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Int’l community launches #DefendCordilleraPH global campaign

Duterte gov’t exploits COVID-19 to plunder ancestral lands, attack indigenous communities

As the Duterte administration’s COVID-19 response continues to be fraught with corruption and violence, various international organizations and human rights advocates launch today, a global campaign to defend the Cordillera Region in the Philippines.

Supporters from the U.S., Canada, Australia, The Netherlands, and Hong Kong, Korea among others have expressed their commitment to denounce the mounting human rights violations and plunder in the Cordillera.

Today, a Global Pact to Defend Cordillera has been opened for signing to organisations, indigenous peoples, and advocates from all over the world. According to the pact, development aggression and violations of indigenous peoples’ rights persist in the Cordillera. Their ancestral lands continue to be treated as a resource base for profit by the State working hand in glove with multinational corporations. Large-scale mining, dams, energy, and other foreign projects are masqueraded as ‘development’ at the expense of indigenous peoples’ self-determination and human rights.

Speaking in condemnation of the Duterte administration’s repressive policies, Bestang Dekdeken, Secretary-General of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), stated: “The Duterte administration has been using the COVID-19 response as a smokescreen to stifle our dissent over the intrusion of destructive projects and widespread militarization in our communities. We are being targeted, red-tagged, arrested, and killed by the State.”

The Cordillera Region in the Philippines, as emphasized in the global pact, is blanketed with more than a hundred large-scale mining applications covering 978,664 hectares of land and more than 100 hydropower and geothermal projects awarded to private corporations. A good case in point is the Chevron Geothermal Power Project which covers more than 25,000 hectares in Kalinga province.

“The Cordillera people are robbed of their life, land, culture, and worse, their future. If we don’t act now this could mean ethnocide for our Igorot brothers and sisters,” says International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) chairperson Peter Murphy.

“The Igorots as a people have a long history of resistance and struggling peoples of the world have drawn and continue to draw inspiration from them. Today, in an act of solidarity we further intensify our support for the people’s rights in the Cordillera–a solidarity that knows no borders and nations,” says journalist and human rights activist Brandon Lee who survived an assassination attempt in Ifugao, August 6 last year. Lee is still recovering from the incident and is now the spokesperson for Defend Cordillera in the US.

State Terror during the pandemic

Last July 3, 2020, President Rodrigo Duterte signed the dangerous Anti-Terror Act of 2020 (ATA) despite the massive calls to junk the bill. Under the law, anyone who conspires or provides support to ‘terrorists’ as defined under the act, could face life imprisonment without parole.

At the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous members of Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA), the biggest federation of indigenous peoples’, and other sectoral organizations in the region reported the relentless red-tagging and widespread online smear campaigns.

Also stated in the pact, are cases of community leaders being pressured to “surrender” as members of the New People’s Army. These attacks by the State in collusion with private corporations are endangering the people’s lives, security, and dignity while plundering the wealth of the Cordillera.


“We will continue to fight for our ancestral lands, human rights, and right to self-determination. We are calling on to human rights advocates, to our indigenous brothers and sisters, and to all peace-loving peoples of the world to stand with the Cordillera people,” Dekdeken adds.

Globally-coordinated activities will be launched in response to the campaign starting September 12 in North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia.

“We support the unified calls to condemn all forms of attacks against the land and lives of indigenous peoples in the Cordillera. We demand full accountability from the State, its agents, and the private corporations responsible,” Murphy ends.  ###

For reference and interviews:

Peter Murphy, ICHRP Chairperson | +61 418 312 301 (WhatsApp)

Bestang Sarah Dekdeken, CPA Secretary General | [email protected]