By Genalyn Kabiling
President Rodrigo Duterte is not committing “ethnocide” amid his controversial proposal to open ancestral domains of indigenous peoples (IP) communities to investors, Malacañang assured Monday.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the President would not forcibly evict the lumad community from their lands to make way for these investors. He said the President would still consult with the IP communities about the proposed investments, adding the lumads have the power to accept or refuse them.
“It is not ethnocide. He (Duterte) is not forcibly removing them from ancestral domains. Let’s not claim a monopoly of knowledge of what the lumad communities’ problems are. The President has been a long-time resident of Mindanao,” Roque said during a press briefing in Malacañang.
“If there are investors coming in…it does not mean they will be expelled from their ancestral domains. Ancestral domains tend to be huge, they are not like limited to 100 square meters,” he added.
The lumads would have the final say if they want investments in their communities, according to Roque.
“Kung ayaw ng mga lumads, hindi mangyayari [If the lumads don’t want it, it will not happen],” he added.
At the recent gathering of leaders from different indigenous peoples communities in Davao City, the President offered to find investors to generate additional livelihood in the ancestral domains. Some groups however have expressed concern about the imminent displacement of the IP with Duterte’s plan to allow the entry of investors.
Roque clarified that the entry of the investors would depend on the consultation with the lumads.
“They will have to decide if they will allow foreign investors in to begin with if you look at the law. So when the President has a suggestion, it means it will take place within the context of the law, because as I said, he’s a lawyer,” he said.
“Kung ayaw nila, hindi sila mapipilit dahil sa batas naman kontrolado nila ang teritoryo nila na classified as ancestral domains (If they oppose the idea, they will not be coerced because the law states they control the territory classified as ancestral domains),” he said.
Roque explained that the President’s proposal to develop the ancestral domains was aimed to reduce poverty among the lumads.
He noted that job generation in the IP communities would also weaken the influence of the communist rebels, who have forced lumads to join their ranks.
“The solution of the President is to create economic opportunities in the lumads’ area because generally poverty reduction will empower the individuals, the Lumad communities and will drive away the members of the NPA in the first place when there is increased progress,” he said.
If the IP community allow economic activity in their territory, Roque said such investments would be subject to the terms and conditions to be imposed by the lumads.