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Fighting for Climate Justice Means Looking After Our Neighbors

Fighting for Climate Justice Means Looking After Our Neighbors

Fr. Edwin Gariguez

As I write this, more than 700 people from the Philippines’ Lumad indigenous communities in Mindanao reache the city of Manila to make their plight known.

The 1,500-kilometer Lumad caravan culminated October 26, as they arrived in Manila to protest the rise in violent attacks over indigenous communities in the last 4 months. They demand respect for their right to life, land, and justice from the government led by President Benigno Aquino III.

Currently, in the southern island of Mindanao in the Philippines, the government armed forces have deployed up to sixty percent of its assets, approximately fifty battalions (55,000 soldiers), to contain two insurgencies, one against the Muslims with whom there is a standing truce and peace talks and another against the Maoist New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, which have conducted a 47-year guerilla war that is still ongoing. The indigenous peoples (IPs) in Mindanao, locally known as Lumads, live in the hinterlands where counter-insurgency operations of the armed forces are occurring, thus ancestral lands are heavily militarized.

A main feature of the government’s counter-insurgency operations is the accusation that the IPs support the New People’s Army (NPA) or are actually combatants of the NPA. The army units allege that the NPA indoctrinates the IPs to resist the entry of extractive industries, such as mining, logging, plantations, etc, the accusation being that the schools organized and operated by the IPs are communist NPA schools. Thus, the IP leaders have been arrested on trumped-up charges, IP schools are being closed, school buildings are being burned to the ground, IPs are killed either as collateral damage or as accused combatants, human rights workers are harassed or killed. The perpetrators of these crimes are either official military units or paramilitary units, conscripted from the IP ranks by the military, setting the IPs to fight each other. Unsurprisingly, the Philippine government denies all these charges from the “Left,” despite findings to the contrary by local and international human rights investigations, including those of the UN.

Just how true is it that the “reds” are egging on the Lumad IPs of Mindanao to resist mining, logging, plantations, etc? Here’s my IMHO take on this accusation:

Like other indigenous peoples in many parts of the globe, the Lumads of Mindanao consider the communal ownership of ancestral lands as a key feature of their cultural identity. No Lumad had to go through the nose-bleeding ardor of reading Marx’s Capital I, II, and III to get informed that embracing the idea of private property dooms their survival, impoverishes their imagination, separates them from nature and each other. Thus, many Lumad leaders consider the introduction of land titling (signifying private property ownership) a very troublesome development, as pushed by the Philippines’ National Commission on the Indigenous Peoples, by way of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (see Dee Ayroso’s excellent report, The Bastardization of the Bagani, 9/19/2015, Bulatlat dot com).

IMO, it is relevant to note that Marx, before his death in 1883, was just beginning to appreciate the empirical significance of still-living communalist indigenous peoples (such as the Iroquois, a main subject of his last major work, the Ethnological Notebooks), in finding new paths of resistance to colonialism and capitalism. In reading Lewis Henry Morgan’s Ancient Society, Marx was quite impressed by the Iroquois’ egalitarian way of life, personal dignity and sense of independence, leading him to speculate that indigenous peoples have a lot to contribute to humanity’s emancipation. I believe many Filipinos who witnessed the Manilakbayan (the IPs’ protest caravan) participants’ resolve to confront their oppressors are quite impressed, as well.

The IPs inspired Marx, not the other way around. The plea to “spare the Lumad IPs from Marxist slogans” is simply pointless, IMO.

“The plight of the Lumad is part of a worldwide phenomenon rooted in the same global economic system that breeds violence, exploitation, pollution, and climate change. From the Asheninka in the Peruvian Amazon to the Batin Sembilan in Indonesia, indigenous communities that oppose extractive and fossil fuel corporations are being met with repression and plunder.”

The above quote explains why I’ve framed today’s conflict as that of the New Natives coming up against the rampages (and natural resource raping) of the 21st century conquistadors: The corporations.

Think of all of the following:

Indigenous tribes along the Amazon fighting Big Dam makers
Indigenous farmers in India fighting Monsanto
Indigenous natives of Japanese islands fighting U.S. military bases
Indigenous tribes in Canada fighting the pipeline and oil sands extraction operations
Indigenous in Bolivia fighting the international mining operations

Add to this partial list the new fact that most of us are fast becoming those New Natives as treaties like TPP and TIPP mean that ANY corporation can park on YOUR home turf if it can make a claim to mineral deposits and that any thwarting of said company’s efforts to exploit those deposits, is an inhibitor to its divine right to make insatiable profits.