Press Release
September 16, 2011

Speech of Sen. Loren Legarda delivered at the Mindanao IP Assembly

It is with great pleasure that I welcome you all to the Mindanao Indigenous Peoples Assembly, which we convene today.

In convening this assembly, I am particularly grateful to the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples for gathering our IP leaders all over Mindanao.

We thank the Province of Davao del Norte, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Department of Tourism, the Department of Education, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and the International Labor Organization for supporting this important initiative.

As Chair of the Senate Committee on Cultural Communities, Committee on Climate Change and Committee on Foreign Relations, allow me to briefly share with you the context in which we assemble here today.

I have visited various provinces and communities in our country, and every visit leads to a discovery of the rich heritage of the indigenous peoples--your intricately woven fabrics, the songs, chants and dances that narrate the story of your ancestors, and the distinct way of life you strive to preserve.

These encounters brought in me a surge of great pride for our heritage that is enriched by every indigenous cultural community. And it is this endeavor to promote this cultural inheritance and improve the welfare of its stewards that inspired me to gather you here today. A regional assembly such as this is the right venue to have a clear understanding of your needs and concerns.

Although we have made significant strides in protecting the rights of our IPs over the past twenty years, highlighted by the passage of the IPRA, significant improvement in the communities' socio-economic and cultural well-being is still wanting.

This Regional Assembly seeks to provide a platform in helping communicate and achieve these objectives. This assembly will hopefully serve as a foundation and focal point upon which a longer-term process of engagement and discussion can be launched and sustained.

We invited local government officials, provincial and regional officers of various government agencies and members of the academe to this gathering, whose presence we deem crucial in documenting this process, enjoining greater support and calling for immediate action.

Allow me to present to you the components of this assembly.

Recognizing that you are among the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, due to your dependence on the environment, the DENR has explained this morning the adaptation measures and opportunities for engagement in the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation Plus (REDD+) Program.

We will also share with you documentaries that I have produced, "Buhos" and "Ulan sa Tag-Araw" which describe the science of climate change and present its social, economic and health impacts on vulnerable populations.

Tomorrow, the ILO will hold a capacity-building forum on ILO 169: The Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, which seeks to strengthen the government's commitment to its duty to protect the rights of IPs.

The IP leaders and cultural workers will present best practices in preserving Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Practices. Successful initiatives that have taken roots in communities and have improved the welfare of IPs will be showcased. We will also hear success stories on IP Cultural Enterprise and Creative Industries.

It is our hope that this exchange of ideas, experiences and struggles will be the beginning of a meaningful and effective dialogue.

Let me reiterate that this assembly is essentially a consultation. I wish to take this rare chance of understanding your concerns.

The Senate Committee on Cultural Communities and Committee on Climate Change bring its inquiry outside the four halls of the Senate to gather your views on the Committee's priority measures and help address your needs through legislation and other initiatives.

Let me outline measures for the benefit of our IPs that we intend to prioritize.

First, it is of utmost importance that we determine exactly the total population and location of IPs. To date, the government uses outdated figures, leading to the inability to address IPs' needs and provide basic services. This is what impelled me to file Senate Bill No. 2858 or the Ethnic Origin Act.

As a means to protect our indigenous knowledge and cultural heritage, I have also filed Senate Bill No. 2831 or the Traditional Property Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, which seeks to make an inventory of all cultural properties and mandates the payment of royalties to our IPs for the use of these cultural properties. I am glad that these proposed measures were strongly supported in resolutions adopted in the Luzon IP Regional Assembly held last week.

I will soon defend in plenary the proposed Anti-Ethnic or Racial Profiling and Discrimination Act of 2011, which seeks to penalize acts of discrimination in employment, education, delivery of goods, facilities and services, accommodation, transportation, media, and in search and investigatory activities.

Meanwhile, the People's Survival Fund bill, passed on third and final reading at the Senate, will ensure that funds are available to carry out adaptation projects within the context of local, community-based realities. Once operationalized, this fund should be tapped by the indigenous cultural communities in building your resilience against the impact of climate change.

Other proposed measures in the Committee deal with (1) providing ICCs with access to information and communications technology; (2) establishment of Pilot Housing Projects for IPs in each and every region; (3) creation of the Philippine Center for Studies on Indigenous Cultural Communities in the University of the Philippines; (4) granting NCIP a new ten (10) year period within which to take appropriate legal action on illegally acquired titles; and (5) recommending to the DENR the institutionalization of indigenous practices and the widespread utilization of IPs' approach to protect Philippine forests. In the Luzon assembly, the need for the effective implementation and harmonization of the IPRA, mining and environmental laws and policies of the government was clearly established.

I am certain that your perspective will further guide us in our law-making and oversight functions. I welcome your views and look forward to a fruitful discussion.

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