The Lumad's long years of languishing for land and life
In the city, our close encounters with indigenous tribes happen only in exhibits or cultural shows when we appreciate their songs, dances, epic tales, and textiles weavings - superficial knowledge that should now be replaced by our empathy for the true sentiments of our brothers whose elders, tribal leaders, and datus have been brutally killed in full view of their families and communities. (TIMELINE: Attacks on the Lumad of Mindanao)
The living witnesses courageously share their tragic stories, starting August this year. Thus far, under the Aquino administration, 52 Lumads have been murdered. According to their relatives, it’s our very own protectors of the nation, the military, who are responsible for these unspeakable killings.
There are about 100 to 110 tribal groups from the northern to southern Philippines, with a population of about 14 million.
The bigger groups are the Aetas of Zambales, the Mangyans of Mindoro and Palawan, the Igorots of Mountain Province, the Caraballos, the Dumagats of Southern Tagalog, the Atis and Tumandaks. Then, there are the smaller tribes such as the Badjaos, T’bolis, and Manobos of Mindanao.
There is also the emergence of the “Bago” tribe, Ilocano Christians from the lowlands, and ethnic mountain tribes – the Kankaneys, Igorots and Tingguians – who have settled in the Sugpon mountains of Ilocos Sur.
All of them have preserved their traditional cultures and livelihood, seemingly undisturbed by the centuries of colonial rule, and continue to be unaware of modernity until today.
Pia Macliing Malayao, a Bontoc Igorot from the Mountain Province and Secretary General of the Katribu Kalipunan ng Mga Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas, said that the indigenous tribes’ strategy for escaping the colonizers was to keep receding to the hinterlands, to the interior vastnesses of their forests, and not to stay steadfast in the coastlines. That way, they knew that the foreign colonizers would cease pursuing them.
All these tribes have a deep and special connection to their lands.
No single individual has a title to the land they till for their livelihood. They consider ownership of this as a collective, as belonging to the entire community, with the present generation as mere stewards of the soil. A very biblical outlook - the idea of the Torrens Title System never reached their culture.
These days, however, the many years of languish and oppression are being made known to us through the help of the religious groups who volunteer in educating the tribal children. They have also helped evacuate the victimized communities to safer ground like in Tandag City, Bukidnon.
Some Lumad leaders are now being taken cared of by some bishops and by the nuns of the Religious of The Virgin Mary, St Paul College University.
Malayao bemoans the fact that even in textbooks that have been used in our educational system, their peoples are being described stereotypically as short (pandak), dark-skinned, kinky-haired, with thick lips, and flat wide noses (sarat). That they have to be compelled to do their rituals or sing and dance for tourists — much like Edward Said’s Orientalism — so they could earn their keep.
However, multi-awarded economics and social sciences teacher Ruby Denofra assures Malayao that this is being rectified now and that understanding the indigenous people’s (IP) culture and welfare are now being emphasized in the curriculum.
The deeper, graver wounds inflicted on our indigenous brothers are caused by the oppression on them since the passing of the Mining Act of 1995. But the national oppression against them have been felt way back in the Marcos regime, especially in the 1980s.
When mines, dams, and plantations were established, IPs were shoved away from their lands. Their farming areas are ruined; health and skin diseases are borne; and the soil that used to give them life and crops deteriorated.
In one barangay, an entire schoolhouse submerged because the soil it stood on crumbled softly like cookies.
A Lumad's story
Pakibato District, probably the pinnacle area of Davao, overlooks the entire province. It is so beautiful that travellers attest that they can almost touch the heavens when they visit.
Pakibato is where Aida hails from. In between sobs and unceasing tears, she narrates how she witnessed her own uncle being murdered by the military. Trumped up charges are now being filed against her to say that she and a datu have also been responsible for killings in their area and human trafficking.
This remote area in Davao, though beautiful, has not been reached by the government’s social services. There are no schools, doctors, or hospitals.
Through their own efforts and the volunteer missionaries and teachers — who go there to teach English, Math, basic agriculture and other subjects — they were able to put up an elementary school. In 2004, they built a specialized high school, guided by the tenets of the alternative learning system, with the men doing the carpentry work, and the women and children gathering wood from the trees.
Aida’s house has been pockmarked with bullets. Her husband and children have been evacuated, without any belongings left. Aida is with the nuns now in Quezon City, with only 6 pieces of clothing that get her by every week.
At nights, she’s sleepless as she vividly recounts the very bloody scenes of the murders she has seen up close.
Other houses in the beautiful Pakibato district have been turned into barracks by the military. Their presence is very visible in Mindanao.
More IPs will traverse the rugged terrains and rivers and seas to journey to Manila on foot, if need be. Maybe through some generous souls, some of they may board some transport vehicles.
Some 700 of them are expected to arrive on October 26. They will stay here until November 19, a special APEC Summit no-work holiday.
If our own government is welcoming the Syrian Refugees with welcoming and open arms and hearts, it should do the same for our tribal families. Their tragic fate and stories have to be honored and retold many times over until a concrete solution is reached and peace prevails. – Rappler.com
Yolanda L. Punsalan is the long-time executive secretary to the chairman/president of the Reliance Group of Companies. She is willing to devote time for advocacies such as environmental issues, women’s and children's rights.