The rights of Lumad and the Paris Agreement

aquino @ cop21
LUMAD. During the talks, the Philippines led the call for including human rights in the climate change deal. Aquino at COP21 Paris, France, photo by Christophe Petit Tesson/EPA ; Lumad photo by Derek Alviola/Rappler

By including a provision on human rights protection, the Paris Agreement provides a holistic approach to addressing climate change

April 23, 2016 — There are many stories that will be told after over 160 nations – the Philippines included – signed the Paris climate deal on April 22, which also happens to be Earth Day. Let me tell you one about stars.

It is the stars that tell the Lumad or indigenous people like Jimid Mansayagan, a member of the Arumanon Manobo tribe in North Cotabato, when it is best to plant. “We call it Panikulpan,” Mansayagan, also the president of the Lumad Mindanaw People’s Federation (LMPF), said in a forum on the Kidapawan tragedy – where 5,000 farmers, some of them Lumad – figured in a deadly protest over the government’s assistance for El Niño on April 1. The forum was held by the Ateneo School of Government on April 21.

“Panikulpan” in the tribe’s dialect means the Big Dipper, which is part of the constellation of Ursa Major. “When the Panikulpan appears, that is an affirmation from the spirit. This is now the planting season,” he explained.

In the past years, however, Mansayagan said that the climate did not match the planting season – in months when they are supposed to plant, the plants failed to grow. With their planting period becoming harder to predict, the extreme heat which was brought on by El Niño, while predictable, only increased their hardship.

Mansayagan has seen the hunger pangs caused by El Niño before. It was another election year then, in 1998, when El Niño also hit Central Mindanao. He said one of the things that helped them survive the hunger was the Tabang Mindanaw initiative, which provided assistance to 900,000 families affected by El Niño.

Almost two decades after, the Lumad faced the problem of El Niño again. This time, however, the massive hunger has sparked a protest that spiraled into a violent conflict.

On April 22, as the Philippines signs the Paris Agreement, it may be a good time to remember the story of the stars, a story told and lived by the Lumad. The country, after all, led the call for including human rights in the climate change deal. The provision particularly pushes for respect for the human rights of indigenous peoples as part of the fight against climate change.

Bundle of rights

Vicentia de Guzman, a lawyer from Tanggapang Panligal ng Katutubong Pilipino or PANLIPI, said that the Paris Agreement must be implemented in such a way that it will cover a “bundle of rights.”

“There are different chapters or layers of human rights,” she said. “In the case of Kidapawan, what we easily discerned was the civil and political rights – the right to protest and peaceably assemble.”

“But there are bigger rights they’re fighting for – economic, social and cultural rights,” she pointed out. Economic rights because the struggle affects the livelihoods of indigenous peoples; social and cultural because their lifestyle as Lumad were reportedly not given significant weight in using the resources of North Cotabato.

De Guzman said that Lumad plant for food; it’s as simple as that. North Cotabato, however, has seen the expansion of rubber and palm oil plantations; the province, in fact, is the second biggest producer of rubber in the country.

Newsdesk reported that 500 hectares were added to 12,000 hectares of palm oil plantation in North Cotabato, while an additional 307 hectares were allotted for 54,000 rubber plantations.

But the expansion is not just happening in North Cotabato. REAP, or the Network Resisting the Expansion of Agricultural Plantations in Mindanao, said that rubber plantations, covering 214,313 hectares, now occupy 43.3% of the lands in the region, while palm oil plantations increased to 42,731 hectares in 2014 from 23,478 in 2005.

While this have boosted the region’s economy, De Guzman said that concentration on planting rubber and palm oil results in monocropping, which could have adverse effects on indigenous farming practices that focus largely on growing crops such as rice and corn for food production.

Another indigenous practice that has been criticized is swidden farming, or slash-and-burn or kaingin. Forests are cleared for food crop production; the fields or fallows are afterwards left unsown or uncultivated for a period of time to become fertile again. Swidden farming has been identified as a factor behind forest degradation and a source of greenhouse gas emissions, which cause climate change.

Scientists and researchers, however, led by the University of Melbourne with the World Agroforestry Centre Philippines have conducted studies which challenge this notion. The World Agroforestry Centre Philippines wrote that the carbon mitigation potential of fallow systems could be higher than what has been previously determined.

Last but not the least, De Guzman said that the signing of the Paris Agreement must promote and protect collective rights. “It’s the last layer rarely understood by many – collective rights, which is exercised not by individuals but by the whole community. This is right to clean air and water, ecological justice and ancestral domain.”

How to do it

By including a provision on human rights protection, the Paris Agreement provides a holistic approach to addressing climate change. It changes the narrative of battling climate change from being mitigation-centric to putting the welfare of people at the core of it all.

There are opportunities to further explore how this could be done in succeeding climate change talks. Currently, it is only under REDD+ or reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation where specific mechanisms for human rights protection, particularly those of the IP, are spelled out.

REDD+ incentivizes developing countries that enhance carbon stocks through sustainable forest management. The REDD+ safeguards require that before REDD+ activities can be conducted, however, the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples must first be secured. Countries will not be able to receive results-based payments if this condition is not met or complied with.

While international guidance on human rights protection under a new climate deal is something that could still expanded and strengthened, locally, De Guzman said that there are already existing means where the voice of indigenous peoples can be considered by those in power.

For one, the Indigenous Development Plan of IPDP must be considered when doing the Annual Investment Plan of local government units. The IPDP contains the indigenous practices for farming, forest protection, and resource utilization that – if supported and integrated into the AIP – could be helpful to the whole LGU.

“We’re lobbying for participatory governance,” De Guzman said. “People should participate in governance and not just be consulted.”

This is a right enshrined in our local laws, respected by an international climate agreement, and one that can be understood better if we allow indigenous peoples to tell the story of stars – and actually listen to them.

  by Purple Romero |