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MANILA, Philippines – In the Philippines, the forced transfer of indigenous peoples (IPs) from their ancestral lands goes beyond human rights violations – it reflects the way political families have exerted influence to amass power and engage in land grabbing.
During the November 23 episode of Newsbreak Chats, investigative journalist Raizza Bello said that the issue of displacement of the Teduray in Kusiong, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao, is not only an issue of land loss and human rights violations, but also a common narrative of every marginalized Filipino.
“Iyong kuwento ng mga Teduray sa coastal communities ng Kusiong ay kuwento rin ng ating mangingisda dito sa Luzon… kuwento siya ng bansa natin, ng kawalan ng lupa, lugar, at kawalan ng tahanan,” she said.
(The story of the Teduray in the coastal communities of Kusiong is also the story of our fishermen here in Luzon. It is the story of our country, of the lack of land, space, and the absence of a home.)
Bello also said that the displacements experienced by the Tedurays are not unprecedented and are likewise experienced by other coastal communities in the country, much like those affected by reclamation projects in Manila Bay.
“That is why we should care about these kinds of stories. Kung walang tahanan ang mga tao, wala tayong katotohanan, at kung wala tayong katotohanan, wala tayong maayos na pamumuhay,” she added. (That is why we should pay attention to these stories. If people have no homes, we have no truth, and without truth, we cannot have a decent life.)
Rappler Creatives head Emil Mercado also emphasized the vital role of the media in bringing attention to the Teduray issue and highlighting the significance of exposing both the manipulative tactics used by political families in the region.
“Kadalasan, the same families na ito, kada election, sila rin iyong nakikita at nakikita. Itong mga taong kanilang dini-displace, paglalaruan lang din nila ‘yan bilang kanilang bagong botante. This is a vicious cycle of political dynasty and a deeper problem sa usapin ng lupa sa atin,” he said.
(Often, these same families, every election, are the ones seen and recognized. The people they displaced, they just use them as pawns in their political game, treating them as their new voters. This is a vicious cycle of political dynasties and a deeper problem involving land issues.)
In 2020, the Tedurays were forced to leave their residences in the coastal community of Kusiong. Following severe landslides triggered by Severe Tropical Storm Paeng in October 2022, Teduray residents found themselves buried in mud.
The landslides resulted in the loss of 27 lives, including 11 young Tedurays – from a three-month-old infant to a first-grade student.
Meanwhile, the area where much of the Teduray community once resided has now been transformed into the Cheryl By The Sea Resort, a venture owned by Bai Farisha Lu Sinsuat, a member of one of the Philippines’ long-established political dynasties. She is also the daughter of current DOS Vice Mayor Datu Sajid Sinsuat and Bai Cheryl Sinsuat, the municipality’s acting mayor at the time of the forced relocation.
According to the International Crisis Group, powerful clans in the Bangsamoro pose a major stumbling block to achieving long-term peace in the Filipino-Muslim-dominated region.
“A big obstacle to enduring peace in the Bangsamoro is clan politics: powerful families dominate the region politically and economically. They hold most of the region’s seats in the national congress and control many of its provinces and municipalities,” read part of the report.
Rappler environment editor Jee Geronimo also said that in creating a community free from hazards, it is essential to address the economic conditions of relocation sites for people residing in hazard-prone areas.
“May mga dynamic sa community na tipong inilipat nila iyong mga community to prevent the hazrad pero hindi naman binuild iyong economy around the community. Hindi dapat isolated ang disaster planning sa buong usapin ng economy.”
(Some communities have dynamics where they relocate the community to prevent hazards, but the economy around the community is not developed. Disaster planning should not be isolated from broader economic considerations.)
In July 2023, approximately nine months following the tragic event, the local government handed over 25 substandard housing units to surviving families, as reported by a source involved in post-disaster assessments in Kusiong.
However, despite the passage of a month since the turnover, residents have refrained from relocating to the new shelters, situated just a few meters away from a rugged, wide trail that has transformed into a water passageway in the aftermath of Paeng.
Geronimo also stressed that telling stories about the abuse of power by political clans helps check on power abuses and acts as a deterrent against such tragic occurrences.
“If you let those in power abuse iyong position nila… iyon naman ang role ng journalism, to speak truth to power. So, kung hindi natin isulat iyong mga ganitong story (If you allow those in power to abuse their positions, that’s where journalism comes in, to speak truth to power. So, if we don’t write stories like these), then they can get away with it and when they get away with it, then they can do it again.” – Rappler.com