CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (Cagayan Journal / 11 April) THE Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) has lauded the efforts of private organizations who recently released a study on the plight of at least 574 detained indigenous peoples (IPs), of whom 433 or more than 75.43 percent are in Mindanao.
The OPAPP, in coordination with the Mindanao Economic Development Council, has had a long-standing initiative on dialogues and consultations with IPs regarding the ancestral domain aspect of the peace negotiations between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
The issues on ancestral domain – and on inter-tribal disputes and conflicts including those indirectly related to the IPs’ right to self-determination and non-discrimination – have figured prominently in a situation analysis on detained IPs in Mindanao and the rest of the country.
Private organizations led by the Ateneo de Manila Law School recently launched a 96-page “Situation Analysis of Indigenous Peoples in Detention: A Baseline Study” at the Ateneo Professional Schools building at the Rockwell Complex in Makati City.
The study, in partnership with the World Bank and the Assisi Development Foundation Inc. (ADFI), began with a training program for at least 17 field coordinators on May 17-19, 2004 at the Pearl Manila Hotel and continued with an evaluation and reporting seminar of the same field coordinators on Jan 7-9, 2005 in Davao City.
The Ateneo Human Rights Center Katutubo Desk and the Ateneo Legal Services Center with their “Free the Indigenous Peoples Legal Assistance Program” conducted the study with assistance from WB Development Innovation Marketplace–Panibagong Paraan and the ADFI under its chairman.
The 19-member group of field coordinators on March 27 launched their baseline study, which included an excerpt from a paper on the IPs’ quest for justice that ADFI Tabang Mindanaw emergency humanitarian and Pagtabangan BaSulTa (Basilan/Sulu/Tawi-tawi) program executive coordinator Merlie B. Mendoza earlier delivered at the United Nations Development Programme Asia Pacific Rights and Justice Network Regional Workshop on Nov. 19-21, 2003 at the Triton Hotel in Ahungulla, Sri Lanka.
Citing a 2003 NCIP primer on Mindanao, the Mendoza paper revealed that the entire Philippine archipelago has been home to around 12 million IPs from 110 various tribes or ethno-linguistic groups, or around 17 percent of the country’s then 71-million total population.
The paper also revealed that IPs are situated in at least 61 out of 78 provinces nationwide, with roughly 60 percent (or about 7.2 million) based in Mindanao, with the others scattered in the rest of the archipelago’s islands.
AHRC Executive Director Carlos P. Medina Jr. cited the provision of legal assistance to IPs through “alternative lawyering” and ultimately their empowerment through the use of the nation’s laws as instruments of truth and justice.
The country’s IPs, “particularly those living in marginalized areas and in places affected by armed conflicts, suffer from various forms of violations of their human rights,” Medina said.
“Regrettably, many of these violations go unpunished and attempts of IPs themselves to seek justice have oftentimes not only been futile but have led to further violations of their rights,” Medina added. “Indeed, for many IPs, justice is just a dream.”