'Carrot Man' phenomenon 'sign of low IP awareness'

LA TRINIDAD, Benguet -- The "Carrot Man" craze is indicative of a low level of awareness for indigenous peoples (IPs) concerns, a United Nations (UN) special rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples Rights said.

The craze started when a picture of a young man, later identified as Jeyrick Sigmaton, carrying a basket of carrots in Bauko, Mountain Province, went viral on social media. Netizens admired Sigmaton's handsome features, that his photos garnered thousands of likes and shares on Facebook.

But Vick Tauli-Corpuz, of the UN, said the phenomenon is a reflection of the society’s low understanding of issues surrounding IPs.

Corpuz was in Guatemala last month when the carrot man craze became a hit on social media. She also learned about the now controversial television interview and opinion of an expert, who said that intermarriages of Caucasian missionaries with Igorots in the Cordillera resulted in the "improvement of the race."

The expert interviewed on a GMA show was Dr. Jimmuel Naval of University of the Philippines. GMA apologized for the statement he made.

But Corpuz said the pronouncements from the television show were wrong, agreeing with the people who protested.

“These are all misinterpretations,” Corpuz said.

Although many laws were crafted for the IPs, Corpuz said the country has a problem in its implementation, citing the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (Ipra), a law that not many is versed with.

“It is a good law, one of the best even, but unfortunately, it is not implemented,” she said.

The UN Special Rapporteur said the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) is also an agency that failed to champion IP rights, citing the tedious process in land titling.

She said the ordeal, which people have to go through just to get their own land, is making IPs lose hope in the system.

But despite the hurdles the country is facing, Corpuz said: “We are still better off than others, the voice of the IPs here is very strong.”

She said the successful resistance of the men and women of Kalinga against the Chico Dam is a story she has told and retold.

In her capacity in the UN, Corpuz is tasked to conduct thematic research on issues relevant to the human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples, visit countries to observe and hear about the challenges faced by indigenous peoples, and communicate with governments when human rights violations are alleged.

She receives at least 10 complaints a day and she has to verify these, research on and respond to them, and if needed, visit the country. She is invited by least two countries a year to visit and assess the situation of indigenous peoples.

Next year, Corpuz will focus on the Lumad issues.

She said the problems of IPs are the same worldwide and is deeply rooted to their land and resources, which is being encroached by companies wanting to make money of the land.

Corpuz founded Tebtebba, a non-government organization that has been engaging with the United Nations on concerns such as indigenous people’s rights, sustainable development, climate change and biodiversity since 1996.

She is also the convenor of the Asian Indigenous Women’s Network.

Corpuz said she hopes in the coming elections, the issues of IPs will be part of the platform of candidates to elevate IP issues to the mainstream. (Sun.Star Baguio)

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