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USPG report raises alarm over ‘cultural genocide’ in the Philippines

26 July 2022


An indigenous man in Rizal province, in the Philippines, prepares to cast his vote in the presidential election, in May

An indigenous man in Rizal province, in the Philippines, prepares to cast his vote in the presidential election, in May

A “CULTURAL genocide” is under way in the Philippines, as indigenous people are killed and forcibly removed from their lands to make way for businesses who want to exploit natural resources, a new report says.

In a three-year period since Rodrigo Duterte came to power, there have been almost 300 killings, 210 documented cases of torture, and thousands of people have been forced from their homes as a result of the regime’s violence.

This is in addition to the thousands more who are believed to have died in the violent “drug war” launched by Mr Duterte.

The UN Human Rights Office has condemned the war on drugs, saying that more than 8000 people, including at least 248 human-rights defenders, journalists, and trade unionists, have died.

The report, Risking Life for People and Planet, published on Tuesday by the Anglican mission agency USPG, calls for the UN to launch an independent review into human-rights abuses in the country.

USPG, alongside its partner church, the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, said that the election in May of the new President, Ferdinand Marcos Jr — the son of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who was toppled in 1986 after presiding over widespread human-rights abuses, corruption, and poverty — is a moment for the international community to speak up to challenge abuses of the Filipino people, particularly indigenous communities.

There are an estimated ten to 20 million indigenous people living in the Philippines.

The report says: “The abuses of Lumad indigenous peoples in the Philippines amount to attempted cultural genocide through extra-judicial killings and forced removal of communities from their ways of life, belief, spirituality, access to food, medicine and culturally and contextually appropriate education. Lumad are not the only indigenous people affected by this systemic abuse.”

The report outlines the sacrifices made by the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) as it seeks to stand up for the rights of indigenous groups.

The Most Revd Rhee Timbang, Obispo Máximo (Primate) of the IFI, said: “When does our commitment to the gospel and passion for justice become a crime? Our bishops and leaders are labelled as working against the government. But we are just doing the work of the Church.”

The General Secretary of USPG, the Revd Dr Duncan Dormor, said: “Understanding and taking action against the human-rights abuses perpetrated in the Philippines should be an urgent priority for the international community. In the wake of Marcos Junior’s election to the presidency, now is a vital time to hold an independent review into the actions of the Duterte government and its predecessors. This is absolutely necessary if the situation in the Philippines is to change.”

The report calls on the International Criminal Court to examine the destruction of the environment, exploitation of resources, and the forcible removal of people from their land, in addition to its inquiry into the war on drugs.

“To do so would highlight that this ‘war’ is part of a larger picture of systematic abuse, marginalisation, and oppression experienced by the Filipino people at the hands of their own government,” the report says.

The IFI has been subjected to persistent harassment for its advocacy on behalf of indigenous comunities: many churches and church leaders have been “red tagged” to mark them as a security threat, leading to harassment and, in some cases, death.

The international community must demonstrate to the new government that “gross and blatant human rights abuses across the country will not be tolerated”, the report concludes.

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