Maguindanao del Sur

On World IP Day, displaced Teduray families yearn for peace in Maguindanao del Sur

Ferdinandh Cabrera

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On World IP Day, displaced Teduray families yearn for peace in Maguindanao del Sur

MOTHER AND CHILDREN. Teduray mother Mary Jean Saliling sits and sways on a hammock after breastfeeding her two-week-old daughter, Sheila, in a temporary shelter for displaced families in Maguindanao del Sur.

Ferdinandh Cabrera/Rappler

A Teduray mother says they are grateful for the relief aid but adds, 'What we truly desire is a peaceful home'

MAGUINDANAO DEL SUR, Philippines – In a dim corner of an elementary classroom that has been serving as temporary shelter for displaced indigenous people, a glimmer of sunlight piercing through a bamboo window offers hope to Mary Jean Saliling.

Mary Jean, who is in her mid-twenties, sits and sways on a hammock after breastfeeding her two-week-old daughter, Sheila.

A mother who can barely speak Tagalog, relying solely on her native Teduray dialect, Mary Jean’s face reflects fear as she tries to recall how she and her family managed to survive the harassment by gunmen a few days earlier.

Her husband, a farm worker, earns P200 a day for the family’s food and other needs.

Architecture, Building, Outdoors
DISPLACED FAMILIES. IP families displaced by conflict at an evacuation center in Maguindanao del Sur. Ferdinandh Cabrera/Rappler

She recalls how they hurriedly left their village in Sitio Base, Barangay Tamran, Talayan, Maguindanao del Sur, as armed men fired their guns indiscriminately and set fire to a tribal ritual hall, forcing everyone to seek cover.

Holding her baby and some valuables, Mary Jean decided to flee alongside other villagers upon hearing the gunfire.

She braved the dark and chilling evening winds to ensure their survival.

“We were so frightened; we saw nothing, just gunfire coming from everywhere,” she recalled.

Her mother, Rosalia, in her fifties, laments, “We cannot understand why we are targeted. We have no means to fight back. We only want to live peacefully, tending to our land.”

Records from the Bangsamoro Indigenous Office showed that at least 124 families were displaced due to the atrocities, with the majority belonging to the Teduray tribe.

Froilyn Mendoza, a member of the Bangsamoro parliament and a Teduray herself, expressed sadness over the resurgence of violence against IPs in Talayan.

“I am deeply concerned about the vulnerability of our people to violence. They are helpless and defenseless,” Mendoza said.

Just days ago, about 60 families were sent back to their ancestral village in Guindulungan town, a neighboring area of Talayan, after three years of seeking refuge from families residing near the sacred Feris Hill, the holy rock mountain of the Tedurays.

“After three long years, they were relieved to return to their ancestral domain, only to discover that fellow Teduray families in the nearby Talayan town were facing harassment,” Mendoza said.

She said the displaced families also include Moro families who have been living side by side with the Tedurays.

“They are now in Biarong. They desire to return home to tend to their livelihoods, like many of us IPs,” Mendoza said.

Mendoza said she was disheartened that “while we are celebrating World IP Day (on August 9), we have IP families – our non-Moro IP communities – displaced by armed hostilities.”

World Indigenous Peoples Day commemorates and pays tribute to the diverse cultures, languages, traditions, and invaluable contributions of indigenous communities worldwide. The occasion acknowledges the historical trials and persistent adversities faced by these peoples, emphasizing their unwavering determination and distinctive role within the global cultural mosaic.

August 9 was chosen in honor of the inaugural gathering of the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations in 1982.

“How can they celebrate when lawless elements have stripped them of opportunities?” Mendoza said.

She said the recent atrocities against Teduray families turned out to be related to the upcoming barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections in October.

Mendoza said infighting among relatives and members of a Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) faction started due to the approaching elections, with the IPs becoming “collateral damage” due to the rivalry.

“What I hope for is concerned government agencies taking care of the welfare of IPs and for the conflicting parties to refrain from using violence, so as not to disrupt the peace and tranquility prevailing in Teduray communities,” Mendoza said.

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PLAY. Children from displaced families in Maguindanao del Sur play in a temporary shelter. Ferdinandh Cabrera/Rappler

Ismael Omar, the chairman of Barangay Biarong in South Upi, said the conflict began when a verbal agreement about shared terms for the village chairman was not honored by one of the parties.

Several years ago, the village officials entered into a gentleman’s agreement on shared leadership in the village.

However, as elections approached, the incumbent refused to step down due to a misunderstanding of the tenure terms, leading to the armed conflict.

Mendoza has led a team to South Upi to provide relief aid and psychosocial and medical services to displaced families.

Saliling, for her part, said they were grateful for the relief aid but stressed, “What we truly desire is a peaceful home.” –

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