This is the third part on the matter of the indigenous peoples of Mindanao. Firstly, we express our indignation on the assassination attempt on indigenous people’s lawyer Angelo Karlo Guillen on March 3, 2021. Guillen represents 18 land defenders who were arrested on Panay Island on Dec. 30, 2020, at the time when nine leaders of the Tumandok tribe were killed in synchronized police and military operations. The victims were active against militarization, land grabbing and the construction of the Jalaur Mega Dam in Calinog, Iloilo.
Defending, if not pursuing the rights of the indigenous peoples is dangerous. With powerful people and big companies taking over ancestral lands, those who fight for the rights of the Lumads are red-tagged and are targets for harassment, if not murder. There is much that the leaders of indigenous peoples in the Philippines could learn from the Maori of Aotearoa New Zealand. As a requirement for becoming a solicitor-barrister of New Zealand, I had to learn about the Treaty of Waitangi, the basic document (but not the constitution) that created the country. The agreement entered into by representatives of the Crown (the British monarchy) had two texts — English and Maori. There was a continuing debate on the correctness of the English translation, as it did not reflect the true intent and
spirit of the Maori people.
The renaissance of Maori in the ‘70s led the Government to revive the Maori language and culminated with the Treaty of Waitangi claims and settlements in the 1990s until the present. Of much relevance to the indigenous peoples of the Philippines is how the New Zealand Government addressed the alienation of land, water and other resources from the Maori tribes, without proper consent nor remuneration.
In 1985, the Parliament allowed the review of claims that dated back to 1840. One of the earliest settlements was for the Waikato-Tainui’s confiscation claims: $170 million, in a mixture of cash and Crown-owned land; and a formal apology granted Royal assent by Queen Elizabeth II. The tribe has gone a long way. Te Whakakitenga governs the 77,000 members. Its commercial arm Tainui Group Holdings delivers annual dividends so that the tribe can apply those funds to meet the social and cultural needs of its members.
I am witness to this tribe’s success, being a resident in Hamilton, Waikato. There have been other successful Treaty settlements following an intricate process of identifying tribes, its members and its claims to ancestral lands. The indigenous peoples of Mindanao and those of other places in the Philippines continue to be exploited, maltreated and murdered, and there can never be a solution to their plight if the government sides with the politicians, businesses and even criminal elements.