About two years ago, Rodrigo Duterte was seen as the savior of the “lumad.” A son of Mindanao, the former mayor of Davao City presented himself as having a natural affinity for the indigenous peoples of his home region.
As a presidential candidate, he intoned the right words about protecting them and returning them to their homes at a time when entire lumad communities were being displaced and under siege.
This was in the homestretch of the administration of President Benigno Aquino III, when intensified military operations in certain places in Mindanao not only drove thousands of lumad families to seek safety in evacuation centers in Surigao and Davao, but even led to the killing of lumad leaders such as Emerito Samarca, Dionel Campos and Datu Bello Sinzo.
When Mr. Duterte was elected president, many lumad evacuees heaved a sigh of relief.
“We are very happy that he will be our next president. We can now think about going home and start planning how to rebuild our lives,” tribal leader Datu Kaylo Bontulan was quoted in a May 2016 report in this paper.
Bontulan was one of several hundred lumad evacuees then living in makeshift tents in a church compound in Davao City.
After Mr. Duterte delivered his first State of the Nation Address in July 2016, tribal leaders met with him and were given assurances that they could now resume their lives without fear.
“The President told us to trust him. Our people, he said, can now return to their villages,” said Kerlan Fanagel, chair of the Pasaka Lumad Confederation.
What great shock and bitter disappointment the lumad must have felt to hear Mr. Duterte, just a year later after his second State of the Nation Address, turning against a people whose historic grievances he had vowed to address.
This time, the President only had the most disturbing words for them — no less than a threat to bomb lumad community schools because they were supposed hotbeds of student subversion: “Umalis kayo diyan. Sabihin ko diyan sa mga lumad ngayon, umalis kayo diyan. Bobombahan ko ’yan. Isali ko ’yang mga istruktura ninyo. (Get out. I’m telling the lumad now, get out. I’ll bomb you and your structures.) Because you are operating illegally and you are teaching the children to rebel against government.”
The animosity that developed in the President’s mind toward the lumad appears to have become rapidly all-consuming, paralleling the complete breakdown in his relations with the communist rebels with whom he was once chummy and prepared to talk peace.
His latest remarks on the lumad involved the notion of turning their ancestral domain over to developers and investors that he himself would choose, to alleviate the chronic poverty that, he claimed, made these communities easy fodder for rebel recruitment.
Or, as presidential spokesperson Harry Roque put it, “If the number of jobs increases in lumad communities, the [communist New People’s Army’s] influence over them would wane.”
The simplistic, reductive nature of this argument — that allowing the entry of plantations and mining operations into deeply held ancestral lands would uplift the lives of native peoples therein — is not borne out by the experiences of other regions in the country, where massive displacement and other social ills have happened instead.
Candidate Duterte said so himself once upon a time: “The problem with big mining companies is they are destroying our land.” And also: “We have given so much to the multinationals, pineapple, banana [plantations], and it is a corporate endeavor … Wala na tayong matamnan para sa atong pagkaon (We no longer have land for food production.)”
Pasaka’s Fanagel now denounces Mr. Duterte’s plan for the lumad as “a total sellout and for the good of corporations only. Where will the lumad go?”