AUSTRALIA, PHILIPPINES HOLD FORUM ON INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' RIGHTS
Ambassador Rod Smith (3rd from left) together
with (L-R) Attorney Evelyn Dunuan, former
Commissioner representing Indigenous Peoples
of the National Commission on the Role of Filipino
Women; Ms Megan Davis, Associate Professor
at the University of New South Wales and
Expert Member to the United Nations (UN)
Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues; Associate
Dean Sedfrey Candelaria, and Dean Rey Villanueva
of the Ateneo Law School during the “Road to
Reconciliation and Recognition of Indigenous
People: The Australian and Philippine experience”
forum held at the Ateneo Law School Human
Rights Center in Makati City.
The Australian Embassy, in partnership with the Ateneo Law School Human Rights Centre, held a forum “Road to Reconciliation and Recognition of Indigenous People: The Australian and Philippine experience” as part of the Embassy’s NAIDOC (National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee) Week 2011 celebration this month.
The forum featured presentations by Indigenous Australian lawyer Professor Megan Davis, Expert Member to the United Nations (UN) Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues; and Attorney Evelyn Dunuan, former Commissioner representing Indigenous Peoples (IPs) of the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women.
Representatives from the Philippine government led by National Commission on Indigenous Peoples Chairperson Zenaida Hamada-Pawid, non-government organisations, academe and the media engaged in discussions on significant issues faced by Indigenous people from both countries.
Australian Ambassador Rod Smith said the forum highlighted Australia’s enduring partnership with Philippine government and non-government organisations to promote the welfare and rights of Indigenous people. “We hope the event will serve as a precursor for future collaborations as we seek to address challenging issues affecting our Indigenous communities.”
NAIDOC Week is an annual celebration in Australia to recognise the contributions of Indigenous Australians across many fields, including the arts, media, academia, sports, government and business. The occasion also serves to raise broader community awareness of the social issues faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Successive Australian Governments have taken important steps over the years in addressing past wrongs and re-setting relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The National Apology to the Stolen Generations in February 2008 was an important first step towards reconciliation.
Ambassador Smith explained that “The Australia Government continues to take concrete steps to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in areas such as life expectancy, child mortality, educational achievement and employment opportunities.”
At the International level, the Australian Government announced in April 2009 its support for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The UN Declaration is a culmination of decades of work, and reflects the unique place of Indigenous peoples and their entitlement to all human rights as recognized in international law.
Australia’s commitment to assisting Indigenous Peoples is also reflected in its partnership with the Philippines. “Australia is a longstanding development cooperation partner of the Philippines, and we are working closely to support civil society and government agencies to ensure marginalised groups have improved access to economic opportunities and basic social services,” Ambassador Smith said.
Australia’s development assistance program continues to help support education and livelihood among Indigenous communities in the Philippines. Recently, Australia provided Php880 million to support Department of Education’s Philippines’ Response to Indigenous Peoples and Muslim Education (PRIME) Program. The Embassy’s Direct Aid Program has also provided approximately Php6 million since 2006 to programs that contribute to IP welfare and income-generating capacity.