There were mixed feelings amongst the migrants during the forum on “State of Mining in Palawan” last September 29, 2011 at Centro Filipino, Basilica di Santa Pudenziana, Via Urbana, Rome.
It was painful for some, unforgiveable for others, a few were probably confused, or many surely were compassionate, the testimony of the speaker, Dr. Dario Novellino, an Italian anthropologist who immersed with the “katutubos” in Palawan for many years,that behind the beauty of this island, the so called pride of Philippine tourism, “the paradise,” as the speaker described the island, the most bio-diverse region in Philippines, wherein, grave social injustices are being committed against the indigenous people and their heritage.
In his video presentation on “Palawan: Voices from the Last Frontier,” the island has three ethnic groups, namely: the Palawan, the Tagbanua, and the Batak. They depend much of their livelihood from the abundance of the forest, their ancestral domain. The courageous “katutubos” testified how their lives changed from the peaceful and better way of living into becoming impoverished since the operation of mining and other horrendous projects in their place. Many of them became vulnerable to abuses, were forced to work in the mining regardless of the risks and unsecured labor benefits.
Human rights violations against the indigenous people are condemnable! The killing of environmental campaigner and radio announcer journalist Gerry Ortega in Palawan last January 24 because of his strong opposition to mining heightened the campaign to free the ancestral land from local and foreign miner’s exploitation. The Indigenous Peoples Rights Monitor (IPR Monitor) documented 120 extra-judicial killings since Arroyo regime took power in 2001 from different regions. The 120 victims included 13 women, four of whom were pregnant, and 16 minors. The continued implementation of the government’s Mining Act of 1995 which allows 100% foreign ownership to mineral lands and eviction of indigenous communities is a heinous crime!
Mining, illegal logging and more destructive projects are operating in many parts of Philippines and mostly located in indigenous communities. In spite of the existence of the government’s Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) of 1997 and The Free Prior Inform and Consent (FPIC) that recognized the collective rights of the indigenous people, these were violated and completely ignored by the mining companies, foreign investors in connivance with local officials, and the lack of political will and sincerity of the previous and present administration to resolve the worsening situation of the indigenous people are disturbing.
Doctor Novellino who represent ALDAW (Ancestral Land Domain Watch) and Mons. Jerry Bitoon from Solidmove and the Congregation for the Evangelization of People who were spearheading the campaign in Italy to “Save Palawan,” believe that the united voices of the Filipino Overseas Workers can put an end to the suffering of our indigenous people.
The UMANGAT-MIGRANTE Rome, which has been active on human rights issues over the years and is one of the organizers of the forum, together with the International Coordinating Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICCHRP ) Rome Chapter call for the unity and support of Filipino migrants to work and defend the plight of the indigenous people and their ancestral domains!