BAGUIO CITY, Benguet—Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, a small but brainy Igorot woman, could have been an anthropologist or a scientist, but she became a nurse and unlikely presiding officer of a United Nations body in New York.
Tauli-Corpuz, 60, articulate, smart and uncompromising with her views, was chairperson of the 16-member UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues from 2005 up to 2010 and she nursed the adoption by the UN General Assembly of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007.
“The UN declaration has benefited tens of millions of indigenous peoples all over the world,” said Wendell Bolinget, Secretary-General of the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA) an indigenous peoples organization.
The sprightly Igorot lady from Besao, Mountain Province was a top graduate of the elite Philippine Science High School. She gave up an anthropology course at the University of the Philippines to take up nursing so she can serve her people, and she has been fighting for a cause all her life.
The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues was organized in 2002 under the UN Economic and Social Council. It focused on protection of human rights and welfare of indigenous peoples all over the world.
Baguio City Mayor Mauricio Domogan, who is a member of the Bago tribe and an advocate for indigenous peoples rights, said it took an Igorot lady to chair the forum and pass the declaration that is being implemented by governments worldwide.
“Indigenous peoples in every corner of the globe deserve utmost respect. They have established their own form of governance, customs and traditions that they have passed on to the present generation,” Domogan said.
The declaration was used by the Supreme Court to decide on the constitutionality of Republic Act 8371, or the Indigenous People Rights Act, which upheld the rights of indigenous peoples over their land, natural resources and territory.
In Cambodia, the government passed a law respecting the rights of indigenous people to their land and resources, while in Bolivia, the government made the UN Declaration a national law.
The Philippines has 115 indigenous cultural communities spread out in the different parts of the archipelago. They face the risk of losing their heritage from landgrabbers and intrusion by mining companies in their territories.
In the Cordillera region, mining companies and hydro-electric power developers create divisions among the tribes to weaken their opposition to exploitation of rich natural resources.
But Amador Batay-an, Regional Director of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples in the Cordillera, said investors are required to secure the consent of affected communities before they start their projects in the area.
“Our indigenous peoples have rights over their lands and their respective territories. Investors are required to undergo stringent prior consent process, which include approval of the affected communities,” Batay-an said.
He said it is unfortunate that the indigenous peoples have been fighting among themselves because they could not agree whether to allow certain projects to come in and develop their area.
Tauli-Corpuz, as Executive Director of Tebtebba Foundation, a global advocacy group on indigenous peoples rights, made her way to the UN as a nominee of the CPA to the Asia Indigenous Peoples Organization.
She became one of four aspirants to the UN post and, in the votation of around 150 representatives of indigenous peoples in Asia, she emerged the winner over nominees from Nepal, Bangladesh and India.
In the UN, she was elected by the 16-member group as the chairperson for five consecutive years. The chairperson of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues is elected every year prior their annual meeting.
At the Tebtebba Foundation, Tauli-Corpuz is involved in research on the ability of indigenous peoples to adopt to the negative effects of climate change and documentation of government violations on indigenous peoples rights, which will be submitted to the UN for deliberation and action.
“The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is still on its infant stage. There is need to pressure governments to adhere to its basic contents, specifically respecting the existence of indigenous peoples in their countries and treating them equally as citizens of the nation,” she said.
Tauli-Corpuz is the fourth child of Alejandro, an Anglican priest, and Serena Tauli. She came from a family of professionals, and her siblings include a doctor, an engineer, a physicist, a geologist, a veterenarian, an agriculturist, a forester, and a biologist.
She is married to her former classmate at the University of the Philippines Engr. Catalino Corpuz. They have four children: Jennifer, a lawyer; Carlo, an executive at a Manila-based call center; Sonny, a program analyst in a computer company; and Chou, who is still a college student. The couple have six grandchildren.
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