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KATRIBU on the impact of Maharlika Investment Fund on the Moro and Indigenous Peoples

Delivered Speech by Beverly Longid, KATRIBU National Convenor, during the Maharlika Investment Fund forum organized by the First Quarter Storm (FQS) Movement
October 13, 2023

Pagbati sa ating lahat na narito sa Forum. Maraming salamat sa FQS sa pag-imbita sa Katribu na ibahagi ang aming kabuuang pagtingin sa Maharlika Investment Fund and its impact on the Moro and Indigenous Peoples. For far too long, the term 'investment' has invoked anxiety and fear among these communities, as it has become synonymous with large-scale destructive ventures – mines, dams, commercial plantations, and other land conversion schemes. These projects have consistently led to the displacement of Moro and Indigenous communities, robbing us of our ancestral lands, destroying our livelihoods, and disrupting our way of life.

President Marcos Jr. has outlined mining as a key investment policy to aid in the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Energy and infrastructure projects are viewed as major indicators of national development. However, these policies have dire consequences.

With mines and dams come the ominous shadow of militarization. Communities that protest against these projects find themselves facing militarization, which, in turn, brings forth severe human rights violations. Since last year, human rights monitors have documented 11 indiscriminate bombings and aerial strafing of rural communities – several are key biodiversity areas and 7 affect Indigenous Peoples.

Lest we forget, it has been over six years since the bombings devastated the Islamic City of Marawi, leading to the forced displacement of 98 percent of the city's population, along with residents from neighboring municipalities. This tragedy resulted in widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure and the loss of countless civilian lives. In the aftermath, several states stepped forward, offering millions of dollars for rehabilitation and recovery efforts. The U.S. government, solely through USAID, pledged $63.6 million (Php3.4 billion), to support humanitarian and recovery work in and around Marawi.

The Marawi program has come under heavy criticism of corruption, cronyism, lack of transparency esp. that the two Chinese firms contracted by government for rehabilitation have been blacklisted by the World Bank for rigging projects in the past, and greater role of the private business entities over community consultation and participation.

Despite the government's claims of liberation and near-full rehabilitation, the harsh reality remains that the Maranao and other residents have yet to be compensated for the destruction of their homes and livelihoods. For many, the possibility of returning to their once-thriving city grows increasingly bleak. Their cries for justice, especially for those who lost their lives during the siege, continue to echo unanswered, highlighting the persistent wounds inflicted upon the affected community.

The MIF’s implementation comes at a time when the human rights situation has worsened with the enactment and implementation of the anti-terror law. Under this law, Moro and IP communities, organizations, and advocates are not only red-tagged and criminalized but are now even designated as terrorists, further suppressing their voices and rights. The first individuals charged under the terror law were Ayta Japer Gurung and Junior Ramos, accused of committing acts of terrorism as members of the New People’s Army. Fortunately, the Olongapo Regional Trial Court (RTC) found inconsistencies in the statement of the witness and dismissed the case, ruling that it was a result of mistaken identities.

In January of this year, the Anti-Terrorism Council designated Dr. Naty Castro, a dedicated Lumad advocate, as a terrorist individual. This alarming move was followed by the arbitrary designation of four leaders from the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) as terrorist individuals, leading to the freezing of their organization's bank accounts. Since its establishment in 1984, the CPA has been at the forefront of defending ancestral lands against encroachments and exploitation in the Cordillera region and across the country.

The DBP and Land Bank is mandated to provide funds for rural and agricultural development – this includes development for Indigenous Peoples. However, the implementation of the MIF would exacerbate government neglect and further denial of essential social services to Moro and Indigenous Peoples, as public funds meant for countryside development are siphoned to the MIF and continue to be siphoned away due to corruption. Discrimination and Islamophobia create barriers, limiting their access to social services, economic opportunities, and political participation.

Moreover, these ventures trample upon the sacred right to free prior informed consent, a fundamental right and principle that safeguards Indigenous communities. The environment, too, bears the brunt of these projects, facing irreparable damage that affects not just the Indigenous Peoples but the entire nation.

The cycle of exploitation and marginalization must end. We must advocate for sustainable and inclusive development that respects the rights and dignity of Indigenous Peoples. Let us call for transparency in investments, ensuring that the benefits are equitably distributed and that the environment is preserved for future generations. It is our collective responsibility to challenge the status quo, demand accountability from our leaders, and stand in solidarity with the Indigenous Peoples who are the custodians of our rich cultural heritage.

In conclusion, let us work together to build a future where investments empower, rather than oppress. Let us strive for a society where the rights of Indigenous Peoples are not just acknowledged but fiercely protected, where our wisdom and traditions are celebrated, and where we can thrive in harmony with nature. Thank you.