Reexamining the Oppression of Indigenous Peoples

Bill Bilig's blog From The Boondocks tackles the plight of indigenous peoples in Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya adversely affected by the operation of an Australian mining firm. You can read the article here.

This blog has a soft spot for indigenous peoples. Despite the feature by From The Boondocks I cannot shake off the urge to append a footnote in this blog.

By way of summary, an Australian firm, Oxiana, was given permit by the State to explore Kasibu for copper and gold. The area is inhabited by the Bugkalots who are natives of that place, Benguet Ibalois and Kankanaeys who migrated there after their lands were grabbed by the State to pave the way for the construction of the dams, and other indigenous peoples. The affected IPs are resisting the operation of Oxiana. They staged mass actions which turned violent because Oxiana let loose members of the CAFGU to subdue them.

The resistance tells us one thing-the IP's free prior and informed consent (FPIC) was not secured before Oxiana got its permit, as required under the Indigenous People's Rights Act (IPRA). Why did the local government not speak for the resident IP's? Why did the Department of Environment and Natural Resources indorse the permit of this brawny economic force? And where is the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples in the midst of this controversy? Why does the State seem unable to see the IPs in Kasibu? They are there. They exist. In flesh, in blood. Their mass action is their way of shedding off the veil of invisibility shrouding the vision of those in whose hands their fortune or misfortune resides. It is a struggle to be visible to the eyes that refuse to see.

The story of the IPs in Kasibu is not new. Indigenous peoples all over the world have one story - the plot is always a pattern of oppression authored by the bureaucratic apparatuses in collaboration with capitalist interests. All that is happening in Kasibu is atrocious to say the least. The government, instead of providing refuge to its constituents, is placing its resources at the disposal of the mining firm. Oxiana employed the CAFGU for its own vested interests! And the courts granted a temporary restraining order against the IPs, clearing Oxiana's bulldozers' path into the bowels of Kasibu. I can see Oxiana's long, sinister arms itching to abstract the gold and copper.

My heart goes out to the migrant Benguet IPs. They fled oppression in Benguet and sought refuge in Kasibu only to realize decades after that they they jumped out of the frying pan into a furnace waiting to burn. Very much like the Israelites who escaped slavery in Egypt to wander in the desert for forty long years!

IPs are intimate with Mother Nature. Regardless of time and space, the IPs' collective psyche concedes that the present generation is merely the steward of Nature for posterity. It is this belief that eliminates gluttony in their culture. Why natural wealth abounds in their territories should not be riddle. If it were up to them, their descending bloodline will never know hunger. But what they are saving for the generations centuries from now are what the capitalists are too agitated to exproriate in the name of profit. The big problem with capitalists is that no amount of profit is ever enough. Posterity be damned!

The natural wealth of IP territories makes them magnets of oppression and abuse everywhere. The capitalists (the economic force that controls the means of production) and States forged a dominant conspiracy to render the IPs defenseless, and their subjugation a foregone conclusion. Look at the IP's in the Kasibu. The government cannot help them, because it is in excessive entanglement with Oxiana. In the not-too-distant past, Gloria Arroyo, who occupies the most coveted swivel chair in MalacaƱang, seduced investors to explore the Philippine mountains for minerals. I heard Sen. Jamby Madrigal state in one forum that during the six months that Mike Defensor sat as DENR Secretary, he issued more or less 4,000 mining permits, almost equal to the number of such permits issued duirng Marcos' 20-year rule! What an unprecedented record.

Many of us labeled Karl Marx insane for saying that the State is nothing but an instrument for oppression by the ruling class. To be more exact, he said that the Executive is nothing but a committee to manage the affairs of the bourgeoisie.

With all that is happening in Kasibu right now, Marx could not be more right. And anyone who challenges him must remove his/her blinders. Sight, too, is freedom.

Let me express my lament at the abuse of IPs everywhere by reprinting my poem which was previously published by Bulatlat and The Northern Dispatch.

Invisible II
(for the Philippine indigenous peoples)

We were born rich in an abundant land.
Then they saw us and all of a sudden-

We were invisible. They did not see us
when they came to vandalize the burial
grounds of our ancestors to herald the
fabrication of counterfeit lakes and rivers
with strong flux to command brightness
for faraway places they called civilization.
We looked at our future--

We were invisible. They did not see us
when they came with their bulldozers
and made plains of our mountains, our
home and refuge for millions of years.
In the sacrosanct name of development,
they erected chateaus for the bourgeois.
We looked at our home--

We were invisible. They did not see us
when with supercilious air, they flounced
into our florid forest thieving her coins and
jewelry; she is now void inside, threadbare
on the surface, dumped by false gods who
wallow in the brimming briny of her wealth.
We looked at ourselves--

We are the people whose life is the land
The land is departed; so are we demised.
We flounder in the miasma of destitution.
Our invisibility was our strong impotence.
Our invisibility was our victorious defeat.

Our visibility
is our campaign
against invisibility.

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