Conflicting narratives re IP evacuees
I WRITE prompted in part by Perry R. Valdez’s letter (“Free the IPs from leftists; let DSWD, NCIP take care of them,” Opinion, 8/4/15) decrying the unhealthy and prison-like living conditions of indigenous people (Lumad) at the UCCP (United Church of Christ in the Philippines) Haran compound in Davao City. Valdez demanded that the proper government agencies handle their evacuation and not “leftist organizations” advancing their “agenda.”
A recent visit to Davao City provided parts of the narrative underplayed or unreported by mainstream media, in particular, the suicide by hanging in February of Lito Lundia, a Langilan-Manobo of Bukidnon, who suffered depression after nearly three weeks of enforced stay at Haran. A few months later, his wife followed suit, overcome by grief and overwhelmed by the burden of raising four small children alone. (“Mourning of Mornings,” a video documentary produced by a Lumad NGO based in Tagum City, carries eloquent testimonies of Lundia’s kin and wife.)
Is the human drama at Haran, now playing for six months, a jigsaw puzzle many pieces of which do not fit? Put differently, is it a confluence of conflicting narratives in a worst case of “he said-she said,” along political and ideological divides that do not allow common ground?
Some facts are indisputable: Early this year several hundred Lumad congregated at UCCP Haran and 700 remain there to this day. Why? The “leftist organizations” Valdez adverts to claim they are victims of militarization. But Langilan-Manobo, in affidavits, say a local (New People’s Army) commander promised they would be gone only three days during which time they would have an audience with President Aquino, Rep. Manny Pacquiao and Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, as well as representatives of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine National Police in Davao City. They would also get sacks of rice, groceries, kitchen and farming tools. They were to demand a stop to military operations and that the NPA would govern their community.
Subsequently the narratives diverge. The affidavits speak of enforced captivity under lock-and-key at Haran with regular lectures by “leftist” personalities, cramped conditions and joining antigovernment rallies. Their mobile phones are confiscated, and at least one instance of enforced labor (two days of cutting bamboos) is cited. Meanwhile mainstream media report on a recent “assault” by the police on Haran while a Mindanao congresswoman is said to have spoken ill of the Lumad. (She says the videotape was spliced to distort her words.)
The latest news is that the Lumad will leave Haran on Aug. 12, but not before a nine-day visit starting Aug. 2 of an International Solidarity Mission, lending credence to reports from other quarters that the Lumad are conveniently used for fund-raising.
Let me end with four points:
First, “haran” means mountain or hill in Hebrew. These images resonate in the Psalms and prophetic literature (“I will lift up my eyes unto the hills,” “The mountains shall clap their hands with joy”) as sources of succor and places of refuge and rejoicing. It is ironic that UCCP Haran has meant half a year of captivity for the Lumad.
Second, the time-honored Christian concept of sanctuary (a haven for the oppressed) has been invoked to justify the prolonged housing of the Lumad in church premises. But is captivity sanctuary? Are cramped conditions sanctuary? Why did Lito Lundia take his own life after 20 days in the sanctuary that was Haran?
And then there is the matter of false witness. True, there is militarization in the uplands that the Lumad call home. True, they have suffered from neglect and marginalization, as do majority of our fellowmen and women. But wholesale condemnation of government and drowning out dissenting Lumad voices (such as Lito Lundia who in death gives the lie to the Left’s narrative) will not serve the ends of truth, justice and enduring peace.
Unrelenting propaganda and agitation are forms of bearing false witness. The challenge is to “speak the truth in love,” painful, yes, but also cleansing and healing. Half-truths and shortcuts are costlier.
Finally, we are not playing a game of demonizing one side and sacralizing another. Reality is more complicated than that. And the gospel challenge of “making all things new” is infinitely more daunting, but it is also refreshing and life-giving. Let us not make hapless groups fit our ideological constructs and our political agendas, whether Left or Right. Call it a cliché but I believe with all my heart and soul that the truth shall set us free.
Jurgette A. Honculada says she is a third-generation UCCP member who hails from Agusan del Norte, studied at Silliman University, worked in Zamboanga peninsula and Basilan, and is currently based in Quezon City. She has been variously involved in trade unionism and in women’s and peace movements.
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