Cordillera Peoples Alliance
Public Information Commission
#FightToExpress: IP Groups from North and Central Luzon Join Forces in UN SR Irene Khan Consultation
As part of her mandate and official visit to the Philippines, United Nations Special Rapporteur (UNSR) on Freedom of Opinion and Expression (FoOE), Ms. Irene Khan, consulted with civil society organizations (CSOs) from North and Central Luzon today, January 26. Among those CSOs were indigenous groups from the Cordillera, Ilocos, Cagayan Valley, and Central Luzon whose fundamental concerns were the blatant violations in the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) process committed by state security forces, local government officials, and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP).
Representatives from the Cordillera recounted the several instances of hounding consent for proposed hydropower projects. Outstanding cases from Kalinga and Apayao, namely proposed dams along several Kalinga rivers and its tributaries plus Pan Pacific’s 8 dams along the Apayao-Abulog river, were detailed by reps from the affected communities. In both projects, the police and military in collaboration with NCIP and local government officials have been reportedly conducting extreme measures of threatening and intimidating communities who had already registered opposition.
The Isnag-Yapayao-Balangon Tribal Council of Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte meanwhile forwarded similar narratives of FPIC violations in the Cabacanan Small Reservoir Irrigation Project spearheaded by the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) and the NCIP. Despite a resolution from the affected tribes calling for the suspension of the FPIC process, the concerned agencies pushed for the negotiations of a Memorandum of Agreement. Moreover, following the release of their statement exposing NCIP’s fraudulent activities, chieftains from the tribal council experienced visitations from the local police.
These are strong evidence of the FoOE being violated in the context of indigenous peoples’ right to ancestral domain and self-determination affirmed through the FPIC process. Non-consent is not recognized, even if expressed through the available legal mechanisms. Also common in these cases is the absence of the basic right to information central to FoOE and the FPIC. Details about these projects, if not entirely undisclosed, are manipulated.
In Central Luzon, attending groups recall the incident in 2020 where 4 members of a Zambales Aeta community were the very first to be victimized under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 (ATA). They were illegally arrested after ammunitions were planted among their personal items and after being arbitrarily branded as members of the New Peoples Army (NPA). 4 indigenous activists in the Cordillera were designated as terrorists three years later, in 2023, under the same law. The second hearing for the designation also happened today, and again marred by an act of harassment directed towards Sarah Abellon-Alikes, one of the designees.
These cases establish a clear pattern and strategy employed by the government. In terms of policy, the Executive Order 70 of former president Duterte which institutionalized the whole-of-nation approach and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) is one of the major culprits. Government agencies, such as the NCIP, are driven to implement counter-insurgency programs and are structurally re-oriented to follow the whims of the NTF-ELCAC. The ATA of 2020 only reinforced this counterinsurgency obsession, and even under the administration of Marcos Jr., there is no sign that such policies will be repealed.
The demands therefore of IP groups in North and Central Luzon to Ms. Khan are directed towards the junking of the terror laws (from E.O 70 to the ATA of 2020), the abolishment of the NTF-ELCAC and the revamping of the NCIP. The conclusion is clear: there is no FoOE in a country where democracy is close to its dying breath.
The NTF-ELCAC and its cohorts are also aware of the various efforts of CSOs to expose grassroots situations not only to the UN but to the international community in general. We expect them to belie real experiences of the people, to further redtag and incriminate peoples’ organizations, and to present forced or fake rebel surrenderees as witnesses to whatever grand communist conspiracies they concocted. However, we, indigenous peoples, hope Ms. Khan stand with us and echo our legitimate calls for FoOE and beyond.
Public Information Officer
Cordillera Peoples Alliance