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11 Mar 2021

Ritz Lee, BALAOD Mindanaw

Just Recovery within the Mindanaw Human Rights Agenda

Photo credit: WikiCommons.

When President Rodrigo Duterte came into power four years ago, there were promises of peace, progress and stability, particularly in Mindanaw. To some extent, Mindanaw has been one of the current administration’s focused area of concerns, highlighting the narrative that Mindanaw will be developed under the leadership of a fellow Mindanawon. However, the pandemic has exposed regression in the protection and promotion of human rights and in efforts to promote local governance.

Land and resource conflicts, climate justice, and human rights defenders

Mindanaw is the home of the tri-people: the Lumad (Indigenous peoples), Moros and Dumagats (Settlers). The island’s ethnic origin and socio-political landscape is deeply rooted in its historical beginnings, where the Moros have become a religious minority, and the Non-Christian Lumads have become cultural minorities in their own land.

The existing socio-political climate on the island is emblematic of the inability of the government to address issues surrounding access to local resources. For example, the nationwide lockdown did little to halt an under-the-table permit extension of the biggest copper mine in the Philippines located in Mindanaw. The increased frequency and severity of ecological disasters continues to exacerbate the challenges around accessing natural resources, posing concrete obstacles in the realisation of Mindanawons’ right to a healthy environment and to the right to food, water and shelter.

Overlapping laws have often resulted in violence and/or threats of violence, as well as development aggression that have been claiming the lives of community and tribal leaders. The justification that the mining industry is now a pillar of development, only serves to aggravate these tensions.

Corporate abuse is already a painfully familiar story on the island. This is evidenced by the infamous TAMASCO (T’boli-Manobo S’daf Claimants Organization) 8 massacre, where eight members of the Indigenous rights group were killed in what the military alleges was an encounter with communist rebels. A report found the massacre was connected to the struggle of Indigenous peoples over their land.

The ongoing Bangsamoro transition is also a crux. Armed conflict in Mindanaw – the culmination of societal challenges outlined above - has had tragic consequences for the Bangsamoro and Indigenous peoples and for the Filipino society at large. Over the past four decades, an untold number of people in Mindanaw and the Sulu archipelago have been subjected to immense suffering due to widespread violence. They have lost family members, been driven from their homes and have lost their lands and livelihoods.

The Bangsamoro Transitional Authority is the government body mandated to rectify wrongs and serve Mindanaw’s tri-people. It upholds the dignity of multiple generations who have fought for genuine autonomy and sustainable peace between the central Philippine Government and the Bangsamoro people.

Just Recovery in Mindanaw

BALAOD Mindanaw seeks accountability of perpetrators and redress for victims of human rights violations and abuses. We want government institutions previously involved in violations to be reoriented towards the protection and promotion of human rights. BALAOD is guided by the Mindanaw Human Rights Agenda Goals, adopted during the Mindanaw Human Rights Summit 2020, to ensure just recovery in Mindanaw.

Firstly, there must be an end to militarization in Mindanaw, and the politicisation of the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic must end. Accountability of perpetrators for abuses and violations during the War on Drugs, Marawi Siege, and Martial Law in Mindanaw must be ensured, and redress for victims, including relief, rehabilitation, return and resettlement, of internally displaced persons must be seriously taken into account. Access to remedies, including for Human Rights Defenders, must be made widely available within the country.

In addition, the government must protect and promote the sustainable management and utilisation of land and environmental resources. A human rights-based framework to climate change and disaster response should be an overarching foundation in this respect.

Further, the role of the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (CHRP) will be crucial in transitioning from the present dire state of human rights towards governance and rule of law that is based on human rights. The upcoming Commission needs to build on the reforms introduced during the current Commission – its merits system, targets and quick response to human rights violations - and continue its partnerships with civil society organisations.

Playing an equally crucial role is the Bangsamoro Human Rights Commission (BHRC). The Commission needs to demonstrate a commitment to human rights and sustainable development, as just recovery from the pandemic in Mindanaw will require an interdisciplinary effort with participation from every Filipino and every government agency. With a multitude of agendas confronting the island, the primacy of human rights and sustainable development standards must firstly be recognised by the State in its policies.

Civil society must urgently strengthen and intensify its human rights work, especially in the face of a global pandemic. We need to become relevant and effective to those whose rights have been violated and those vulnerable to land and resource conflicts, corporate plunder and climate change. This is essential as we increase our capacity and efforts to better protect and support marginalised, disadvantaged and vulnerable groups.