WINDOWS TO THE SOUL OF THE CORDILLERA – #9 in a series from Amerindian Activist Damon Corrie

The Indigenous peoples of the Philippines have a proud but sad history, this is a recurring theme for indigenous peoples the world often unfortunately; but I have not met another who could tell the tale like Jennifer Awingan.

Jennifer was one of my Tribal Link colleagues for our May 2009 Project Access Global capacity building for Indigenous peoples training course. I met her husband Ronald last year when I myself was a ‘freshman‘ on the course, Ronald had a terrific sense of humor, and was very focused on issues near and dear to his indigenous brethren in the Cordillera in the Philippines; but Ronald never went into any detail about his own family.

The night before I left I made a comment/personal observation to my roommate Jiten from Manipur, and it was as follows: “There is something about Jennifer’s eyes, it is as though you can peer into her soul just by looking into her eyes, I see now why Ronald married her, I think any man who makes eye contact with her for any length of time would fall in love with her.”

But what is even more attractive in my mind is her dedication to her own – and every other Indigenous Tribal Nation in the Philippines, her eyes are merely a conduit to an unforgettable ‘download‘ of information; at times you can see her eyes well up with tears as she talks about the myriad of problems they face in their daily lives back home.

Just recently, one of Jennifer’s male colleagues in their organization was abducted by agents of the state and has not been seen since, he was not the first person to do so; and it is unlikely that he will be the last.

Jennifer herself is constantly followed and harassed by persons under the employ of the Philippines security forces; and naturally has fears about the safety of their four children.

She could easily do as many others have done, and close her heart to the suffering of her people and try to lead a ‘normal life‘, a life characterized by the cowardice of ‘self-interest‘ – where one pretends not to notice the misery of others and by your own silence – contributes to furthering the injustices inflicted on others.

Someone has to draw the line, say enough is enough and we will NOT sit idly by and tolerate this evil in our midst any longer! Jennifer Awingan is one of those proud, few, true patriot – loyal sons and daughters of the people; who decided long ago to make that brave stand.

Historically, the Spanish colonizers of the Philippines were never able to conquer the Indigenous tribes of the Cordillera, and only managed to subdue the coastal and lowland inhabitants; this fact did not surprise me for being an avid student of Guerrilla warfare tactics myself – I knew that indigenous fighters waging a campaign from their own mountainous terrain are seldom if ever defeated.

It was not until the American colonization of post World War II, with the subtle use of Western Education (I prefer to call itbrainwashing‘) and Christian Missionaries – that the indigenous cultures of the Cordillera in the Philippines were destructively penetrated by alien concepts and

The discrimination indigenous peoples of the Cordillera face in the Cities is a bit less widespread than years ago, but they still encounter people in the urban areas who are shocked to discover that the people of the Cordillera do NOT have tails! This silly view was formerly a widely held belief among the urbanized population in that country. But this is the LEAST of their woes.

For example, people in the Cordillera set off today (as they did yesterday) to work their crop fields, only to discover that a landowner from the cities has turned up with a deed to the indigenous lands they have owned and occupied for Millennia and tells them to “get off his property or he will have them arrested.

The Philippines ‘Presidential Decree 705 says that all land above 18 degrees in slope belongs to the State‘, this outdated relic of colonialism and discrimination in effect ensures that the indigenous peoples of the Cordillera (which meansmountainsin case you did not know) can have NO land rights whatsoever – this official piece of ‘toilet paper‘ is completely at odds with EVERY United Nations Declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples – as well as every International Law and Convention against racial discrimination known to man. Yet the Philippines, like the State of India, portrays itself as a ‘great example of Democracy in action in South East Asia.’

Even that is minor when compared to the unlawful imprisonment, abductions and subsequent disappearances, not to mention extra Judicial killings by Police and Army personnel that continue without respite to this day. Just as is done in India, the agents of the state need only plant 1 round of ammunition on their victim and include that in their official account to explain why the deceased ‘militant’ person was shot dead by them; no inquiry will follow.

Jennifer Awingan is a tireless worker for the Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance, Cordillera Youth Center; and the Asia Pacific Indigenous Youth Network.

Damon Gerard Corrie
President of the Pan-Tribal Confederacy of Indigenous
Tribal Nations

Attending the Eighth Session of the United Nations
Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, May 18-29 2009;
New York City.

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