Good afternoon, distinguished colleagues.
The Philippines is pleased to co-sponsor this side-event and to share with you some of the programs and activities that the Philippines undertakes relative to the preservation of indigenous languages. We also appreciate the great work that the International Presentation Organization and other civil society organizations have done in reaching out and helping Filipino indigenous peoples.
At the outset, allow me to state that the Philippine Constitution guarantees the protection of the rights of indigenous cultural communities to ensure their economic, social and cultural well-being. The Philippine Congress enacted the Indigenous People’s Rights Act (or IPRA) in 1997, recognizing the indigenous peoples’ inherent rights, including their right to self-governance and self-determination; rights to ancestral domains and the requirement of free, prior informed consent on any development on their ancestral domains or those that have a specific impact on them.
The Philippines is also mindful of its commitments under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and continues to work towards the full realization of the human rights of all indigenous peoples in the Philippines.
The Philippines has 110 ethno-linguistic groups that comprise about 15% of the Philippine population. We value their language, art, literature, music, histories, traditional knowledge, and their way of life that lend richness and diversity to Philippine culture and the society that we all are part of.
The video shown earlier portrays the Ati, an indigenous people living in the 4 provinces of the Panay Island and 2 provinces of the Negros Islands in the Western Visayas. The Ati, as they call themselves, have dark skin (darker than the usual complexion of a Filipino) and curly hair. History indicates that they predate the Spanish colonization in the 1500s. The video featured a particular tribe from the province of Negros Occidental. The Atis of Western Visayas speak either their own language the “Inati”, or the language of the greater populace of the province – Hiligaynon or Ilonggo in the provinces of Iloilo, Capiz, and Negros Occidental, Akeanon in the province of Aklan, Kinaray-a in the province of Antique and Bisaya/Cebuano in the province of Negros Oriental.
We fear that the Inati language is slowly dying and the Inati traditions have been eroded by their integration into the local communities. The video, for example, shows the Ati speaking Hiligaynon, the language of the greater population of Negros Occidental. They dress in “normal” Western clothing. Some 20 years ago, the Ati population in Western Visayas still wear their traditional clothes of a simple cloth just tied and draped over their private body parts. Now, you don’t see that except in festivals. Though they live in their traditional ancestral communities, they now study and work in towns and have been integrated into the community life of the town. We have seen the benefit of this integration because it is important that indigenous peoples get greater access to education and employment and to fully realize their rights under the law. To a certain extent, however, this “modernization” can erode indigenous culture especially when the younger generation tend to adopt modern ways and abandon their indigenous practices and traditions.
In order to preserve indigenous culture and language and enable their transmission to the next generation, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples established the Philippine Indigenous Peoples Ethnographies Project (PIPEs). This project is a multi-year project, with expected outputs centered on the production of ethnographies by the indigenous peoples themselves. In the past, ethnographies of indigenous peoples were done by missionaries during the Spanish period and anthropologists and military officers during the American period. This time, it is the government that will move this project alongside indigenous peoples themselves.
The project does not focus only on the production of ethnographies but also on the usage of such ethnographies by key stakeholders, including the Government, and civil society organizations in partnership with the indigenous peoples. This project will include data on indigenous peoples’ demographic, social, political, economic, cultural and linguistic profiles. Through this project, indigenous peoples will be empowered to create their ethnographies, and utilize the same in the formulation of their own plans for the preservation and development of their culture, heritage and indigenous language.
The Government has engaged experts and established technical working groups among government officials, indigenous leaders, indigenous peoples’ organizations and other relevant stakeholders. A national consortium and several regional consortia. Three (3) indigenous conferences had been held and terms of cooperation among relevant agencies were formulated. The crafting of technical and operational manuals was started with the drafting of the PIPEs Sourcebook, using, as a starting point the more than 20 years field experience of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples. The advocacy plans and communications plans have been formulated and capacity-building for frontliners ensured.
To further advance the rights of indigenous peoples and to ensure that basic education is respectful of the heritage of indigenous peoples, the Government established and implemented the Philippine Indigenous Peoples Education Program. Indigenous language is important to cultural identity, quality education, access to public services and social protection, among others. The Government engaged elders and community representatives to ensure that education programs are truly inclusive and relevant. More than 8,000 public school teachers and officials nationwide have undergone re-tooling trainings on IP education.
The Philippine Government recognizes the importance of indigenous language and the need to revitalize them. The preservation of indigenous languages also mean the preservation of traditional knowledge on the climate, medicine, hydrology, business and astronomy. There are indigenous peoples in the Philippines who believe that the invocation of the right words or phrases can call rain or heal ailments. Language is the filament through which the blood of the culture flows. It is crucial that Governments and stakeholders act fast in preventing the extinction of indigenous languages.