Indigenous peoples, living in remote places, inhabit but the fringes of public imagination. However their territories are rich in natural resources, making them an exciting and lucrative terrain for capital. Isolated and ignored, indigenous peoples and their land become easy prey for the hawkish schemes of big businesses, reared by a government in thrall to market solutions.

In Southern Philippines, one group of indigenous people have fallen victim to the machinations of an aggressive corporation. Where they could have farmed the land, and made a living, a plantation company is cultivating a single crop to sate the local thirst for coffee — and line its pockets.

For almost three decades, in the village of Datal Bonlagon, in South Cotabato, the Tabuli-Manobo S’daf Claimants Organizations (TAMASCO) have been forced into an uncomfortable embrace with Dawang Coffee Plantation, which is run by Silvicultural Industries, Inc. (SII). SII is “a part of the vast agribusiness, mining and construction conglomerate built by David M Consunji, a former minister during the Marcos dictatorship,” according to an article in The Guardian. Resolution No.1550 filed in the Lower House of Philippine Congress states that Dawang supplies coffee to beverage giant, Nestle.

The plantation had intruded on the ancestral domain of TAMASCO and is operating without its Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC), which is required by law. TAMASCO has been watching helplessly as 300 hectares of their land, which they could have used productively, benefit a commercial business instead.

In December 2017 leader Datu Victor Danyan and seven other members of TAMASCO were killed, casualties of what the military says was a military operation against rebels. But a report from Global Witness says it was a surprise attack on the community. Marivic Danyan, the daughter of Datu Victor, recounts her experience to The Guardian in the aftermath of the massacre: “I had to put part of my husband’s brains back inside his skull so he was fit for burial. I tried to change the clothes of my dead brothers, but their wounds were too bad.”

In the meantime, it’s business as usual for the coffee plantation. Datu Victor Danyan had told now TAMASCO chief Datu Dande Dinyan, “I will die so you can reclaim our land.” But it looks like Datu Victor’s death has not moved the government nor SII to action. SII continues to operate its thriving plantation as if nothing happened. SII may or may not be complicit in the massacre, but one would hope they’d at least cracked a window open, and given a quick, curious glance around the neighborhood.

Friends of the Earth Philippines has recently filed a special civil action at a local court to compel the ministry on environment to cancel the permit for the plantation. The ministry has said it will form a task force to look into the matter. But sincerity is not the agency’s strongest suit; in the close to two years since the incident and up to the filing of the case, it hasn’t ordered anything resembling a meeting, let alone an investigation into a permit that is at the heart of this conflict.

Justice seems out of reach for the T’boli-Manobo people, as it is for other indigenous peoples whose lands have drawn abusive corporations into their fold. These homelands have promised — and delivered — profits that businesses simply cannot pass up, at whatever cost.

Corporate modus operandi have ranged from courtship to bribery, from scare tactics to bloodshed. Indigenous peoples who are wise to the perils of strangers with ravenous appetites for making a killing resist these repertoire of enticements and terror. Their resistance has almost always been paid in lives. That is the lesson rich companies want them to learn. Unfortunately for these corporations, Indigenous peoples and NGOs have a well established reputation for being very poor students at giving up.

For more information contact:
Maya Quirino
Legislative Advocacy Coordinator
Coordinator, SOS Yamang Bayan Network
Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center
Email: mquirino.lrc@gmail.com

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