Under Marcos 2.0: Prospects for indigenous rights and climate action in the Philippines

Dec 11, 2022

The Philippines’ former dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. was in power for 20 years. He plunged the nation into a spiral of financial crisis that by the time he was overthrown the country was under crushing debt. Marcos used Philippine natural resources to enrich his cronies, promoting commercial logging and large-scale mining. 

Under his Martial Law, the Philippines had the worst rate of deforestation in the Asia Pacific region, losing at an average of 316,000 hectares of forest per year. Many indigenous peoples were displaced from their lands to make way for extractive projects. His fascist regime saw 11,103 victims of human rights violations.

Propelled by a massive disinformation operation and  support from entrenched political dynasties, Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr., became the new president of the Philippine Republic, reinstating the Marcos dynasty into power three and a half decades after the People Power uprising deposed his family. In his inaugural speech, he commended his father and promised to do just as his father did. 


The State of the Nation

Marcos won the presidency in alliance with his vice president tandem Sara Duterte, daughter of outgoing authoritarian president Rodrigo Duterte. Under the previous Duterte administration, the Philippines saw rampant extrajudicial killings and the intensification of the militarization of extractive projects, particularly targeting indigenous peoples’ land

  • Half of all government-certified ancestral domains are embroiled in environmentally destructive projects. This translates to at least 1.25 million hectares without yet accounting for land held by indigenous communities under native title.
  • 87% of all large-scale logging projects and half of all approved large-scale mining contracts are within or close to registered ancestral domains. 
  • At least 27,430 more IPs experienced human rights abuses, such as forced illegal arrests, judicial harassment, forced evacuation, among others. That means for every one IP that was killed, 610 more suffered a plethora of other human rights abuses.
  • Of the human rights abuses and violations documented from 2019 to 2021, at least 45 of the IP killings were linked to land and environment conflicts. A 67% spike in killings was observed from 2020 to 2021.

Nothing in the new Marcos administration shows any reversal of the state of the nation. In fact, Marcos Jr’.s first State of the Nation Address reiterates the business-as-usual continuity in economic policies, if not expanding their neoliberal trajectory: 

  • Amending investment laws to allow foreign investments in previously protected sectors.
  • The return of public-private partnerships, especially for infrastructure, would once again open indigenous territories to corporate encroachment. 
  • Lack of reform in the tax regime and dependence on indirect taxes continue to burden Filipinos. The prices of basic goods have swelled without the corresponding increase in peoples’ wages.
  • Set to ratify the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). The trade deal is touted to improve Philippines’ trading position but, as it stands with the country’s export-orientation for its natural resources it will only intensify inequality and maldevelopment—while the Philippines exports fishery products to China, the country imports round scads, known as “poor man’s fish”, to feed its populace. 
  • Escalation of debt. In his first few months in office, despite increase in interests, Marcos has embarked on a debt expedition not only borrowing from traditional financial institutions such as the World Bank but also through commercial facilities. These new debts are on top of the debt already incurred from the previous administration. The Philippine debt is at about 240 billion dollars.  
  • Despite demands from affected communities, there is no consideration for the curbing of large-scale mining.
  • The Philippine energy plan promotes renewable energy sources, and thermal coal, nuclear, and other dirty or destructive power sources in the same breath. Both renewable and non-renewable energy target ancestral domains as their site of operation. Despite pronouncements of no-coal, no meaningful roadmap for a just transition has been put forward. 

With inflation historic highs, a persisting disinformation pandemic, and mounting damages from consecutive typhoons in just the first few months under Mr. Marcos Jr., the prospects for meaningful change grow bleaker for Filipinos in one of the most climate-vulnerable nations of the world. 



Stand with Indigenous Peoples

If there is one thing that needs to be learned from the current situation, it is that the most critical fights for the nation’s common future can be found in its indigenous territories. It is the site where two worldviews collide: one, dominant and growth-focused, the other, marginalized but sustainable and nurturing.

These are territories under siege. Not only are these sites of environmental degradation, but conflicts often occur in consonant with resource exploitation projects. It has led to a situation where violence and coercion have been the conditions in which extractive projects are made possible.

Protecting ancestral domains and the rights of their indigenous defenders, translates into protecting watersheds and agro-ecological systems that ensure food sovereignty, climate resilience, and a healthful ecology to communities both upland and downstream. They create and secure genuinely green and gainful jobs from an economy that is harmonized with nature.

More than 50 years ago, Marcos Sr. encouraged the hoax “discovery” of the Tasadays, indigenous people who were supposed to be the “last remnants of the Stone Age.” The international celebration of the “discovery” provided the distraction from Marcos’ human rights violations, abuse of power and corruption. Similarly, Marcos Jr.’s rhetoric of going green sets the stage for furthering threats to indigenous peoples’ territories. As he speaks of renewable energy a mammoth corporation is set to mine coal in ancestral land.    

With the Anti-Terrorism Act firmly in place, it now makes it easier for military and paramilitary units to silence or cause human rights abuses on communities protesting and dissenting against government supported projects. A chilling effect on dissent and heightened threat face communities in the margins and support groups rendering their lives and liberties vulnerable— setting the stage for history to repeat itself.