C$1-billion deal will impact dozens of villages . . .
A China-backed project worth C$1 billion will see a 143-metre dam flood thousands of acres of Indigenous land in central Mindanao, Philippines. The Pulangi River supports the livelihoods of dozens of villages of the Manobo people, one of the Indigenous groups on Mindanao collectively called Lumad. Chinese investors and construction firms have been eyeing the site since 2017, and an impact study was done in 2018. In 2019, a Philippine company signed an agreement with China Energy Engineering Co. Ltd. to move forward without consultation with local people.
China’s Belt and Road Initiative meets Duterte’s ‘Build, Build, Build’ . . .
The proposed Pulangi dam site is one of many projects that are part of Duterte’s growing ‘Build, Build, Build’ infrastructure program, and is supported by China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Duterte implemented a law in 2018 to raise money through domestic taxes to support projects, and this year implemented policies fast-tracking loans and support from China. Meanwhile, the Philippines voted in favour of the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, the world’s most comprehensive aspirational document on such rights, and has a domestic law supporting Indigenous rights to land, culture, and self-development of lands. However, there are dozens of other resource extraction projects and at least five other hydropower projects being built on Indigenous lands throughout the country without consultation.
Fear of military retribution . . .
The 2018 declaration of martial law in Mindanao and the government’s war against political opponents in the area has increased threats to the region’s Indigenous people. The government has in fact criminalized people trying to protect their lands and rights from resource and infrastructure projects. While some Manabo have objected to the project arguing that the government has not followed its own legal process, fear of harassment and threats by the authorities and the military have limited their organized protests. The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, an international non-governmental organization that has tracked Indigenous issues around the world since 1968, estimates the number of Indigenous people in the Philippines to be between 10.29 million and 20.58 million, representing between 10 and 20 per cent of the national population.