As we approach the Great Jubilee 2000 we are overjoyed with the call of the Lord of Creation to implement the spirit of Jubilee: ‘the strengthening of faith and of the witness of Christians. It is therefore necessary to inspire in all the faithful a true longing for holiness, a deep desire for conversion and personal renewal in a context of ever more intense prayer and of solidarity with one’s neighbor, especially the most needy.’ (TMA 42)
In the context of the Philippine situation we are made aware, among other things, of the deprivation of the lands suffered by the Indigenous peoples which comprise 10% of our population. In a Pastoral Statement in 1993, “the Church deplores and condemns the present treatment by government and big business of the indigenous peoples in their disregard of the latter’s rights to their ancestral domain”.
Our concern here must be to actively support, promote and accelerate the process of law on their behalf, and be on their side so that their ancestral domains, their cultures, rights and the integrity of their environment be defended, preserved, and promoted. (PCP II, 379)
We are happy that in 1997 the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) was signed into law to rectify the unjust situation. Though not perfect, the law offers a good start for the IPs to secure their ancestral domains and protect their culture and identity.
We are now alarmed that some groups are working against IPRA.
We recall the statement of Pres. Joseph Estrada on December 10, 1998 on the Protection of Human Rights. “Isa sa mga prayoridad ko ay ang kapakanan ng may sampung milyong katutubong Pilipino o indigenous peoples na nabibilang sa hanay ng mahihirap sa ating bansa. Ipapatupad ko nang lubusan ang Indigenous Peoples Rights Act or IPRA na kumikilala sa kanilang karapatan sa mga ancestral lands… We are committed to protect these rights through the implementation of the IPRA and the ratification by the Senate of ILO Convention 169, or the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention.”
We call on all the Indigenous Peoples to unite and fight for their rights. We call on all people of good will who take to hearts the spirit of Jubilee to help the Indigenous Peoples regain their distinct place in our nation. The full joys of the Jubilee will never be ours unless we restore justice to the Indigenous Poples.
For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines
+OSCAR V. CRUZ, D.D.
January 28, 1999
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