Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has called for a Senate inquiry into the human rights abuses persistently committed against Indigenous Peoples (IPs), notably the recent spate of killings involving lumads and their community leaders.
In filing Senate Resolution (SR) No. 667, De Lima underscored the need to craft necessary amendments to Republic Act (RA) No. 8371, or the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997, to strengthen the promotion and protection of the rights of IPs.
“It is imperative to address the issues concerning the indigenous peoples in an inclusive and participatory dialogue through the process of a legislative review toward the enhancement and improvement of existing domestic legal standards and mechanisms,” she said.
She cited several instances where IPs fell victims to human rights violations, such as the killing of Ati tribal leader Dexter Condez in 2013, the unresolved killings of lumads in Mindanao and Igorots of Cordillera, and violations of the legal duty of the mining companies to secure free, prior and informed consent from the affected IP communities, among others.
According to her, the Philippines, as a State Party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, is obligated to respect the rights of persons belonging to cultural minorities.
De Lima further noted that the 1987 Constitution in Article II, Section 22 of State Policies, provided that “the State recognizes and promotes the rights of indigenous cultural communities within the framework of national unity and development.”
She added that the existing RA No. 8371 further acknowledges and promotes the said rights and freedoms of indigenous peoples and establishes a national mechanism to uphold and protect the said rights.
“What is more disturbing is the fact that on top of these foregoing issues that directly relate to the IPs, there are recurring concerns involving disputes over ancestral domains, ancestral lands, and titles issued pertaining to the same,” she said.
De Lima said there seems to be conflicting claims between and among the National Commission on Indigenous People, Department of Agrarian Reform, and Department of Environment and Natural Resources, especially on untitled lands being claimed by IPs as part of their ancestral domain.
“It is a fact that many of the mineral-rich areas of the country are found in the vicinity of the ancestral domains of the IPs. This has led to situations where IPs have been subjected to bribery, harassment, intimidation and acts of violence, in order to prevent or defuse resistance to the arrival of mining companies,” she said.
In her resolution, the Senator from Bicol also asked the Senate leadership to look into reports alleging that IPs are being forced to join paramilitary units of the government, otherwise, they run the risk of being branded as rebel sympathizers.
A known human rights defender, De Lima previously filed Senate Resolution No. 195 urging the appropriate committee in the Senate to conduct an inquiry on the root causes of internal displacement of IPs to uphold rights of internally displaced persons.