• Baguio City, Cordillera Administrative Region, Philippines

The Challenge on the Adoption of the UN Declaration on Indigenous Peoples Rights

September 17, 2007

The Cordillera Peoples Alliance joins more than 370 million indigenous peoples all over the world in celebrating as victory the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on September 13, 2007 during the 61st General Assembly of the United Nations in New York, where 144 countries, including the Philippines, voted for the adoption of the Declaration. Eleven countries abstained, while New Zealand, the United States, Canada and Australia voted against the Declaration.

As we acknowledge the 144 countries, including the Philippine government for decisively taking a stand in favor of the world's indigenous peoples, we denounce the New Zealand, US, Canadian and Australian governments for their rejection manifesting their longstanding all-out denial and violation of indigenous peoples rights. It is not even in their imagination to rectify the historic injustice, oppression, exploitation and discrimination against the world's indigenous peoples that the Declaration intends to correct. What only matters to them is their imperialist plunder and corporate greed that sacrifices the interests and welfare of indigenous peoples as demonstrated in their consistent rejection of the Declaration ever since and their NO vote in that judgement day of September 13.

This historic event is a landmark victory for the world's indigenous peoples after two decades. The adoption of the Declaration is a significant gain and a step forward for us indigenous peoples in our collective struggle for the right to self-determination, that is, to freely determine our political status and freely pursue our economic, social and cultural development. Since 1985, the CPA helped draft and actively pushed for the adoption together with indigenous peoples and advocates worldwide. Indeed, this is the only Declaration in the UN crafted with indigenous peoples themselves.

The Challenge after the Victory

What does the Declaration mean to us indigenous peoples of the Philippines, and the Cordillera in particular?

The Declaration sets the minimum standard towards the full recognition of our collective rights as indigenous peoples. It is an additional weapon in pursuing our struggle for self determination and defense of our ancestral lands and resources. It embodies our basic rights to our right to self determination, our right to own and control our lands, territories and resources, our right to free, prior, and informed consent among others. The urgent challenge now is the immediate implementation of the UN Declaration on Indigenous Peoples.

After voting for the Declaration's adoption, we call on the Philippine government to review its policies and laws oppressive of indigenous peoples to be consistent with the UN Declaration. Expected to have voted the adoption of the Declaration in good faith, the government is obliged more than ever to concretely uphold our collective rights by implementing the Declaration and repeal laws and policies favoring big national and transnational corporate interests over indigenous peoples such as the Mining Act of 1995, National Minerals Policy, Oplan Bantay Laya I and II, Human Security Act of 2007 to cite a few. The Declaration means recognition of our demands to stop development aggression in indigenous communities by clearing these of destructive projects such as mining, logging, and large dams. Thus, we reiterate our call for a moratorium of all large-scale mining applications and operations in the Cordillera region, where 1.2 million hectares or 66% of the region's 1.8 million hectare-land area is already covered by pending applications. Self determination cannot be realized if our lands and resources are exploited for plunder and imperialist greed.

With this goes the demilitarization of indigenous communities, to curtail the unabated human rights violations perpetrated and aggravated by state forces. At a nationwide scale, the Indigenous Peoples Rights Watch reported 130 indigenous persons killed under the Arroyo government (February 2001 to June 2007), 45 of which are Igorots. This figure includes the political assassination of Rafael Markus Bangit and Alyce Omengan Claver. Militarization of indigenous communities persist in the region and we restate our demand to demilitarize the Cordillera in the context of respecting the collective and individual rights of Cordillera indigenous peoples.

Aware that the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is not the main solution to issues and problems confronting us as world's indigenous peoples, we must pursue and intensify our struggles in our respective home countries and ancestral territories until our right to self determination is achieved. And aware that the Declaration is not binding, it is still a step forward towards sustaining what has been initially won in our collective struggles. As long as we are united, we can make a difference and we can achieve our aspirations. It is also a challenge for us to be vigilant and continue pushing our respective governments to implement the Declaration. Only then, the Declaration will be meaningful to us.

Onward with the struggle for self determination!