For a week now, UP Diliman has been hosting some 3,000 visiting scholars lecturing and interacting with students in their areas of expertise: history, anthropology, political science, the arts, literature, even engineering and architecture.
But they are a different breed of scholars—not holders of academic degrees (some have never even been in formal schools), yet steeped in wisdom acquired from facing challenge and adversity in life. Listening to them, many of whom are even more articulate and eloquent than some of our faculty members, I wondered what it would have been like if they did go through formal schooling, and got the degrees to append to their names.
The “Lakbayan ng mga Pambansang Minorya,” a caravan of national minorities, is unprecedented. Never in our history has there been such a gathering of so many delegates, from throughout the country: Cagayan Valley, the Cordillera, Central Luzon, Southern Luzon (including Mindoro), Panay Island, and the breadth of Mindanao. There was an assembly last weekend that formally convened Sandugo, a nationwide alliance of national minorities.
“National minorities” was the generic term chosen but the visitors had varying ways of calling themselves: Igorot (a generic term for many groups in the Cordillera), Aeta (actually various linguistic groups, stretching from Isabela down to Panay), lumad (for indigenous peoples from Mindanao), and Moro. “Katutubong Pilipino” is a favored term, but “pambansang minorya” and an abbreviated “natmin” are coming into use.
The Diliman campus has come alive with sounds of ganza (gongs) and kudyapi (a string instrument), and women and men in colorful ethnic clothing. Security guards and janitors have come up to me with stories of what they learned from the visitors. I’d smile whenever the staff said, “Ang bait pala nila”—“bait” here not so much “kind” as “gentle,” so different from the stereotype of “natives”—that popular term for national minorities—as warlike.
I thought, too, of how “bait” is sometimes used as the opposite of “salbahe” (derived from the Spanish “salvaje,” or savage. After the Spain colonization, the Christianized natives were the bait ones and those who resisted were, well, the salvajes.
Our sense of being Filipino can never be complete without the natmin. Last Wednesday Marvin, a Dumagat from nearby Antipolo, spoke at one of my classes on how their very name refers to their origins as people of the sea. Now they have pushed into the Sierra Madre, which they do love, and have vowed to defend as ancestral land, but there was also a sense of nostalgia in his voice, for another ancestral land that his generation, maybe even his grandfather’s generation, had never seen.
We are all like the Dumagat—somewhat lost, not quite sure who we are. We now wander the world, a people in diaspora. We long for a past that is glamorized through television, unaware that we can find our roots with our national minorities, and work toward building a common future.
The visitors came to Manila largely at their own expense. They prepare their food and buy additional personal items from sari-sari stores in our communities. UP Diliman tries to help with their daily needs, with generous donors pitching in (for example, the Community Chest provided 3,000 kits with toiletries).
But Bai Bibyaon, a revered 90-year-old lumad leader, said she was missing tobacco, as in raw tobacco leaves. I am fiercely anti-smoking, but I could not say no to Bai Bibyaon, who has become like a grandmother to me. I sent people to look in our sari-sari stores, and they returned empty-handed. Not even Bataang Matamis (a brand of unfiltered cigarettes)? I asked. No luck.
One of my Muslim students volunteered to find the leaves in Culiat, a nearby barangay.
I have apologized many times to the visitors for the accommodations, which we had promised to handle. Together with advance natmin parties, our architecture and engineering faculty and students had built a “Kampuhan” (camp)—a learning experience in itself. The structures were fine, but the rains came and converted the Kampuhan into a “kangkungan” (a water spinach farm, meaning very watery). We had to lodge our visitors in various auditoriums, but some of them chose to stay in the well ventilated Kampuhan.
When night falls I worry about the rains, but am also comforted knowing that UP’s security forces, and the barangay tanod, are all on alert. I’ve told many of our visitors that at least they will have a few days of respite from the tense situations back in their homes. You are safe here in Manila, I assure them.
It has been a hectic week that included “engagements”—small groups going out to publicize the natmin’s problems of losing their lands to mining and large business concerns, military operations, and outright killings. The engagements have brought them to as far as Makati, where mining firms have their offices, and to many government offices in Quezon City. They’ve gone to Congress as well, and observed a budget hearing.
On Wednesday they went to “engage” the US Embassy; after all, many of the companies that have displaced them are American. Many, too, live in areas that have seen US-PH military exercises.
Social media is now awash in documentary evidence of what transpired at the protest demonstration. Captured on a GMA-7 tape was ground commander Marcelino Pedroso Jr. practically goading his policemen to make arrests, complete with an expletive and then: “Ano bang mukhang maihaharap natin sa US Embassy?” He felt the police were losing face with the embassy people.
Shortly after, even as the ralliers were wrapping up their activity, a police van mowed into the crowd, forward, backward, forward, backward. The driver, PO3 Franklin Kho, was caught later in another video moving toward a jeepney transporting the ralliers and grabbing a woman’s hair. His face appeared on the camera, full of rage and hate, as he spotted, and tried to attack, the videographer.
After the police van’s rampage came tear gas, truncheoning, arrests. A total of 31 ralliers had to be taken to hospital, and even then the police tried to block the transport of the injured, even detaining the attending medical workers.
I was at a press conference yesterday which ended with Pia Macliing Malayao, a Sandugo convener and a victim of the police attacks, emotionally describing what had happened, as other natmin visitors wept. She talked about how she woke up early in the morning in a hospital, still hearing the van’s engine and the dull thud of tires running over bodies.
The national minorities are UP’s guests, so I cannot but feel UP was assaulted, too. And because UP is the national university, the assault, the betrayal, is against the nation as well. I also cannot help but think: Would we have witnessed such an affront if it had not been the US Embassy being defended, and if the ralliers were not national minorities?
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