Who are out to kill the Subanen chiefs? | Inquirer Opinion
Human Face

Who are out to kill the Subanen chiefs?

/ 12:58 AM September 13, 2012

Last Sept. 4, Timuay Lucenio Manda, a Subanen chieftain and environmental defender, and his 11-year-old son Jordan were ambushed by armed men. Jordan died instantly. Manda sustained wounds. The ambush happened on a road between Conacon and Bubuan in Bayog, Zamboanga Peninsula, in Mindanao.

Last July, Subanen Timuay Barlie Balives and his son Gerry were killed at their home in Duilec, a remote rural area about four hours away by foot from the town of Midsalip, also in the Zamboanga Peninsula.


Manda and Balives hold/held the Timuay title that means “chief.” Both are/were defenders of their ancestral domain against the intrusion of destroyers of their natural habitat.

The Subanen are an indigenous group native to the Zamboanga Peninsula. The name means “river people” and comes from the word  suba (river). The Subanen, who wear beautiful native costumes, used to dwell near rivers until the intrusion of Muslim groups and settlers from other places. They have since moved to hillsides and mountains.


The bad news is that these indigenous people (IP) who once freely roamed the vastness of Mindanao are under siege. Their vocal leaders are under threat of extermination.

The National Secretariat of Social Action-Justice and Peace of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (Nassa-CBCP) has issued a statement (“Stop Attacking Environmental Defenders” dated Sept. 7, 2012) condemning the attack on Manda, whom the bishops described as a strong antimining advocate. They likened Manda to other “environmental defenders who offered their lives to protect Mother Earth, [and thus the attacks] merit the immediate action of the national government, to stop further violence and impunity, especially in areas where the environment is under threat by exploitative and environmentally destructive operations which are insensitive to people’s rights.”

The killing of Barlie and Gerry Balives preceded the attack on the Mandas. The Columban missionaries, who work among the Subanen, said father and son “were horribly mutilated in what appears to be a ritualistic killing reminiscent of the 1980s when fanatical groups roamed and controlled areas of Mindanao and terrorized the local population.”

London-based Fr. Frank Nally, who had worked in the Midsalip parish, said the killings had “shocked” not only the local people but also the Columban priests and sisters who work with the Subanen. “[They] have noticed a slide toward the rule of law being abandoned in the countryside. There is no security or rule of law now as their lives are ruined by outsiders after the [discovery of] minerals, iron-ore and gold on their land.”

The attacks on the Mandas and the Balives are slowly establishing a pattern. Who are behind these? What are their motives? The answers may be obvious but there is no assurance that the killings will stop unless the authorities will show enough teeth. (A recent Inquirer.net report said the suspects had been identified.)

Nassa-CBCP said Timuay Manda had questioned the entry of logging and mining operations without the Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) required by law. “He led his fellow IPs in neighboring ancestral domains in calling for a moratorium on all forms of mining until they get their official ancestral domain claims; and together with local Catholic bishops and concerned groups, he joined filing a petition for the Writ of Kalikasan in protection of the Pinukis Range Forest, which is now included in mining claims of several companies.”

The petition is aimed at protecting their sacred mountain and watershed of three major rice-growing areas in the peninsula that produces 30 percent of the rice in the region. It is disheartening that the area has been opened to exploitation, Nassa-CBCP said. “There are eight mining permit applications, three approved Mining Production Sharing Agreements, one approved Exploration Permit and many small-scale mining operations. More so, those who protect the area, like Timuay Manda and his supporters, have been receiving threats in the past three years for their opposition to destructive mining industries.”


According to Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM), Timuay Manda has been leading his tribe in claiming and protecting their ancestral domain in the last 10 years after his cousin, Timuay Giovanni Umban, was assassinated in 2002. The cousins questioned the entry of logging and mining in their ancestral domain without the FPIC, ATM said.

It said that early last month, Manda led a group of Timuays from Bayog and neighboring ancestral domains in calling for a moratorium on all forms of mining until they could get their Certificate of Ancestral Domian Title and Ancestral Domain Sustainable Development and Protection Plan. This effort was supported by the local office of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples.

Manda is also leading efforts to strengthen and unify the Subanen in Central Zamboanga Peninsula in order to protect and claim their remaining contiguous ancestral domain. He is gathering other Timuays from Sindangan, Bacungan, Siayan and Godod of Zamboanga del Norte and from Lakewood and Kumalarang in Zamboanga del Sur.

ATM said Manda had been grooming Jordan, his eldest son, to be a Timuay. Jordan’s mother Delma is devastated. The boy was in the top five of his fourth-grade class in Bubuan Elementary School. He often attended the meetings of the elders and was interested in his people’s history. He was a favorite of his 70-year-old grandmother, a knowledgeable keeper of the tribe’s history, music, arts and genealogy.

The death of this once future Timuay will not be in vain.

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