Hindi kami mangmang!

The statement made by Gil Valera, Chairperson of Ang Koalisyon ng Indigenous Peoples (AKO IP) Partylist, reeks of miseducation, misinformation and discrimination. Valera’s comment reflects how much he belittles Indigenous peoples and his ignorance of our abilities.

It is these kinds of statements that reinforces the discrimination towards and misconception of Indigenous Peoples.

Tradition of biodiversity conservation

Indigenous peoples are not stupid. In fact, we are stewards of decades-old culture and practices that abound with wisdom. Wisdom and knowledge are not concentrated within the halls of educational institutions. From years of living amongst nature and taking care of the land, Indigenous peoples have developed mechanisms for livelihood and sustenance that jibes with the climate, weather and characteristics of the land; these are centuries worth of wisdom.

And with the compounded crises that we are facing at this time, the world has so much to learn from Indigenous peoples. Globally, our ancestral lands are recognized to host most of the world’s biodiversity which proves that Indigenous peoples are leading in biodiversity conservation.

The persistence of rich biodiversity in our ancestral territories is a testament to our forefather’s prudence in caring for the environment and natural resources. However, these are now threatened by state-sponsored destructive projects initiated by corporations that intend to plunder the resources we have nurtured and cared for.

The pandemic, climate change and disasters that have affected our lives and many of us have succumbed to, is a result of decades of environmental destruction that leaves humanity vulnerable to these plagues with the depletion of biodiversity that could actually protect us from pathogens and prevent climate crises.

Indigenous socio-political order

Throughout the Duterte regime, our nation has faced a multitude of human rights violations and which persists even as we seek to put an end to his tyranny. Throughout this barrage of state attacks on our rights by the Duterte regime, Indigenous peoples are on the forefront of rights assertion and leading in policy advocacy to prevent the total eradication of democracy.

Our indigenous socio-political practices hold the wisdom of humane and civil interactions with fellowmen. The traditional peace process of bodong to settle conflicts among tribes is an example. Our elders’ teachings of inayan or the admonition not to harm and to be in good relations with individuals, the community and the environment; ipeyas nan gawis (to share whatever is good) and betad (collective action or mass mobilization) are just some of our indigenous social values and discipline that nourish social wellbeing and contributes to building a society that truly cares for people and environment.

Indigenous peoples’ agenda

Making derogatory comments about fellowmen is deplorable as it is insulting. Indigenous elders would admonish such callous behaviour, inayan!

The misconception that Indigenous peoples are ‘mangmang’ is what we’re trying to abolish with our educational and cultural campaigns. Valeras statement reinforces this misconception, which is appalling for a group seeking to represent Indigenous peoples.

The absence of knowledge and understanding of Indigenous issues is apparent in that statement. Those masquerading to be advocates are only using the indigenous peoples and other marginalized sectors for their selfish electoral agenda. Such candidates are not qualified to represent us, Indigenous peoples, in Congress.

As election nears, random individuals and groups are spontaneously showing up claiming to advocate or represent certain sectors and yet they are unaware of these sectors’ issues and demands, nor do they have it in their objective to do so. The party-list system is being hijacked by people whose only objective is to secure a political post that will serve their own interests.

We must demand electoral reforms to ensure that the party-list system will truly serve those unrepresented and marginalized sectors like Indigenous peoples.

To our kakailian, fellow Indigenous peoples and indigenous rights advocates, let us be discerning and perceptive in the qualities that we seek in a representative. Let us be instrumental in ushering in an administration that echoes and articulates the legitimate calls of Indigenous peoples; public servants that will craft policies that address our issues.

Most of all, let us choose public servants that engage our voices and efforts in the process of crafting these laws and the implementation of them. Let us unite in the endeavor to pursue genuine representation and respect of indigenous peoples’ rights.

Abiag ti Kaigorotan! Agbiag dagiti nailyan a minorya!