Getting at the root of the lumad tragedies

November 3, 2015

The recent Lakbay Lakad of the lumads whoever might be behind the mobilization, calls attention to the tragic situation of the original settlers of these islands that we now call the Philippines.

The killings in Surigao and elsewhere are merely symptoms of the terrible mess that has befallen our brothers and sisters who have since the start of the Spanish era, and continuing on to the American colonial period, and all the way to this day have been the most deprived among our people. Their culture and civilization are rapidly disappearing with the raping of the forests where they hunted and gathered for their sustenance.

The lumads or IPs (indigenous people) are experts at nurturing these forests and natural resources, which they value and cherish as the sources of their food, shelter, clothing, and herbal medicine. As they are driven away from their habitats, sometimes with their own naïve consent, miners and big plantation investors are taking over the land that they had lived in and nurtured for generations. The health and sustainability of our environment is thus also disadvantaged.

The IPRA (Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act) which then Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretaries Fulgencio S. Factoran, Jr. and Victor O. Ramos had worked on with the late Senator Juan M. Flavier had been intended to protect the IPs rights to their ancestral domain. The proposal was to formally award them stewardship over the forests that they had nurtured because Mssrs. Factoran and Ramos believed that the IPs would be the best stewards for the forests.

However, because of horse-trading in the legislature the IPRA ended up giving tribal leaders titles to the ancestral domains. This, along with authorities given to local government units for clearance to utilize their domains for mining and agribusiness ventures have brought about a complex situation characterized by widespread corruption, with some leading to tribal wars now referred to as Ridos.

The beleaguered New People’s Army (NPA), now retreating to the uplands and competing for space and natural resources with the lumads have complicated the situation. Some military officers or militiamen have also gotten into the act, some rumored to be working on the side for the miners and/or the politicians, and lumping the IPs together with the NPA, or labeling them as such.

The losers in this web of self-interest and corruption are the IPs, many of whom do not know how to operate within “the system” and so, often end up getting used, co-opted, exploited, and abused.

The Department of Justice has vowed to find the culprits in the Surigao killings of lumads, and to bring them to justice. The Commission on Human Rights demands justice and protection for the rights of the lumads. However, this barely scratches the surface of a problem that is deep and vast in its causes and consequences.

It is heartening to note the attention that is being given now to the culture of our lumads. The awesome arts and crafts in gold of the tribal kingdoms dug up in old Butuan are on exhibit at the Asian Society Foundation Center in New York City, no less. Senator Lorna Regina “Loren” B. Legarda has launched her TV series on Dayaw featuring arts and crafts of the lumads.

More and more, we are witnessing a kind of renaissance of appreciation for the rich and sophisticated culture of our forefathers, which otherwise might disappear so that we are left with nothing except tarnished hybrids, often appallingly tasteless approximations of Spanish and American colonial civilizations.

Once, on a research assignment, I took a pick-up with huge tires up a mountain through the tall cogon grasses in Esperanza, Agusan del Sur and came upon a small community of Mamanwas, indigenous people who to me, looked liked Haile Selassie of Ethiopia. Even through their dark, grayish skins you could see that they were undernourished and pale. Some had swollen legs from what was clearly Kwashiorkor. They squatted on the ground with trepidation and only the women moved slowly toward me. Since I speak Cebuano, and they spoke a kind of Surigao dialect of Cebuano that I could understand, we managed to communicate. Their history, they said, was recorded and shared in songs from generation to generation.

Based on their songs, they had come from far away and arrived in our islands by boat. As the new settlers came, they were driven upwards and into the mountains. As the mountains became denuded by the foresters, they became deprived even of water and food. They were the most deprived and miserable of all the people I have ever seen. Because they had no water up in the denuded mountains, they smelled bad, and so were shunned by the lowlanders, they said. And so their children could not go down to the lowlands where the schools were; so they were ignorant and could not get jobs or make a living in the lowlands. It was a depressing encounter. After all, these Mamanwas are our people too.

On the other hand, I once witnessed T’bolis in Lake Sebu in South Cotabato perform some of their ritual dances, notably a flirtation and seduction dance which was elegant and awesomely beautiful. There is so much we can learn if we go back to our roots.

Fortunately many heroic nongovernment organizations have been active in helping the IPs, and have set up alternative learning centers which give respect to their rich indigenous cultures. The objective of the indigenous learning teachers I have met is to enable the IPs to survive in the modern world by enabling them to read, to write and to count. The Assisi Foundation headed by Ambassador Howard Q. Dee has been one of the pioneers in this effort. There is so much more to be done.

Perhaps in a summit conference, sooner rather than later, the government and civil society can mobilize the multi-agency and multi-sectoral leaders who can get at the root of the problems and policies that are depriving the lumads of their right to a decent life. The solutions cannot go on being piecemeal. Perhaps the legal frameworks governing their ways of dealing with the rest of the world have to be reviewed. But the main stakeholders in the review and replanning of policy have to be the lumads, our original Filipinos. They must no longer continue to be victims suffering consequences of economic and national security policies. Somewhere in the hearts of our indigenous peoples could be our soul.

Source: Business World Online