an indigenous people’s right to create an independent state. Indeed, Article 46 clearly states: Nothing in this Declaration may be…construed as authorizing or encouraging any action which would dismember or impair, totally or in part, the territorial integrity or political unity of sovereign and independent States.

The right of a people to freely determine its political status, in theory, includes the right to form an independent state that stands on equal footing with other nation-states, or otherwise, to define its mode of associating with an existing state wherein it enjoys the same rights as the other constituent peoples of that state.

Thus, the right to self-determination directly translates into the right of peoples to govern themselves without external impositions. Historically, this right covers a wide range of options:

  • seceding outright from a state of national oppression and creating their own independent state;
  • joining a federation of states as one constituent and co-equal state;
  • constituting an autonomous political unit wherein it exercises a degree of self-rule within a broader nation-state; and
  • asserting specific rights as defined by the basic laws and through specific processes of the nation-state.

Whereas the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples quibbles on the right to self-determination, the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Peoples, otherwise also known as the Algiers Declaration of 1976 proclaims that all the peoples of the world have an equal right to liberty, the right to free themselves from any foreign interference and to choose their own government, the right if they are under subjection, to fight for their liberation and the right to benefit from other peoples' assistance in their struggle. While the Algiers Declaration may not have the “official authority” of the United Nations, oppressed peoples the world over identify with the rights of peoples as spelled out in the Declaration. These collective rights, these people’s rights find resonance in the hearts and minds of peoples struggling to be free. We will continue to propagate the Algiers Declaration and assert moral suasion to influence public opinion on the rights of peoples to self-determination.

While there may be a whole range of forms of self-determination, the key issue is the empowerment of the people, the level of organization they are able to build, the struggles that they can successfully wage, including the support that they can generate from the wider population in the country, and internationally, based on the legitimacy of their struggle against oppressive structures.

Presently, despite the great diversity of indigenous peoples worldwide, the truth is that there is also a great commonality in the problems that we face, among them:

  • Intensifed plunder of land and resources by multi-national corporations
  • Massive displacement due to large-scale destructive projects of States and imperialist corporations (mines, dams, logging, SEZ, monocrop plantations, etc) and concomitant militarization
  • – Grave human rights violations under the US-led War on Terror & corresponding “Security” Acts
  • Government neglect, deprivation of basic social services, impoverishment
  • Racism, chauvinism and discrimination
  • National oppression and the non-recognition of our identity as indigenous peoples and national minorities

Today, as we come together for this Study Conference on West Papua self-determination, we in the ILPS and the IPMSDL pledge our solidarity to your struggle. We come together to to learn from each other and build a higher solidarity among indigenous peoples and national minorities in this part of the world. We come together to build our strength to be able to militantly assert our people’s rights against national oppression and for self-determination, beyond the parameters circumscribed by the UN. Let us unite as an international indigenous peoples’ movement for self-determination and liberation as we strive to build a better world based on a deeper appreciation that imperialism and neo-liberal globalization is at the root of our common problems.

Joanna K. Cariño Cordillera People’s Alliance
Co-chair, SANDUGO Alliance of Moro and Indigenous Peoples for Self-Determination