MANILA – Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Commissioner Gwendolyn Pimentel-Gana on Wednesday decried any form of abuse and exploitation of indigenous peoples (IP) leaders and communities.
In a web forum organized by the National Commission on the Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), Gana said they “are going to investigate if ever a complaint is filed with us”.
During the forum’s question and answer portion, IPs from Region 9 (Zamboanga) asked for the position of the CHR on violations made by communist terrorist groups (CTG) on IP communities and ancestral domains, particularly on the reported recruitment of minors to join the armed movement.
“We are here for them, for the IPs, anytime our office is open. Of course, we do not tolerate this kind of abuses and whatever groups are involved whether it’s the CPP-NPA (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army) or any other groups as long as they abuse and exploit our minorities and all other vulnerable sectors of society we are against it and we will do our best to obtain justice for them,” Gana said.
She said whenever CHR does its report, it always investigates and verifies all the reports submitted to them.
She said face-to-face consultations are done with the sectors of the society involved in the investigation or monitoring to assure an independent and balanced report.
Gana added that the CHR did a national inquiry on the indigenous peoples’ rights as they went all over the country to discuss with the IP communities their actual concerns.
“So I would like to reassure everyone that whatever report we come up with, it’s actually backed by scientific evidence, by research, and we are standing by our report in the sense that it is very independent, we are not biased, so I would like to reassure everybody that all your inputs will be considered in that report and its open. Even individuals can submit to us whatever position papers you make and we will consider it,” Gana said.
NCIP, CHR to champion IP rights
Gana, meanwhile, said the CHR recognizes the important role played by the NCIP in promoting the IP cultural community and championing IP rights.
She said they are coordinating with the NCIP, adding they would sign a memorandum of agreement with the agency.
“We have what we call the indigenous peoples’ human rights observatory whereby you can contribute data, statistics –– all sectors of the society can do that. Go to our web and just put in whatever comments and complaints you have and all of this will be gathered in our observatory,” she said.
Gana said IPs should not think that CHR is against them but instead look at the agency as a partner in the protection and promotion of their rights.
NCIP chairperson Allen Capuyan expressed his willingness to partner with the agency.
“NCIP would really want to partner with the CHR on the human rights observatory and we hope we will strengthen this partnership with the signing of the memorandum of agreement,” he said.
Meanwhile, Gana said CHR “does not subscribe to the premise” that they are encouraging protests, especially those done during President Rodrigo Duterte’s State of the Nation Address (SONA).
She said while everyone can exercise their freedom or rights, this exercise should be balanced, especially with the prevailing health crisis.
She added that this freedom should also be balanced because people also have the right to be free from any disease and to be healthy.
“The CHR is a safe space for the civil society for you to come and to assemble, but you must observe what the government said which is the safety precautions (by) the DOH [Department of Health] and the IATF [Inter Agency Task Force],” Gana said.
“You have to observe it meaning to say, you can only gather, ilan lang kayo dapat (in a certain number) as allowed by law and you have to have all these masks and all these protective measures and gears so you have to balance this right because your right to exercise your freedom is not suspended by Covid. You still have the right, its inherent in you but you have to respect also the right of the state and the state to protect its citizens.” (PNA)