World before profit
It is hard to imagine now. But in the past, nature was not for sale. Today, it has a price, at times paid with lives. Nobody knows this more than the country’s indigenous peoples (IP).
Mining business earns millions of dollars, of which only a small percentage goes to the government. In 2013, for example, the government share from mining, in the form of taxes, royalties and fees, was only 1.33 percent of total revenues, according to the research group Ibon.
To entice IP communities to agree to mining, a company will give them a school, employ some of their members, or make token offers that are not commensurate to the destitution that indigenous peoples will later face on their own. When these tactics do not work, some mining firms will use violence to silence the community. Indeed, the history of indigenous peoples is written in blood.
Mining and other extractives (e.g., from banana plantations, coal plants) push indigenous peoples out of their lands. Past administrations have sanctioned these ventures, which are forms of development aggression, the dogged pursuit of progress at all costs. This aggression has destroyed many forests, poisoned rivers, and leveled mountains—places where indigenous peoples live. Businesses have been given permission to encroach on the ancestral IP lands in the name of profit.
But we may yet again look at the world before profit.
Some policies of the current administration do not take up the cudgels for big business. Environment Secretary Gina Lopez has suspended the large-scale mining licenses of at least 10 companies. This is unprecedented, not to mention swift.
She can do IP communities one better if she joined the call for the repeal of the Mining Act of 1995, which has made the Philippines a playground for the foreign extractive industry. Presently, almost all minerals produced in the country are exported abroad, to feed the global machine for raw materials and energy.
Congress should pass the Alternative Mining Management Bill (AMMB) which supports the sustainable use of minerals, primarily for domestic use. The AMMB also contains provisions on respecting IP rights, including wealth-sharing.
These reforms should form part of the government’s overarching support for the right of IP communities to self-determination, or their ability to chart the course of their lives, which is enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Article 3 of UNDRIP states that “Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right, they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”
At the heart of indigenous peoples’ way of life is the idea of having just enough. This allows them to use natural resources sustainably. For indigenous peoples, development must be sustainable and culturally appropriate—taking care of the needs of the community without destroying the environment, and respecting their ancestral domains, hence leaving enough for future generations. The government must operate under this paradigm, helping IP communities to preserve their way of life.
The government can enforce the rights of indigenous peoples to their ancestral lands, the basis for the IP’s self-determination. The government can put an end to the militarization of indigenous peoples’ territories, which made the headlines when hundreds of lumad were driven from their homes last year.
In their ancestral domains, indigenous peoples can live peacefully, as they did before development aggression took over and interrupted their world. Here, they can realize their rights and aspirations and exercise their sovereign will as citizens and as peoples.
Norly Grace Mercado is the executive director of the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center Inc., a nongovernmental organization that provides legal remedies to disenfranchised indigenous peoples and poor upland rural communities.
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