Did lawmaker call Lumad evacuees ‘stinky’?
DAVAO CITY – North Cotabato Second District Representative Nancy Catamco started a press conference on Tuesday, July 21, with guns blazing but cried in the end.
At the Tuesday news briefing, the chair of the House committee on indigenous people lambasted those who criticized her for allegedly describing Lumad evacuees as “mabaho (stinky)," and for shouting during a dialogue with the evacuees.
Catamco has been at odds with nongovernmental organization workers and Makabayan bloc legislators as she insisted that Lumad "bakwits (evacuees)" must be "freed" and sent home as soon as possible.
At least 1,280 Lumad evacuees in Davao City have been staying at the United Church of Christ of the Philippines (UCCP) Haran house for about 3 weeks now. The evacuees said they fled their homes because of the military presence in their communities.
On Thursday, July 23, Catamco denied the allegation that she had ridiculed the evacuees, and claimed that the video circulated to support this claim had been spliced to put her in a bad light.
"That's not true. If I do that, it's as if I’m mocking myself because I'm an indigenous person," Catamco told Rappler, adding that she is "passionate" about IP rights.
She urged netizens to check this version of the video posted on her Facebook account.
Representatives' word war
Catamco accused Gabriela party-list Representative Luz Ilagan and Bayan Muna party-list Representative Karlos Isagani Zarate of exploiting the Lumads for their own interest, and even of keeping them from going home.
"Ï will find my way to free them from the people who control them. Why are the trying to control them?" the lawmaker said.
She vowed not to stop her fight until the evacuees are "freed"and brought home on Thursday, July 23.
On July 16, the Makabayan bloc legislators invited Catamco to visit the evacuees, but the dialogue that followed turned sour when Catamco started to raise her voice.
Catamco admitted that she raised her voice during the dialogue but explained, "I got emotionally carried away by the situation I witnessed."
"I was moved,” she said, and showed photographs of evacuees getting a shower through a hose from a fire truck.
She stressed, "I’d rather be emotional and passionate than (be like) those people who are hiding them and using these vulnerable Lumad for their vested interests.”
While Catamco was holding a press conference at the Davao City Police Office Conference Hall, activists and evacuees were holding another news conference at Haran House where they declared her "persona non-grata.”
In a statement sent to Rappler, Zarate denied Catamco's accusation, saying that it was her "who acted like a demigod, browbeating and imposing her will on the Lumad."
"We at Bayan Muna do not control or impose our will on the Lumad and their leaders. We are doing our part in seeking solutions to why they evacuated and left their communities: the militarization of their communities, their schools, the vilification and red-tagging of their organizations and leaders, the harassment of paramilitary groups like Alamara," Zarate added.
Zarate alleged that Catamco "shamelessly bullied and insulted" the indigenous evacuees, their leaders, and the datus.
“The problem with her is that she only had one afternoon meeting with the bakwits, then the following morning she already wanted to become their self-proclaimed and self-imposed hero,” Zarate said.
Datu Doloman Dawsay, spokesperson of the Salugpongan Ta 'Tanu Igkanugon, a tribal group representing 84 lumad communities, said in a statement Wednesday afternoon their group has declared Catamco “persona non grata.” – With a report from Voltaire Tupaz/Rappler.com