By Marivir R. Montebon
New York City — Just a few days before Vicky Tauli Corpuz had her hands full as the third special rapporteur on the rights of the indigenous peoples at the United Nations, we had the chance to quietly celebrate with her the newly appointed position, along with a handful of Filipinos here.
Spring had been nippy in early June, but we pursued our way to the house of a friend, a fresh graduate, in Queens to congratulate her for finishing college. Vicky was a happy company, along with her bosom friend, international novelist and feminist Ninotchka Rosca.
She was just appointed as rapporteur that week, and while in New York, she had been trying to familiarize the road and subway system. The city that never sleeps will, for sure, become her office for international concerns of indigenous peoples all over the world.
“It was a competitive feat,” she said, “there were many applicants for the position. I am honored to have been chosen.”
While enjoying pork barbecue, fried chicken, mangoes, sticky rice, fruits, and a steady stream of drinks, we talked about things that were personal and political, like the issues hounding the indigenous peoples and all other past engagements.
With all her experience, Vicky’s UN post is one that is made for her.
She served as executive director of the Tebtebba or the Indigenous Peoples’ International Center for Policy Research and Education in Baguio City before her appointment.
Born an Igorot, an indigenous nation in Central Luzon, Vicky had spent her young years defending her ancestry through political activism. She helped organize indigenous peoples to resist the projects of President Ferdinand Marcos, such as the Chico River Hydroelectric Dam and the Cellophil Resources Corporation.
Vicky is the first recipient of the Gabriela Silang Award, conferred in 2009 by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples. She chaired the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues from 2005-2010.
During the celebration of the World’s Indigenous People’s Day on August 8, Tebtebba organized a national consultation of indigenous people’s representatives, government agencies, UN agencies, academe, religious, non-governmental organizations, and multilateral banks.
Leaders of indigenous peoples presented their common problem on dislocation due to mining and militarization, while NGOs shared some exemplary practices in sustainable, self-determined development.
Vicky, who shared her mandate, vision, and tentative plans as special rapporteur, to the participants encouraged the continued openness and respect for indigenous people’s rights in the Philippines.
A nurse by profession, Vicky is rolling her sleeves, starting from her own home country, to fulfill her duties globally.