Declaration of Persona Non Grata Will Not Silence Indigenous Peoples’ Struggle Against Discrimination and Social Inequity

by Rhoda Dalang

January 30, 2022

“We are being asked by the soldiers to take out the water works system.” Mobile phone call from barangay A

“We can conduct the feasibility study by ourselves, you need not come so the soldiers will not know.”  Recommended option by barangay B

“Can we install the project under the name of a villager instead of our organization?”  Another toyed option by Barangay C

Why are the projects of the Center for Development Programs in the Cordillera (CDPC) being regarded with fear?   

CDPC along with two people’s organizations based in the Cordillera Region were declared persona non grata (PNG) in one barangay. The barangay resolution which was signed by eight members of the Barangay Council read:


The resolution cited as legal basis, among others, the Executive Order No. 70 with this quote: “institutionalizing the whole of nation approach in attaining inclusive and sustainable peace, creating a National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, and directing the adoption of a national peace framework.”

This resolution patently regards the CDPC and the people’s organizations – TMK and CPA – as indistinguishable with that of the CPP and NDFP. The practice of equating legitimate institutions and people’s organizations with that of the CPP and NDFP has long been a practice by authoritarian administrations notably under the presidency of the late Ferdinand Marcos Sr. and that of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.  Under the Rodrigo Duterte presidency the practice of declaring legitimate organizations as persona non grata is viewed as among its tactics in “winning the hearts and minds” towards ending the communist armed conflict and in “attaining inclusive and sustainable peace.”

What makes CDPC anathema to the Philippine State’s inclusive and sustainable peace?

The CDPC is an NGO advocating for the right to development of the Cordillera people.  Being in the region whose majority population are indigenous peoples, among its core advocacy is on the right of indigenous peoples for self-determined development anchored on the right to ancestral land and self-determination.  Its core strategy in achieving its advocacy is through a multi-sectoral human rights-based approach (HRBA) to development.  

Consistent with the internationally acknowledged principles and practices under HRBA, the cornerstone of CDPC’s goal and processes in development is the promotion of human rights and Indigenous Peoples rights.  The vision, mission and goal of development is anchored on social justice, that of eliminating all forms of discrimination in particular on the basis of being Indigenous Peoples, of social, cultural and political status, gender, sex orientation and other forms of discrimination. 

Subsequently, the core strategy of CDPC in realizing its vision, mission and goal is through capacity development or people’s empowerment and supplemented with direct services in response to community-defined needs, in particular, in the aspect of health and socio-economic services.   In which case, CDPC’s vision, mission and goals and the implementing strategies are aligned with the State’s objective of inclusive and sustainable peace.  Engaging in capacity development of communities towards the elimination of all forms of discrimination is among the cornerstone of inclusive and sustainable peace.  Both in terms of substantive and operational strategies, nothing can be regarded as unlawful, illegitimate or terrorist.  

On the contrary, what is to be regarded as unlawful, illegitimate and terrorist is the act of declaring the CDPC as persona non grata and compelling villagers to repudiate is socio-economic projects and services. The declaration of persona non grata has the effect to intimidate the “general public” who are supporting CDPC or a “segment thereof” or “create an atmosphere or spread a message of fear,” thereby can amount to State terrorism. 

Additionally, according to numerous legal experts, the declaration of persona non grata by local councils has no legal basis and in fact, unconstitutional.Declaring the CDPC as persona non grata is illegitimate and immoral as it deprives villagers of much needed services whether direct projects, socio-economic services or enfranchisement.  While Hermogenes Esperon Jr., National Security Adviser, claims that LGUs are not required to declare persona non grata certain individuals and NGOs to benefit from the Barangay Development Program (BDP) of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), the implementation demonstrates otherwise.

As of May 2021, the DILG reported that the Cordillera region is among the six regions that have attained 100% declaration by LGUs of persona non grata against the CPP-NPA-NDFP, where in several declarations, legal organizations like CDPC were included.  As can be implored in the narratives of Barangays A,  B, C and D, the declaration of persona non grata as well as the persuasion to dismantle existing CDPC supported projects, and refuse incoming CDPC projects  are correlated to the Barangay Development Program of  the NTF-ELCAC.  Under the BDP, each conflict-affected barangay that is “cleared” of insurgency is to be granted PhP20 million to be used for various projects.  In the Cordillera region, there were eight (8) barangays that were granted each of  PhP20 million for having been “cleared.”

One recipient barangay was among those that turned down the irrigation project earmarked to be funded by CDPC but which was not funded in the PhP20 million barangay development program.  Another recipient barangay has no known history of being armed conflict-affected.  In the same May 2021 DILG news report, a total of PhP12.3 billion of the total allocated budget of PhP16.44 billion for the period 2020 -2021 was released to 822 barangays claimed to have been cleared of insurgency.

After much debate in the Senate proposal to defund the Barangay Development Program and instead allocate the budget to COVID-19 response, the bicameral committee settled to retain the same budget of PhP16 billion amounting to 95% of the 17.1 billion budget of the NTF-ELCAC for 2022.

So is it fear?

Not really, the declaration of persona non grata against CDPC and refusal of its projects are linked with the PhP20 million incentive for “cleared” barangays.  Such a strategy of NTF-ELCAC amounts to economic force attached to military objectives, that of ending communist insurgency.  The BDP employs financial suasion for LGUs to assist in countering insurgency.  While it is sensible, albeit sad, to relate with the practical purpose of LGUs for the PhP20 million reward, it would be naïve and foolish to believe that declaring legal organizations as persona non grata, dismantling existing and refusing incoming socio-economic projects and services and disassociation will contribute to countering insurgency.  It is even more naïve and foolish to believe that the LGUs find the programs of CDPC unwanted  nor insurgency-related.

CDPC has been working for and with the villages and their LGUs for decades.  The villagers through their people’s organization have long been taking pride in their own capacity to develop their strength and the support contributed by CDPC in particular in broadening their knowledge base and networks – locally, nationally and globally.

The trust and respect earned by CDPC is rooted from its development framework embedded in the development framework of the communities with which it is working for and with. 

The respect and trust accorded by villagers to CDPC are deeply ingrained in the lives of communities.  No amount of millions will diminish such trust and respect jointly built in the course of genuine service and partnership.

CDPC acknowledges that several laws, policies and programs of the Philippine State are fundamentally discriminatory to Indigenous communities amounting to violation of the rights to ancestral land and self-determination, especially in praxis.  The exploitation of the natural resources by local and foreign businesses could result in devastation of the socio-economic lives of communities apart from irreparable environmental damage. Moreover, the traditional environmentally sound food system is negatively impacted by the global corporate and profit oriented agricultural food system.

These are among the fundamental development issues that the Philippine State should address in its counter insurgency policies.

Utilizing a tactic of cash reward for communities to dissociate from CDPC and declare it as persona non grata is ridiculous apart from being useless.  It amounts to insult to the collective intellect of communities shaped by the historical and current day struggles against discrimination and social inequity.

Rhoda Dalang is Executive Director, Center for Development Programs in the Cordillera.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article is that of the author only and do not necessarily represent the views of their organization nor of the CPDG.