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COMMENTARY

Discriminating against national minorities

12:05 AM October 25, 2016

Much has been said about the violent dispersal of protesters at the US Embassy last Oct. 19, which left scores injured, and compelled even the leadership of the Philippine National Police to relieve dozens of policemen involved pending investigation.

We cannot, however, lay this issue to rest without belaboring one essential point—the incident is a blatant case of discrimination against our national minorities.

First, the facts obscured by the hype of blood and adrenaline: The protest was led by an alliance of national minorities. Since early October, various indigenous tribes and Moros from all over the country have been holding a protest caravan, marching from their ancestral lands to participate in a historic “Lakbayan ng Pambansang Minorya” (Caravan of National Minorities), which aims to highlight the plight of the Moro and indigenous peoples, especially the militarization and plunder of their ancestral lands.

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In an unprecedented and never-before-seen move, the various tribes formed a historic alliance: Sandugo, which translates to a “blood compact.” It was an alliance that sought to amplify the voices of those in the margins, uniting them under one common call—to assert their right to self-determination and peace.

On the fateful day of the violent dispersal, Sandugo mobilized a thousand minorities, together with supporters from Metro Manila, to raise the national minorities’ grievance against the United States. For the Moro and indigenous peoples, Washington is one of the primary causes of turmoil in their communities.

Leaders of the national minorities point out that their fight for self-determination—or the struggle to uphold their own sociopolitical and cultural identities—cannot push forward if a superpower like the United States continues to lord over the Philippines’ politico-economic scene. Such intervention has brought a multitude of woes: US war games and military installations wreak havoc in ancestral lands; Oplan Bayanihan, which they stress is an offshoot of the US Counterinsurgency Guide of 2009, continues to militarize their communities and slaughter their kin; and Washington’s corporate interests and economic policies—especially in mining and other extractive industries—serve only to plunder their tribes’ lands.

The fight of national minorities is as much political as it is economic. They are waging not just a fight for their own tribes but also a fight to assert the rights and demands of their socioeconomic classes—their right to land, decent jobs, higher wages, and equal opportunities. Tribal communities, after all, have suffered the hardest from decades of underdevelopment and backward agriculture caused by Washington’s politico-economic dictates on our nation.

National minorities have every right to protest in front of the fortress of what they consider as a primary antagonist. Yet when violence ensued, albeit from the ranks of the brutal police force, there are those who dare question the motive of the protest. Never mind the fact that historically, national minorities that comprise up to 20 percent of the population remain to be the most economically, politically and socially marginalized sector of Philippine society.

Under the United Nations International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination of 1965, of which the Philippines is a party to, “racial discrimination” is defined as “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.”

And that is what state forces exactly committed when they plowed through the protesters. That is the same discrimination committed by those who question the capability of the Moros and indigenous peoples to fight.

Marjohara Tucay is the national president of Kabataan Party-list.

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TAGS: Commentary, dispersal, Indigenous People, Lumad, opinion, Protest, US Embassay
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