Indigenous People leaders’ narratives eye-opener, ex-US envoy says

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  • Indigenous People leaders’ narratives eye-opener, ex-US envoy says 1

MANILA – While Filipino American (Fil-Am) militants turned a deaf ear to the narratives of indigenous people’s  (IP) leaders from Mindanao, a US-Philippine organization official based in Washington, DC saw the importance of the tribal communities stories of struggle, self-assertion, and communists’ deception.

Former US Ambassador John F. Maisto said the dialogue between eight IP leaders and members of the US-Philippines Society (USPHS) at the Philippine Embassy in Washington, DC  on July 19 was an important opportunity that they never had before.

“It brings us to the reality of Mindanao and what the indigenous people are facing daily, and it opened a lot of eyes,” said Maisto, who is president of USPHS – an organization that has become widely recognized as the premier private sector forum for enhancing US relations with the Philippines.

Given the struggle of IP communities against the abuses and attacks committed by the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People’s Army, Maisto said the USPHS will definitely follow up on the “extremely important” concerns.

“If you’re concerned about Mindanao, you have to be concerned about the indigenous peoples of Mindanao,” he said.

Raising awareness

Maisto, who is former US Ambassador to the Organization of American States, Venezuela and Nicaragua, vowed that the USPHS will raise awareness of what is really going on in the Philippines.

He admitted that the dialogue provided the USPHS with more information needed to disseminate to the US Congress, government, community, and media about the real situation in the Philippines contrary to “rather superficial reports”.

“One of the key roles of USPHS is to raise awareness about very strong bilateral relationships between the Philippines and the United States, our two peoples, our two governments, institutions, universities, people-to-people contact,” he added.

For Maisto, the reported existence of legal front organizations of the CPP-NPA, which was declared a terrorist organization by the US in 2002, and their fund-raising activities in the US is a story that has to be told, explored, and the facts laid out.

Keep pushing

He said it is unfortunate to learn that the Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights did not lift a finger to act on IPs’ complaints of human rights violations against the CPP-NPA for the reason that it only looks at violations committed by state agents.

“If you are really interested in human rights, you’re going to be interested in the violations of human rights from whatever sources they come,” he added.

He urged the eight tribal leaders, who were on speaking caravan across the US, to have a meeting with human rights organizations in the Philippines and be persistent in fighting for their human rights.

“You have to keep pushing for human rights, always push, because if you don’t push, nothing is going to happen,” he added.

The USPHS is a 7-year old independent organization with programs that reflect the shared history and common interests linking both countries, designed to promote business and investment opportunities, showcase culture, arts, and design, and provide perspectives on current political, social, economic and strategic issues. (PNA)