Dispossessing the ‘lumad’

/ 05:14 AM July 21, 2018

Things appeared to be looking up for the lumad, the indigenous tribes of Mindanao, when then Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte won the 2016 presidential race. The tough-talking fellow Mindanaoan had campaigned on the promise of protecting and helping the lumad get back to their communities by disbanding the paramilitary forces that have hounded and chased them off their land.

Two years later, hundreds of lumad families continue to languish in tent shelters and evacuation centers, suffering illness and diseases and making do with the lack of privacy, and the distance that has kept their children away from school and their elders from cultivating their crops and tending to their livestock.


In fact, on Monday, July 16, some 328 lumad families, or 1,607 individuals, again fled their homes in 23 sitios in Barangay Diatagon in Surigao del Sur because of the heavy presence of soldiers in the area. Dragging along their livestock and bundling their children with their belongings, the families walked down mountain paths for eight hours to reach the gymnasium in Lianga where they temporarily sought refuge.

Among those who fled the area were 568 students and 48 teachers from eight community schools of the Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur (TRIFPSS) and the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (Alcadev). The two groups run schools for lumad communities in what the Department of Education calls “geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas,” where DepEd schools have yet to be built.


Government troops, however, regard the two privately-run schools as a recruitment platform for communist rebels. On Sept. 1, 2015, Alcadev’s executive director Emerito Samarca was executed by a paramilitary group inside the classroom. Later that same day, armed men shot to death community leaders Dionel Campos and Jovillo Sinzo before a lumad group the men had rounded up.

The military—members of the 75th Infantry Battalion who had camped out in the Manobo community for more than a month, according to the human rights group Karapatan—had also threatened to arrest non-Lianga residents extending humanitarian support to the Manobo evacuees. Church people bringing food relief were prevented from entering the evacuation center, said the nuns who had joined the evacuees on their trek. Members of religious congregations have been supporting Alcadev and TRIFPSS with school materials and supplies, as well as footwear for the students.

This was the fourth forced evacuation of the Manobo communities from the Andap Valley complex under the Duterte administration. They had previously fled to shelters in July and November 2017, and in January 2018 after harassment from government soldiers who accused them of supporting rebels in their midst. Addressing the conflict, President Duterte made the startling threat to bomb the lumad schools for supposedly spreading subversive ideas and teaching students to rebel against the government.

But more than insurgency, interest in the lumad ancestral lands seems to be at the center of the conflict, with the lumad and environment groups resisting the idea of hosting mining and logging companies in the area. As the Manobo and their supporters have pointed out, the military appears to be protecting the investors while driving the lumad off their land.

Mr. Duterte announced in a recent speech in Davao City that the lumad were ready to relocate, and that he would choose the investors to be granted access to their ancestral lands. He also vowed to provide P100 million to fund agriculture development in lumad areas. To protests from the lumad, Malacañang said the President’s plan would, in fact, protect the locals from being exploited and influenced by communist rebels, by introducing jobs and reducing poverty in the area.

The idea does not sit well with the lumad, the original settlers in Mindanao, who fear being displaced as investors put up mining companies and plantations on their lands. Who can blame them? At the rate they are being driven away, how long before they are permanently dispossessed of their lands and rendered homeless? And where will they go?

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