This year, the Indigenous Peoples Month celebration coincides with the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act in October 1997. This gesture meant that the Philippines was the first country in Asia that recognized the plight of indigenous peoples through legislation that seeks to acknowledge and address the long history of their marginalization and oppression.
However, this law that was meant to uphold and protect the interests of indigenous peoples in the Philippines has also been oft-ignored,as they continued to suffer from violence and conflict rooted in their struggle as stewards of the land.
This year’s theme for Indigenous Peoples Month, “Pagtataguyod ng Pamayanang Kultural para sa Isang Matatag na Pilipinas,” expresses the intent to support cultural communities and its importance to strengthening our country. This support can only be realized through an approach that champions genuine representation and participation of indigenous peoples in governance, while also respecting their agency and right to self-determination.
As pandemic restrictions continue to ease, it is our hope that we can work together to continue bringing in more relevant services for indigenous peoples in the margins, and bringing them into political spaces where they can take part in making policy decisions that affect their lives. Our commitment to indigenous peoples rights must go beyond a month of commemorating; it must transcend the letter of the law and live up to the spirit in which the law was written — to recognize, protect and promote the rights of indigenous peoples to both land and life.