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Rice, not bullets! Indigenous activists from the Philippines tour U.S.

By Joe Iosbaker

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Chicago IL – Multinational mining companies are laying waste to the mountainous regions of the Southern Philippines. These mountaintops have been found to contain some of the world’s largest deposits of gold and precious minerals. The people who live there, the indigenous Lumad on the island of Mindanao, are defending their ancestral lands and have become the target of human rights abuses and massacres.

A delegation of indigenous people, including four Lumad from various tribal groups in Mindanao and a woman from the Cordillera people in Northern Luzon, the largest island on the other end of the country, crisscrossed the U.S. in late April and early May to seek support for their fight.

The expansion of large scale mining, driven by imperialist globalization, has led to environmental devastation, as well as attacks on the rights of the indigenous people.

Months-long drought: Facing starvation, local people protest

As the mines strip away the forests, the result is the worsening of the effects of a drought caused by El Niño. While the Lumad trip had been scheduled for some time, just days before they left for the U.S., 6000 starving farmers and Lumad people were fired on by the Philippine National Police (PNP). The protest in the city of Kidapawan in Mindanao on April 1 was demanding rice promised from the government.

Two people died in the hail of bullets. Over 116 were wounded, some of whom were disabled, and 89 were arrested or are missing. The PNP weapons were U.S.-made high power rifles, highlighting the links to U.S. foreign policy in the region. As U.S. imperialism has pivoted to prepare for war with socialist China, the people of the Philippines are made to suffer. More weapons are flowing to the puppet government of President Aquino. More U.S. troops are engaged in the ‘war on terror,’ which is aimed at Mindanao, where the Muslim minority population of the Philippines lives. And the Aquino government is freed up from the human rights standards that the U.S. government previously required.

Many small fish against a big fish

The oldest among the delegation was Monico Cayog, the 79-year-old chairperson of KALUMARAN – Kusog sa Katawhang Lumad sa Mindanao (Strength of the Indigenous Peoples of Mindanao). Cayog is an elder from Bagobo people. Matanem Monico was a member of the dyandi (peace pact) which united the tribes living at the foothills of the highest peak in the Philippines, to defend the sacred mountain from the establishment of a geothermal power plant.

Speaking at an event in Chicago, Cayog shared an allegory about the strength of his people. Speaking through an interpreter, he held the audience rapt. “A group of small fish needed to leave the Philippines and travel across the Pacific to a new home. They feared the big fish in the deep waters, so they formed themselves into a compact group resembling a very large fish.” Turning disadvantage into an advantage, “The large fish avoided them, and the little fish were able to get to the new home they needed to reach. By uniting, they were able to overcome the threat to their lives.”

The delegation was co-organized by the Fellowship for Filipino Migrants and the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines-US (ICHRP-US).

#ChicagoIL #Philippines #IndigenousPeople #EnvironmentalJustice #Asia