NAISA Council Statement Supporting Victoria Tauli-Corpuz and Indigenous Peoples of the Philippines

March 14, 2018

The Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (“NAISA”) expresses its solidarity with U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, and with the Indigenous peoples of the Philippines, who are coming under worsening attacks under President Rodrigo Duterte’s regime. Most recently, the Duterte government labeled Ms. Tauli-Corpuz and over 600 others as “terrorists.”[1] Human Rights Watch has asserted that this is tantamount to putting her on a government “hit list.”

Ms. Tauli-Corpuz is an Indigenous leader from the Kankana-ey Igorot people of the Cordillera Region in the Philippines. She has a consistent record of building power among Indigenous peoples across the globe and has been a strong advocate for women’s rights, speaking out against the criminalization of political dissent and training native women to organize and document acts of violence in situations of armed conflict and displacements from mining, logging, and other extractive industries.[2]

Most recently, she has been particularly concerned for the safety of 2,500 displaced Lumads (Indigenous peoples of Mindanao) who were forced to flee their homes in October of 2017, and she has worked to shine attention on the need of the Philippine government to observe its obligations under international law to protect human rights.[3]

We stand with protectors of international human rights who have expressed grave concerns about the Duterte government’s violence against Indigenous peoples and its accusations of terrorism against Ms. Tauli-Corpuz and other Indigenous activists.

Michel Forst, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, and Catalina Devandas Aguilar, chairperson of the coordination committee of the special procedures, have reported that:

“The accusation against her comes after the public comments made, jointly with other Special Rapporteurs, in relation to the militarization, attacks and killings of indigenous Lumad peoples by members of the armed forces in Mindanao; this accusation is considered as an act of retaliation for such comments.”[4]

The accusation of Tauli-Corpuz takes place in the context of an expansion of the extrajudicial killing of urban poor Filipinos profiled as “drug peddlers” or “addicts,” without trial or due process.[5] Often this repression specifically targets Indigenous peoples. Duterte’s declaration of Martial Law in Mindanao in May 2017 sought to contain a political faction rebelling against the Manila-based central government’s discontinuance of Peace Talks regarding the Bangsamoro Basic Law and Lumad self-determination.[6] Duterte resorted to aerial bombings of Marawi city, Mindanao, in attempt to neutralize the rebellion.[7] According to the Asia Preparatory Meeting on UN Mechanisms and Procedures Relating to Indigenous Peoples, “Philippine Indigenous peoples organizations have recorded at least 62 illegal arrests, 21 political prisoners, 20 incidents of forced evacuation affecting 21,966 indigenous peoples, more than a hundred people facing trumped-up charges, and forcible closure of 34 Lumad schools from July 2016 to December 2017.”[8] In February 2018, Duterte made public statements ordering his soldiers to shoot women rebels in their genitals: “We will not kill you. We will just shoot you in the vagina.”[9]

Duterte’s promotion of armed violence against any opposition is backed by an increasingly militarized state.  Even after the closure of Clark Air Force and Subic Naval base in the 1990s, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement and the Visiting Forces Agreement emerged in the guise of “mutual security” between the U.S. and the Philippines. Training exercises were established between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the U.S. Military.  The Duterte Administration is now a willing recipient of U.S. funds to modernize Philippine bases as the Trump Administration pursues the U.S. Pivot to Asia.[10]

The NAISA Council expresses our deep concern about discrimination and violence against Indigenous peoples in the Philippines, and we stand against the criminalization and military repression of Indigenous land defenders at the hands of states. This includes extrajudicial killings and the curtailment of their basic rights, such as freedom of expression and mobility. We urge the Philippine government to uphold the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), World Conference of Indigenous Peoples (WCIP) Outcome Document, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Humanitarian Law, and other international human rights agreements to which the Philippine government is a signatory.

The Council also urges all NAISA members to learn more about the situation of Indigenous peoples in the Philippines and to consider whatever kinds of support they are able to give.

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