Presidential election: Robredo against mining in indigenous areas
by Stefano Vecchia

Marcos Jr.'s main challenger in the 9 May election signed an agreement with an association of 18 indigenous groups, pledging to protect their rights over the lands where they live. Although still far behind in the polls, she is rising against the frontrunner, son of the late dictator Marcos, and vice-presidential candidate Sara Duterte.

Manila (AsiaNews) – As the 9 May Philippine election approaches, some are reaching out to often marginal groups of voters.

Yesterday presidential candidate Leni Robredo and vice-presidential candidate Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan inked a pact with Sambubungan, an association that represents 18 indigenous groups.

If elected, the two political leaders undertake to protect their rights and ensure their active participation in the management of the regions where they live.

To nurture their cultural autonomy while incorporating them into development projects, the candidates also indicated that the next ten-year Census, scheduled for 2025, must better define their size, conditions and needs.

Some 110 registered ethnolinguistic groups live the Philippine archipelago with an estimated population of 16-18 million.

Emigration from their ancestral lands has reduced their numbers, while others struggle to resist the pressure from mining, timber and fishing companies, as well as government "development projects" conceived and implemented without involving the communities already affected by high levels of unemployment, underemployment, illiteracy and poverty.

All this makes it hard for these groups to maintain ways of life closely connected with their original territory.

Indigenous peoples often have to deal with violent actions by mining companies in collusion with local or national economic and political groups when they refuse to give in to the seizure of their land and resources.

In this context, it is significant that Robredo pledged to halt mining activities in ancestral areas and in regions of environmental importance, which resumed under outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte after a four-year moratorium.

With respect to the ongoing campaign, the gap between the leading presidential and vice-presidential candidates, although still wide, seems to be narrowing

The latest survey in the second half of March by Pulse Asia, an independent public opinion firm, found that support for presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos and vice-presidential candidate Sara Duterte (daughter of the outgoing president) stood at 56 per cent against 24 per cent for their rivals Robredo and Pangilinan.

However, the latter were making strong gains. In February the gap was much wider: 60 per cent versus 15 per cent.