Philippines: a Manobo woman’s courage in claiming rights

Roselyn Osok: An Activist’s Journey

Roselyn, an Indigenous woman, is a human rights defender and community organizer in Barangay Manat, Mindanao, where she lives. Her village is home to Indigenous Manobos as well as migrants who have learned to co-exist with each other. She describes her life as “simple yet purposeful.”

Roselyn’s activism was not an overnight decision. Her journey to becoming a community organizer began when the growth of palm oil plantations in Barangay Manat has had negative environmental impact on her community and to the people living around it.

The rise of Palm Oil Industry, a so-called “development project” within the ancestral domain

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The oil mill emitting black smoke contaminating the air and surroundings of the village. © Amnesty International Philippines

The rise of palm oil plantation in Mindanao, has impacted the traditional land use and rights to ancestral domain of Indigenous Peoples living in the village. In her community alone, around 1,800 hectares of Indigenous staple crops where converted to palm oil production. In an adjacent municipality, the same industry has also undermined indigenous peoples’ access to food and right to ancestral domain. With the rise of palm oil plantations, livelihood was affected and food security was put at risk. Furthermore, the introduction of palm oil in 1997 exacerbated the situation, by polluting water sources, emitting black smoke and giving off a foul smell throughout the day. Roselyn and other women in the village knew the plantations were putting not only theirs but their children’s and other family members’ health and lives at stake because the air they breathe, the water they drink are contaminated. This situation could not be ignored any longer, so Roselyn started to be active in the Empowerment, Education, Justice (EEJ) project of Amnesty International-Philippines.

Roselyn, as a community facilitator

Roselyn is an Amnesty International Philippines (AIPH) member. She is also one of the local facilitators trained by the EEJ Project of AIPH. As a human rights defender and a community facilitator, she has initiated raising awareness of her neighbours, the parents, and other community members. With the trainings she has undertaken on Basic Human Rights, Indigenous Peoples’ Rights, Gender and Women’s Rights, as well as other skills she has developed in Paralegal support and advocacy, her community started to be critical. With the confidence and the knowledge she has gained, she has transmitted the principle of equality, non-discrimination and justice to other Indigenous members in her community, who also voice the same indignant feelings as hers. Women and men started to claim their rights and to believe that they deserved a better community and a better life for their children.

Roselyn has facilitated some human rights education activities. When she presented the topic on Business and Human Rights within her village, exactly where a plantation was operating, a Barangay official who was present was in awe, saying he never realized that a “simple resident” would know about human rights and have the skill to facilitate. This comment was etched in Roselyn’s memory. It served as a motivating factor for her to continue and pursue her role as a catalyst of change in her community.

A shift in Roselyn’s Life as a human rights defender

With the knowledge and her role in the community, there was a shift in Roselyn’s life. All the time juggling her family and domestic responsibilities and her job teaching sixty Monobos and migrant toddlers in a Child Care Center (which she has been doing for 19 years and earns a measly 3,000 pesos each month), she increased her advocacy work. Documenting human rights abuses became second nature to her. She speaks when she thinks her rights and those of the others are violated. She questions.

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Roselyn facilitating a topic in one of the community human rights education activity with members of the Federation of Trento Manobo Tribal Council (FETREMTCO) © Amnesty International Philippines

She has facilitated community discussions regarding the pollution caused by the processing plant. She documented and initiated a petition letter addressed to the City Environment and Natural Resources office and signed by other members of her community. This raised the ire of Barangay officials, who questioned her and others, asking why they directed their complaint to the agency without going through their local leaders first. Some are saying that they must have been influenced by “radical groups”. This reaction has not intimidated Roselyn.  According to her, “This work is not for my own personal gain but for the good of everyone. The company must look after their waste disposal; take care of natural resources and not only for their own profit.”

Roselyn added that she cannot blame others who felt scared and worried for their lives. But for her, she will find comfort in the fact that even if there are only five people who will stand up for their rights and principles, and are willing to continue claiming for their rights, she will not be disheartened.

 

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