By: Cheryl L. Daytec-Yangot and Mary Ann M. Bayang

Cordillera Indigenous Peoples Legal Center

In 2006, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines denounced the Arroyo administration’s Mining Revitalization Program. Reiterating its call for the repeal of the Mining Act, the CBCP said: “The right to life of people is inseparable from their right to sources of food and livelihood. Allowing the interests of big mining corporations to prevail over people’s right to these sources amounts to violating their right to life. The promised economic benefits of mining …are outweighed by the dislocation of communities especially among our indigenous brothers and sisters, and the risks to health and livelihood and massive environmental damage. Mining areas remain among the poorest areas in the country… The cultural fabric of indigenous peoples is also being destroyed by the entry of mining corporations.” A 2003 report of the Extractive Industries Review project commissioned by the World Bank warned of environmental degradation, social disruption, conflict, and uneven sharing of benefits with local communities that bear the negative social and environmental impact.

Glossing over the warnings, the Arroyo administration which aggressively adopted mining as the cornerstone of its economic development paradigm recently identified 24 major mining priority areas, eighteen of which are in indigenous territories. As if this is not alarming enough, it boasted in its report to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) that the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) whose primary mandate is to protect indigenous peoples (IPs) has already issued a total of 127 Certificates of Precondition, 70 of which are for mining. A certificate of precondition removes the final obstacle to the national government’s issuance, renewal or grant of concession, lease or license over natural resources within ancestral domains. Under the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA), the free, prior and informed consent(FPIC) of affected IPs must be secured before NCIP issues the certificate.

Citing the issuance of the 127 Certificates of Precondition as an accomplishment is baffling for it indicates failure on the part of NCIP to fulfill its mandate. Announcing it to the international community is very upsetting considering the aftermath. Every certificate of precondition allowing large-scale mining perpetuates the oppression of IPs. Every such certification legitimizes displacement from their ancestral domains. Every displacement culminates in cultural genocide. It is hoped that the CERD will see the certificates for the license to exploit that they are and not for the accomplishments that they are not.

One may argue that NCIP would not have turned on the green light without the FPIC of the affected IP communities. But communities who labor under a state of internalized oppression are not capable of giving consent.

Internalized oppression is a construct pivotal to the understanding of IP’s psychology. It means simply that they have become co-authors of their own abuse. But more than being a cause of the escalation of marginalization, internalized oppression is the aftermath of lingering external oppression committed against them by a well-entrenched political system which has historically ignored their welfare while plundering their territories, endangering their very existence.

People who have long been oppressed are prone to eventually see their situation with the eyes of their oppressor. In neocolonial states, hunger may be defined as the need for a McDonalds hamburger, thirst is the need for Coke, illiteracy is the need for English proficiency, underdevelopment is the need for free trade and US intervention into their domestic affairs, a child’s loneliness is the need for Barbie dolls or Mickey Mouse stuffed toys, ugliness is the need for whitening products.

For so long, generations of IPs have been painfully excluded from enjoyment of the bounties within their ancestral territories which became protected areas, timberlands, national parks, government reservations, mines, or plantations of the oligarchy. Without letting up, the State has been trampling down IP rights for the sake of “national interest” translated into the interest of the ruling elite or oligarchy that dominates the political system. Because of drawn-out experiences of marginalization and underdevelopment, many IPs now view their abject state through the vision of their exploiters. So underdevelopment has become the need for an extractive industry even with its deleterious effects on their food security, culture and survival. There is nothing to see beyond the promised jobs and livelihood opportunities which have eluded them for long. They have come to accept that there are heavy costs to pay and sacrifices to make to be like the dominant groups.

The giving of FPIC’s to mining and other destructive industries is proof of the IP’s state of unenlightenment and internalized oppression. Consent to large-scale mining can never be free and informed. Communities especially indigenous ones whose culture has always championed intergenerational responsibility in resource management and who fully understand that mining deprives the future generations of resources loaned from them, will never agree to it. By giving their “FPIC,” they become unsuspecting co-conspirators in the bureaucratic process aimed at opening their natural wealth to limitless pillage by capitalist interests and their eventual dislocation from their cultural and economic base.

The recently-issued EO 726 putting the NCIP under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources is, in the ultimate analysis, a premeditated move to subordinate IP rights to the Regalian Doctrine which is the latter’s raison d’etre. This is fairly obvious. Gloria Arroyo, principal author of the Mining Act of 1995, has began to sound like a destroyed compact disc with her oft-repeated declaration that mining will pave the road to national development, given that the economy is ailing. In areas where community opposition to mining is high, she put the military at the disposal of mining industries in the guise of counter-insurgency. Under the Investment Defense Force, the military has become the private army of what Romulo Neri called the “booty capitalists” who used the elections to gain policy favors and advantages from the political system. EO 726 should thus be viewed with suspicion and with suspicion comes vigilance.

The NCIP is put in a bind and its current position in the Arroyo administration might reduce it into a “fixer” to facilitate the obtainment of IP’s imprimatur to mining. But it needs to understand that its job is not to ensure FPIC; the pith and core of its existence is to protect IPs from abuse, and this means making sure that there is no “FPIC” to destructive, large-scale industries, for such “FPIC” is a weapon for auto-genocide. When NCIP issues no Certificate of Precondition to mining and other large-scale extractive industries, it becomes a measure of its zeal to pursue its mandate. It is a record that the Filipino nation can proudly announce to the international community. But when it signs 127 such certificates, it leaves a legacy of oppression –by the State, by itself and by the sector whose interest it should protect.

As the bureaucratic apparatus whose primary mandate is to protect IPs, NCIP has to break through the miserable state of unenlightenment that afflicts many IP communities. It should incorporate the construct of internalized oppression in implementing its mandate of advancing IP rights. But first, it must rise above its own internalized oppression. With that will come the courage and competence to throw its heavy weight nourished by IPRA and make the state rectify wrongs committed against the IPs. Otherwise it will metamorphose into a bureau to manage oligarchic interests in ancestral domains, if it is not so already.

Only when IPs conquer their internalized oppression can they be capable of giving FPIC. And only when NCIP conquers its internalized oppression can it liberate IPs from internalized oppression. The blind cannot lead the blind.

*Originally published by The Northern Dispatch
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