Kris-Crossing Mindanao

Where do the ‘lumad’ lie in the BBL?

IT WAS Philippine history scholar William Henry Scott who titillated us with an astounding proposition on the indigenous peoples of the Philippines. Scott narrated how, in one history conference, a young indigenous Filipino woman began by putting forth the predicate that they were not “cultural minorities” before colonial rule.

Scott was, of course, highlighting the painful but often negated reality in history where a people undergo minoritization, a cultural and sociopolitical process most often imposed by a Europeanized majority, as in the case of the Philippines.


Perhaps one look at where our indigenous peoples are now—as colorful showcases in touristic festivals otherwise contrived to make it appear “traditional”—should tell us if Scott’s process of minoritization is still ongoing. A few years ago in an anthropology class, I asked each of my students to introduce themselves by way of their ethnolinguistic roots and identity. At the end of the class, three girls who sat at the back approached me to say sheepishly who they were. “We are actually Higaunon, but we cannot reveal that because of fear of becoming laughingstocks by classmates.”

Being a cultural minority is a stigma because the process itself of minoritizing sidelines the indigenous people’s participation in a society, where a domineering majority dictates the norms.


The minoritization of indigenous peoples should be very much in our minds when we make judgments of the Bangsamoro Basic Law. As we write, issues of constitutionality may have already been addressed, but not those of minoritization. We never tire of crying for the inclusion of all stakeholders. Common sense alone should tell us what dire consequences for Mindanao exclusion will result into.

How does the BBL see the indigenous peoples who exist within the proposed Bangsamoro territory? There is actually a prescription in the section on Bangsamoro Identity. “Bangsamoro People” is defined as “Those who at the time of conquest and colonization were considered natives or original inhabitants of Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago and its adjacent islands including Palawan, and their descendants, whether of mixed or of full blood, shall have the right to identify themselves as Bangsamoro by ascription or self-ascription.”

Notice right away the sweeping manner by which it calls everyone Bangsamoro. The phrase “natives or original inhabitants,” as we very well know, also includes the non-Islamized indigenous groups in the proposed zone, such as the Teduray, B’laan, the various groups in the Manobo family of language speakers, as well as the animistic and sea nomadic SamaDilaut of the Sinama family of speakers (not all of whom were Islamized as the SamaBalangingi and the JamaMapun). To label them now under one collective cultural identity as Bangsamoro is an insult to their own particular identities and history. It is in fact a proposition dangerous to these ethnolinguistic groups.

Section 2 of the same section, however, states: “The freedom of choice of other indigenous peoples shall be respected.” In other words, by right of self-ascription, an indigenous group can opt NOT to be identified as Bangsamoro. But that should give rise to a tricky predicament—how will those who opt not to be so fare under a Bangsamoro-dominated governance? The possibilities can be frightening for Mindanao’s lumad.

A couple of decades ago, leaders of the numerous ethnolinguistic groups of Mindanao conferred among themselves and, again rightly so by right of self-ascription, to collectively refer to themselves as “lumad” (“natives”).

But the worst is yet to come. There actually is an unseen and unstated intention that once the Bangsamoro is in place, the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act or Ipra, the law that governs, among other things, the delineation and award of ancestral domains of the indigenous peoples, will be suspended in the Bangsamoro. And to take its place will be a law enacted by the Bangsamoro parliament.

If one is a lumad, what need can there be for him/her to undergo again a new process of claiming ancestral domain if such a system has already been put in place by national legislation? Many lumad communities of Mindanao now enjoy the benefits of their certificates of ancestral domain title. Is there truly a need to ask again how these ancestral titles will be recognized in the Bangsamoro region? I ask not as a lawyer but as a Mindanao anthropologist.


Further minoritization of Mindanao’s lumad is something we must resist in behalf of our indigenous peoples. Minoritization must stop. For isn’t the Aquino administration guilty of minoritizing? When it does not prosecute erring Cabinet members but fires only those who do not belong to its ilk, a symptom of exclusion, and thus of minoritization?

Including a father-in-law of a presidential sister and a brother-in-law of a Cabinet official in the peace process through the hilarious (no pun intended) “peace council” is a practice indicative not of inclusion but of exclusion. It is very easy to see that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. To be gung-ho on insisting to pass the BBL hook, line and sinker is not necessarily synonymous with Mindanao peace. Let’s not blur the facts.

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