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Statement from the International Consultation on the Ecclesial and Social Visions of the Indigenous Peoples

Statement of solidarity with the indigenous peoples and condemnation of the enforced disappearance of James Balao

26 October 2008

Baguio City, Philippines
26 October 2008

We, the participants of the International Consultation on the Ecclesial and Social Visions of the Indigenous Peoples,* sponsored by the World Council of Churches held at the Igorot Lodge, Baguio City, Philippines from October 21-27, 2008 declare

  • That we maintain ardent solidarity with the indigenous peoples' struggles and aspirations.

As we listened to each other during the Consultation and immersed ourselves into the very lives of the indigenous peoples in this part of the world, we affirm the vital interconnectedness of the indigenous people with the land, our ancestral domain;

We are linked with the mountains, rivers, caves, trees and villages. We are the true stewards of the land.  While multinational corporations and big business exploit and devastate nature at a disastrous pace, we give utmost respect and care to nature because we know that it sustains our lives, our existence and to ensure the survival of succeeding generations. Respect for the land and the rest of creation is respect for life knowing that life is sustained by the land given by God;

We have also been reminded of the neglect, exploitation, and abuse by social institutions some of them established by our Christian brethren. As a result, we are among the most depressed and poorest people of the land;

The sacredness and defense of life is also Biblical and a foundation of Christian praxis as it is with the land and everything in it, on it and above it.

As we struggle to keep our lands against the forces of development aggression, greed and profit, as we assert our place in the community of peoples, and as we resolve to declare the values of indigenous peoples on stewardship and community as essential in the vision of just and inclusive communities, we are appalled by the continuing litany of enforced disappearances in the Philippines, the latest of which is the enforced disappearance of our brother James Balao.

Mr. James Balao, as established by direct interview and dialogue conducted and participated in by the delegates of this Consultation, is an indigenous person (Ibaloi) who devoted his life advocating the rights of the Igorots in this part of the Philippines. He is one of the finest sons of the Cordilleras, home to the Igorots. His enforced disappearance outraged not only the Igorots but the other local citizens and the local governments in the region. According to reliable witnesses, his abduction was perpetrated by the police or military intelligence elements as evidenced by the precision it was conducted and the traits of the persons involved in the brazen kidnap of James Balao.

We now further declare,

  • Our deepest concern and condemnation of the abduction of James Balao and other atrocities committed against the indigenous people in this part of the world; we reach out in prayer and solidarity with his family and the families of all other victims and affirm our support in their search for justice;
  • Our demand for responsible government agencies for expeditious investigation and action to locate and surface James Balao;
  • Our demand for the intervention of the highest authority in the Philippines;
  • Our call to our sisters and brothers all over the world to write to the authorities in the Philippines, directly or through the National Council of Churches in the Philippines expressing their concern and declaring their protest over the anti-insurgency policy of the state, through OPLAN Bantay Laya. The later provides the mechanism to suppress any principled dissent and has led to extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in the Philippines.

Finally, we express our support to the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Indigenous People that states among others,

  • That Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired;
  • That Indigenous peoples have the right to own, use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason of traditional ownership or other traditional occupation or use, as well as those which they have otherwise acquired;
  • That State shall give legal recognition and protection to these lands, territories and resources. Such recognition shall be conducted with due respect to the customs, traditions and land tenure systems of the indigenous peoples concerned. (UNDRIP Section 26).

Let us hold on to the vision expressed of old: "Once more I will plant them in their own soil, and they shall never again be uprooted from the soil I have given them." (Amos 9:15)

*The thirty (30) participants of this consultation came from indigenous communities in the Philippines, Myanmar, India, Indonesia, Australia, Mexico, Bolivia, Colombia, Nicaragua, Peru, Ecuador, Canada, Norway and the United States of America.