Penelope Sanz

Penelope Sanz


Hometown: Davao City, Philippines

  • Department: Interdisciplinary Studies
  • Graduate Supervisor: Dr. David Natcher and Dr. Kalowatie Deonandan
  • Previous Education:
    • B.Sc.Biology, Xavier University, Cagayan de Oro City, Philippines
    • M.B.A., Ataneo de Davao University, Davao City, Philippines

Growing up in Mindanao, a culturally and ethnically diverse island in the Philippines, PhD student Penelope Sanz became fascinated with how quality of life could improve for marginalized populations through access to justice and a human rights-based approach to development. Sanz is now investigating this phenomenon further through her graduate research at the U of S and her internship at the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Bratislava, Slovakia.

At the UNDP Office in Slovakia, Sanz analyzed the trends, challenges and priorities of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), funded by the UNDP. The UPR is a review mechanism for the human rights situations in 193 UN Member States. The goal is to make recommendations to improve the human rights situation on the ground.

In addition to her experience with the UNDP, Sanz has worked as a journalist, researcher, trainer and project coordinator with the ultimate goal of helping marginalized populations. Working as a secretary for the Mindanawon Initiatives for Cultural Dialogue, she spent several years with an indigenous community in Western Mindanao with the initial purpose of charting their genealogy for land rights and claims. The project quickly took a turn when the tribe asked Sanz to document the human rights violations they had suffered.

“I was confronted with my role as participant observer blurring to become a “partisan” observer when the community asked me to document the human rights violations they experienced in the hands of a Canadian mining company,” says Sanz. “This report, which was published by Rights and Democracy of Montreal in 2007, was eventually used to file a complaint in the United Nations Committee on Racial Discrimination (UNCERD).”

While completing her PhD at the U of S through the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, Sanz has fueled her passion for helping the indigenous peoples of Mindanao. Her research investigates whether mining and other extractive industry will bring sustainable development in Mindanao and the Southern Philippines. In particular, her study focuses on how transformative policies and large-scale structures and processes disrupt the indigenous communities in the affected region.