With little more than skin and bones to call their own, some makeshift schools for their children, and a patch of forest as source of food, the lumads of Mindanao have been the target of militarization and continuing displacement since anyone can remember.
Decades of militarization and paramilitary armed offensives in the area have forced this indigenous people’s families away from their homes, the comfort and protection of the tribe, to say little of the murders their leaders have suffered through the years.
Their makeshift schools, a haven of learning for their children, have been turned into military barracks, forcing the Manobo children to either stop schooling altogether or leave their villages.
The militarization is such that every Manobo is in danger of being tagged as either a member of the New People’s Army or a sympathizer thereof, putting them all in harm’s way.
In fact, stories of being fired at by paramilitary units while spending time harvesting root crops or as they foraged for food in the forest has been rampant. Harassment and acts of intimidation are commonplace, leaving them no choice but to scamper for safety.
The ensuing exodus takes them four to five hours through rough terrain and cold dark forests until they reach the city’s safe zones.
Oftentimes, the IPS are forced by circumstances out of their villages in the middle of the night to avoid being arrested or killed. An account in 2014 by Datu Gumbil Mansimuy, a member of a Manobo tribal organization in Davao del Norte, pointed to intense interrogation by military and paramilitary troops of both children, their parents, and teachers. The IPs were on their way to gather needed food for their school graduation rites.
Captain Raphael Marcelino, spokesperson of the military’s 1003rd Brigade denied the allegations, saying the Manobos were afraid of the presence of NPA rebels who chose the area as their new camping grounds after the onslaught of Typhoon Pablo (https://www.rappler.com/nation/54641-peace-manobo-tribe-npa-afp).
A year later, in 2015, Al Jazeera reported of another exodus, this time of 3,000 lumad from Northern Mindanao.
“On the early dawn of September 1, the Manobo Lumad tribe, in one village in northern Mindanao, were rounded up by the paramilitary group Magahat-Bagani.
“Dionel Campos and Jovillo Sinzo, leaders of the community, were beaten, then shot at close range by the armed group in front of the hundreds of residents.
“As the armed group left, residents also found Emerito Samarca, head of the local tribal school, hog-tied inside his classroom, with stab wounds and his throat slit from ear to ear. His school provided basic and technical education to tribal children rarely reached by the government.
“The murders sparked an exodus of about 3,000 Lumads, who escaped to the provincial capital of Tandag taking barely anything with them” (https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/inpictures/2015/09/displaced-lumads-mindanao-150929074732377.html).
Again, the military had denied the allegations by pointing to “ongoing tribal wars” as the reason for the exodus.
Mining in the region has been strongly pointed out in the past as the ultimate reason for the ongoing harassment of the indigenous peoples of Mindanao. In fact, Davao Today, in early 2014, had reported on a high-level forum where Norma Capuyan, leader of the Tagabawa-Bagobo tribe of North Cotabato, and as a representative of Lumad organizations particularly from Mindanao which has 18 ethnolinguistic tribes, will be joining to raise the issue of militarization.
According to a report by Tyrone Velez, “Capuyan said Kalumaran would raise to the forum the continuing human rights violations committed by the military against indigenous peoples, and would highlight the case of Talaingod Manobos from Davao del Norte.
“Capuyan cited particular cases such as the disruption of classes of Lumad schoolchildren and the harassment on an elder lumad woman, Ubunay Batod Manlaon, who was molested, deprived of food and forced to act as a guide for the military for nearly a week.
“’These are particular cases violating the rights of indigenous children and women,’ she said. ‘I will also include the cases of two pregnant women who gave birth during the evacuation. Of course, these cases not only occurred in Talaingod, but also in other places such as in Compostela Valley, Davao del Norte, North Cotabato, Bukidnon and Agusan del Sur’” (http://davaotoday.com/main/human-rights/ip-leader-to-raise-manobo-displacement-issue-in-un-confab/).
The report added: “Special rapporteurs may only investigate cases of UN member countries through invitation of the government. The previous special rapporteur, Rudolph Stavenhagen, visited the Philippines twice in 2002 and 2007 and reported human rights violations of the military against indigenous peoples. He also said the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA), an act proclaiming the indigenous people’s rights, has been offset by conflicitng laws such as the Mining Act.”
Sometime July 18, 2018, another IP exodus took place in Diatagon, Lianga in Surigao del Sur. According to Save Our Schools Caraga, “75th IBPA and PNP forces build up outside the Diatagon, Lianga, Surigao del Sur gym as they threaten to arrest non-Lianga residents who are extending humanitarian support for about 1600 Manobo evacuees who sought sanctuary from military abuses in their communities since July 16. Church people bringing food relief was blocked by military and police from entering the evacuation center since this morning.”
Another account of the evacuation reached the Philippines Graphic newsroom from the friend of a certain Sis. Nicole Garcia of the Order of Benedict (OSB).
According to the account, two military detachments have already been built within and around the IP villages. The evacuation of thousands was prompted by fears of not only harassment, but abuses by military personnel against their women—married or not.
In the fields where the IPs till and harvest the root crops, most men bring along their whole families in order to stay any attempt at harassment and abuse. “If caught in the fields, the IPs are tagged, and then later arrested, as NPA guerillas”.
“Negotiations are underway as priests and local government officials lend a hand. It is, however, unfortunate that calamity funds cannot be used to help the IPs because there was ‘no natural calamity’ that happened. The IPs trip to the gym, which took them hours, was hindered for the most part by rough terrain and police and military ‘checkpoints’ involving trucks parked in the middle of the road. Eventually, they reached the gym, which was opened through the help of the officials there.”
The latest reports on social media indicated that food coming from church organizations is being denied the IPs. Critics have also raised how poorly the evacuation centers are run.
The 2017 Resettlement and Indigenous People’s Framework, which was set to build “improvements” of growth corridors in Mindanao, have raised questions as to the viability of the project or any project being put together, which, in its estimation, could have social impacts on indigenous people’s lands and property.
According to the paper, “The project will require land acquisition that triggers physical and economic displacement in areas where indigenous peoples (IPs) abound. It is foreseen that the project will result to permanent loss of land along the 30m road right of way (RROW), permanent damage to structures, crops and trees as well as temporary loss or disruption of land use or other assets during construction works” (https://www.adb.org/sites/default/files/linked-documents/41076-048-remdfab.pdf).
While relocation assistance, compensation and entitlements, as well as livelihood restoration and grievance redress form the part of the “improvement” projects, it is an open secret that all this are only good on paper based on how the IPs are being treated then and today.
Children have the most to lose during displacement, particularly in the area of education, health, and security. All over the world, approximately 65 million people have been displaced due to militarization and conflict, 50 million of whom are children, according to UNICEF. According to CNN, about 28 million have become child refugees and migrants (https://edition.cnn.com/2016/09/07/world/unicef-report-on-child-refugees-and-migrants/index.html).
Refugee culture: nowhere is this more poignant than in conflict areas. Hundreds of thousands of our IPs in Mindanao have been coping with intense militarization for years. This begs the question: when will all this stop?
Ethnocide (the persecution of our IPs) will remain a social crisis in this country for as long as our government, hand in hand with logging and mining companies, hanker for gold-rich ancestral lands in Mindanao. G—with reports from the field