By Floro L. Mercene
“Today’s apology is long overdue, but it is a beginning. I do not expect any one speech will wipe away four centuries of pain and suffering by the indigenous peoples but I hope my apology will set the country and its people towards reconciliation.”
Taiwan’s leader Tsai Ing-wen spoke thus shortly after her election in 2016.
I think our government should do the same; apologize, embrace, and promote the lives or our tribal elders, especially in this days and age, when we are a globalized village, belonging to one human community.
Tsai Ing-wen also apologized in behalf of her government for storing nuclear wastes on Orchid Island, formerly Lanyu island, inhabited by the Yami tribe. This tribe is a close relative of our own ethnic group living in Y’ami island, our northernmost island in Batanes.
President Tsai’s government set up the Indigenous Historical Justice and Transitional Justice Commission. The aim is to give them equal rights like every Taiwanese citizen. She said the commission “will ensure that the voices of tribe members find true expression.”
Among Tsai’s early moves was to delineate indigenous traditional territories and lands, which are off limits to outsiders exploitation.
She said she hopes their ethnic group “are never separated from their cultural traditions, and that never again are they lost in a land of their own.”
In the Philippines, there are about 14 million indigenous peoples, subdivided into around 110 linguistic groups or tribes. Most are based in the northern part of the main island, Luzon, and in the southern island of Mindanao.
Among the prominent groups are the Badjao, B’laan, Bagobo, Mangyan, Manobo, T’boli, and Teduray.
“The indigenous peoples in the Philippines also face many challenges in the context of development, peace and security, and human rights, most notably in Mindanao… where the overall socio-economic indicators are some of the lowest in the country and where there has been long-standing armed conflict,” according to an official of the EU delegation to the Philippines.
“The indigenous peoples want recognition of their distinct identity and their ancestral domain.”
Only by giving them full recognition that the country would find peace and harmony to address the more important task of nation building.