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October 31, 2016, Manila, the Philippines – “We are one with you in fighting for your ancestral land and your right to self-determination ... and we believe what is yours is yours and you deserve to live a normal and peaceful life. Courage! God is listening and watching up there...”
These words, posted on the Facebook page of Adrian Dominican Sister Jolyn “Jules” Dungo, OP, of the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Our Lady of Remedies Mission Chapter, capture some of the feelings of Sister Jules and other Sisters who have been accompanying some 3,000 indigenous peoples from the Philippines since October 13.
Four Adrian Dominican Sisters from the Philippines have been taking part in Lakbayan ng Pambansang Minorya. The event, from October 13-28, was a protest by the indigenous and minority peoples of the Philippines to draw attention to the exploitation of their lands and the marginalization they face as native and minority peoples. During this time, the protestors took up camp at the University of the Philippines in Manila while they participated in a number of planned activities.
Adrian Dominican Sisters standing in support of this national protest were Sister Jules; Sister Antonette Lumbang, OP; Sister Salvacion Valenzuela, OP; and Sister Meliza Arquillano, a novice. Members of the native Aeta people, whom Sister Jules ministers with, also participated in the event.
The Sisters handed out donations of food, clothing, and school supplies and listened to the stories of the indigenous and minority peoples about their experiences.
“With us in the conversations with other indigenous groups are some Aetas from [the region of] Pampanga, who are gaining a lot of inspiration in joining the Lakbayan 2016,” Sister Antonette wrote in an email. “They are inspired to continue with the struggle for their own future and those generations yet to come.”
As Lakbayan 2016 came to an end, Sister Zenaida Nacpil, OP, Chapter Prioress of Our Lady of Remedies Mission Chapter, reported on the opposition that many of the protestors faced.
“The marchers were subjected to different harassments,” she said. “Two leaders in their native places were killed, though not with the marchers. In one place, [the protestors] were dispersed by water hoses from fire trucks.” In another incident, she reported, a police officer drove back and forth among the protestors, almost hitting some of them, she said. “May our God of Peace end this violence against peaceful rallies of people most vulnerable to harassment and whose ancestral lands are plundered and destroyed.”
The indigenous and minority peoples make up about 15 to 20 percent of the population of the Philippines. They have struggled against the invading regimes of Spain and the United States – which still has a military presence in the Philippines – but still suffer from marginalization and oppression. Many hope that President Rodrigo Duterte, who has recently taken office, will fulfill his commitments to right the injustices that they have endured for years.
Lakbayan 2016 included a variety of special activities, including cultural celebrations and lobbying and dialogues at the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, the Department of Justice, the U.S. Embassy, mining companies, and the Philippine Stock Exchange.
Some of the events brought signs of hope. During an October 26 address to the Lakbayan 2016 participants, consultants of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) said the organization backed the right of the indigenous peoples to self-determination in their negotiations with the national government.
The indigenous and minority peoples tried the U.S. in a tribal court, held at the Bonifacio Shrine in Manila. After hearing of incidents of genocidal attacks by U.S. forces, three professional judges found the U.S. government guilty of atrocities.
Lakbayan 2016 is one of many recent examples of indigenous peoples striving to reclaim their rights. Similar efforts have taken place during the School of the Americas (SOA) Watch’s Convergence at the Border and at Standing Rock, North Dakota, where members of the Sioux Tribe are attempting to block the construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline.
Feature photo: Members of Our Lady of Remedies Chapter posing with the indigenous peoples at Lakbayan 16 are, from left, Sisters Antonette Lumbang, OP, Jolyn Dungo, OP, Salvacion Valenzuela, OP, and novice Sister Meliza Arquillano.
October 14, 2016, Manila, the Philippines – A group of Adrian Dominican Sisters from the Our Lady of Remedies Mission Chapter, based in Pampanga, the Philippines, are joining a protest in solidarity with 3,000 indigenous peoples from their country.
The protest, Lakbayan ng Pambansang Minorya, is being conducted on behalf of the indigenous peoples and national minorities and calls on President Rodrigo Duterte to put an end to the plunder and exploitation of the native lands and territories that had been prevalent before he took office.
Participants are setting up camp in Palma Hall at the University of the Philippines October 13-28, 2016, to raise awareness of their plight. The activists’ ultimate goal is to reclaim self-determination and liberation for their people, who have historically been marginalized.
Sister Zenaida Nacpil, OP, Remedies Chapter Prioress, reported a positive beginning of the demonstration.
“Tribal leaders were welcomed at Palma Hall, University of the Philippines,” she wrote in an email. “Men and women came in their colorful native dress, cried out their lamentations due to the mining and land-grabbing problems on their ancestral lands perpetuated by foreign multinational corporations.” She said this plunder had been “allowed by the previous government leaders at the expense of the tribal peoples’ rights.”
The Remedies Chapter has sent contributions to help feed the participants, along with towels and blankets. In addition, several of the Sisters will attend the protest to show their solidarity with the native peoples.
The event began with a protest caravan from the major cities and provinces of the Mindanao Province October 8. The remaining itinerary includes an assembly of the Alliance of National Minorities; lobbying and dialogues at the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, the Department of Justice, the U.S. Embassy, mining companies, and the Philippine Stock Exchange; cultural celebrations; a street tribunal against U.S. imperialism; and a send-off Mass.
The indigenous and minority peoples make up 15 to 20 percent of the Philippine population and include 153 ethnolinguistic groups. These groups have historically struggled against the invading regimes of Spain and the United States, which still has a military presence in the Philippines. In 1987, when the Philippine Constitution was written, the indigenous peoples pushed for “genuine regional autonomy” but have still suffered “decades of national oppression which accounts for our continuing [marginalization].”
Before President Duterte took office about 100 days ago, the Philippine government “deployed thousands of the Armed Forces … in communities of the Moro [minorities] and indigenous peoples,” according to a concept paper issued for Lakbayan ng Pambansang Minorya. The soldiers “have inundated the countryside where large-scale mining corporations and big agribusiness plantations and other extractive industries enjoy the armed protection of the state at the expense of peoples’ rights to their lands and territories.”
While the government has declared a ceasefire in the war against the indigenous and minority peoples, internally displaced communities that return to their lands find their rebuilding efforts to be “tenuous” because of the continued presence of the soldiers.
Many of the minority and indigenous peoples see hope since President Duterte has taken office because of his pronouncements calling for righting the injustices they have endured for years.
For more information about the protest and the situation in the Philippines, click here.
Feature photo: Tribal leaders of the indigenous peoples of the Philippines gather at Palma Hall, the University of the Philippines, to make known their plight.