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IPs and the Sona: Benign neglect

The President’s State of the Nation Address could have been three hours long (it lasted an hour-and-a-half, his longest Sona so far) and still there would have been disgruntled groups unhappy at their exclusion from this speech.

This is because the speech is meant to be a year-end “report card” on the administration’s accomplishments, as well as a “road map” on where it wants to go in the near-future, preferably with help from the legislature by way of passing priority bills.

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The common belief is that a mention in the Sona is a sign of the President’s high approval (note the smiles on the faces of the Cabinet members he had singled out by name), or the high priority that an official, person, group or sector will receive in the future. By this yardstick, I would think police and military personnel have good reason to look forward to more “goodies” (housing, rising salaries, guns and weaponry) from the P-Noy government.

But what if the President neglected to mention you at all? What is that a sign of? Does it mean he takes you for granted, or is truly unhappy with your performance, believing silence is the better part of discretion? Or does it mean you or your sector simply don’t register on P-Noy’s radar? That among the vast range of the President’s concerns, you hardly register a blip or a nod of acknowledgment?

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That could very well be, but it could also mean that P-Noy simply ran out of time, or that he and his speechwriters thought they shouldn’t even try to cover every sector, every concern, every controversy, believing there were better times and occasions to address specific publics.

Still, the sting of being ignored must hurt.

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Among the sectors who felt left out of the President’s Sona—which they took as an expression of low esteem and benign neglect—are the indigenous peoples (IPs). His failure to mention them even in passing (as he did with “responsible parenthood”) is to them strange because an issue of vital importance to them—mining—has lately been in the headlines. Malacañang recently issued an executive order meant to clarify and streamline government regulations on the industry, which often intrudes into their ancestral domains. So why, they ask, did P-Noy seem blind to their presence and their issues?

Judy Pasimio, of the group Lilak (Purple Action for IP Women’s Rights) gathered the views of women IP leaders, who, she said, had followed the Sona eagerly, waiting for a mention in the speech, only to come away disappointed and frustrated. Here are some of those views (translated into English):

Wilma Tenoro, a Subanen from Midsalip, Zamboanga, quotes from P-Noy’s Sona: “Where a citizen is oppressed, he will find me as an ally; where there is an oppressor, I will be there to fight; where I find something wrong in the system, I will consider it my duty to right it.” But something seems to be wrong, says Wilma, “because majority of us Indigenous Peoples have been disadvantaged and our rights have been trampled upon—our right to live peacefully within our ancestral domain; to drink and bathe in clean waters; to breathe clean air; to continue practicing our cultural beliefs. All of these rights have been violated, trampled upon by the mining companies. Where is our dear President, why are you not on our side, and why are you not fighting against the mining companies who ruin the lives of indigenous peoples?

“P-Noy said that ‘to forgive and forget is unacceptable.’ And so it is with us—it will not be ‘forgive and forget’ for us IPs [for] the grave human rights violations committed against us because of mining, to which until now justice has not been served. It cannot be just ‘forgive and forget’ for the mining companies who have taken from us and destroyed our source of livelihood and the heart of our spiritual belief.

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“P-Noy said ‘If there is no corruption, there is no poverty.’  We say—if there is no mining within our ancestral domain, there is no indigenous community who is made poorer.”

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Judith Menares, an Ibaloi from Baguio City, wonders “why is it difficult to utter the words ‘indigenous peoples’ during [the] Sona? Are we not considered part of the Juan and Juana dela Cruz that P-Noy talks to? We are pitiful. We are always absent in his plans and vision for the country. We really need to make our voices louder, and our force stronger. We cannot even depend on NCIP (National Council for Indigenous Peoples) to place us in the consciousness of the President.”

“I was really hoping while listening to [the] Sona of P-Noy that this time, we will be mentioned, but until the very end, no mention of the indigenous peoples,” observes Conchita Bigong, an Alangan-Mangyan from Mindoro Oriental. “We really do not have a space in P-Noy, even if we were part of those who put him in his position now. We need to use wang-wang again, so that in the next Sona, we will be part of it. He honored the men in arms, but did not even mention us who try to live in peace in our communities.”

Asked for her main reaction to the Sona, Zenaida Mansilohan, a Talaandig from Agusan del Sur, said it was “frustration,” adding, “We do not feel the impact of his report on the anti-poverty reduction program here at the barangay or municipal level. Even the LPRAP (Local Poverty Reduction Action Plan) which should benefit the basic sectors, which includes the indigenous peoples. Maybe P-Noy is not aware that indigenous peoples exist, and that is why we are not involved, and have not been mentioned.”

What a cruel consciousness-raising the last Sona has been for indigenous peoples. And indeed, if there is a group needing special mention and special attention in this country, it is the Lumad, the indigenous peoples, the keepers of ancient knowledge and historical grudges.

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TAGS: featured column, Indigenous People, SONA 2012
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