By Marivir R. Montebon
New York – Since President Duterte declared her as one of 600 ‘terrorists’ in March this year, UN rapporteur for the protection of human rights of indigenous peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz had made the whole world her home. She is on a self-imposed exile following the advice of her family to ensure her safety and security. Refusing to be intimidated, Tauli-Corpuz said that Duterte’s accusations were baseless and irresponsible.
In a telephone interview with OSM!, Tauli-Corpuz said that although she has an immunity from arrests, she is taking extra caution on what the Duterte government is capable of doing. Of late, she has attended various work-related functions in Geneva, New York, and Thailand.
Tauli-Corpuz, appointed as a UN rapporteur in 2014, has spent much of her life as an activist since during the time of Pres. Marcos, from her native Besao in the Mountain Province. She organized her native tribes people, the Igorot, to resist the Chico River Dam project and the Cellophil Resources Corporation that were to displace thousands of natives from their ancestral lands.
Before her appointment to the UN, she served as executive director for Tebtebba or the Indigenous People’s International Center for Policy Research and Education in Baguio City.
Excerpts of our interview:
- Have you ever been back to the Philippines since Pres. Duterte named you as a terrorist?
Vicky: I did, in July, but very briefly. I was there for only three days to meet my family, especially my grandchildren in Baguio.
2. How does it feel now that you had to do this as a kind of self-imposed exile?
Vicky: Malungkot (sad) at nakaka-stress (stresses me). But I have to be cautious. So now it seems that the world is my home, because I have been moving around. My children were advising me to not go home. Although the UN has given me immunity from arrests, I cannot just rely on that. The government may invoke the National Security Act which provides for seven years in jail without bail.
3. You have been an activist for a long time. Who do you see as the tougher president, Pres. Marcos or Pres. Duterte?
Vicky: I don’t think the two could be compared. During the time of Marcos, corruption was rampant. Marcos was noted for the billions of money which was stolen from government and amassed that wealth to himself. Duterte tried to curb corruption. But his record on extra-judicial killings have surpassed that of Marcos. That is his black mark.
4. Regarding the rehabilitation of Marawi. Many wanted to return and rebuild their lives once again. But one family I know was not allowed to return because the land is still under government control and earmarked for development by Chinese investors. Who should families like these approach in order to get back their land?
Vicky: That is a case of people who have been displaced because of war. At the UN, they can approach the rapporteur on the right to housing so these cases are officially documented.
5. Will the constitutional change to a Federal form of government democratize the Philippines?
Vicky: No. It will only reinforce political dynasties by giving them bigger powers at the regional or local levels. If the Filipino people won’t assert their rights and think independently, I don’t know where we are heading. We have such a ‘damaged culture’ that we tend to defend our own oppressors.
6. As a human rights advocate and worker in these challenging current times, what perspective do you hold dear?
Vicky: We have to have hope. These days, we need to exert the value system among peoples, cultivate their nature, and live in harmony. Although it really looks bad, I see that many people are wanting to do good things, and we need to support them. All these efforts will add up. So we only need to have hope and do much more especially now.
We need to save the world for the people and for the future generations. All these years, I can see that the awareness of the youth are increasing. They are more open-minded and critical. And there is hope in that.
(All photos courtesy of Vicky Tauli-Corpuz’s Facebook page.)