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A SOJOURNER’S VIEW: While the pandemic claims more victims, the struggles of the Lumads face more setbacks

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 16 August) — Because of its epic impact in terms of millions of infections and thousands of deaths, it is natural that across the globe,  everyone’s worries, attention and concern are  focused on the pandemic. The numbers continue to be staggering to the point where most everyone – except of course the personnel of the World Health Organization –  no longer really follow how the statistics balloon day after day.

Except for the economic crisis and the question of how schools would operate in such a reality, all other issues have taken a backseat. This is rather unfortunate as there are issues that continue to create havoc in the lives of many people.  For us in Mindanao, there are the long-festering issues of peace and order as violent encounters owing to the armed conflicts continue to take place. Resolving the difficulties in the  Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) is naturally, primarily, the responsibility of those behind BARMM while ending the Lumads’ dislocation from their ancestral domains is the State’s responsibility, especially the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples.

Next week, the citizens  of Davao City will again celebrate Kadayawan, although due to the pandemic, all activities are mainly online.  Some of us have had very ambivalent feelings regarding this festival. On one  hand, there is great value in recognizing the eleven tribes of the city and providing them with the space to showcase their cultural heritage and traditions.  The festival is a good reminder for the descendants of Davao City’s migrant settlers that this territory’s original inhabitants were the Lumad and Moro peoples.

And if our lives have turned out to be fine, that we owe this to them considering  that our grandparents/parents who arrived here during the waves of migration were welcomed. And even some of us benefited from the exchange of land which we later titled for ourselves. Today, we can all claim that we are Mindanawons, and not anymore think of ourselves as Cebuanos, Ilonggos, Waray, Tagalogs, Bicolanos or any of the other ethnolinguistic names referring to our ancestors.

But on the other hand, Kadayawan has really not improved the lives of our Lumad peoples. While there are token help provided them, both the national and local government units have failed to alleviate the level of poverty, malnutrition, illiteracy, health needs and other urgent problems they have faced through these years. In our everyday lives, they are not within the frame of our gaze so we practically ignore them as they struggle to hold on to their ancestral lands or survive in the city by begging in the streets.

Thus, while the pandemic rages,  this is the opportune time to once more reflect  on what is happening to our Lumad communities, not just within the city but across the region.  There is one issue affecting Lumad communities that we should pay more attention to.  Unfortunately, there has been very little coverage of this issue in both mass and social media .

Indigenous Peoples gather for a ritual to celebrate the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in September 2007 at the peak of Mt. Balalaen in Mompong, Datu Odin Sinsuat in Maguindanao, one of the historic sacred mountains for the Tedurays, according to Santos Unsad of the Teduray Justice and Governance who took this photo.

MindaNews  has done us a great favor by publishing a three-part report on the struggles of the Tedurays, Lamangians and Dulangans who all reside within the BARMM territory.  The investigative report – “From RAG to ARMM to BARMM: the IP’s struggle for ancestral domains continues” – written by Carol Arguillas  provides both the historical background of the struggles of these Lumads through many decades and the current impasse that the Lumads in BARMM are facing as they struggle for the recognition of their land rights within the Moro territory.

RAG was the Regional Autonomous Regions in Central and Western Mindanao set up  in 1979  during the Marcos martial law regime. This was abolished when the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) took its place under President Cory Aquino which was again abolished in favor of BARMM set up under President Duterte.  In 1997 under Pres. Ramos, the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act  (IPRA) was passed.  But the ARMM ignored the implementation of IPRA within its territory to the frustration of the Lumads living within the autonomous region.

It was only in 2005 when there arose an opportunity for them to be able to pursue IPRA. On 26 August of that year, the Teduray, Lambangian and Dulangan Manobo Ancestral Domain Conference (TLADMADC) represented by Alim Bandera as Timuay Labi and head claimant, filed a petition for recognition, delineation, segregation and the issuance of a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) covering an area of about 201,850 hectares of the  municipalities of Upi, South Upi, and southern portions of the municipalities of Datu Odin Sinsuat, Talayan, Guindulungan, Datu Unsay, Shariff Aguak, and Ampatuan in the province of Maguindanao. Total IP ancestral domain actually covers 309,720 hectares perimeter area, comprising 215,941 hectares of land and 93,779 coastal waters. However, this was never acted under the ARMM.

Fifteen years have passed. When the BARRM was set up, there was hope that this new political entity would honor the Lumad rights provided by the Constitution, namely to enjoy the provisions under IPRA.  But owing to other urgent needs that need the attention of BARRM’s Bangsamoro Transition Authority and their unwillingness to fully respect the Lumads’rights vis-à-vis IPRA, the Teduray, Lambangians and Dulangans will need to sustain their struggle.

The unfortunate consequence however as this impasse persists is that more violent incidents will take place across the territory of the area being claimed by the Tedurays, Lambangians and Dulangans.  There are factions within the Moro population (referred to as “non state actors” ) who feel they now have the authority to take over the Lumad lands which have resulted in armed attacks of the Lumad villages. Reports from the field indicated that “nearly a thousand families from several villages in South Upi had fled their villages again since late May to avoid getting caught in a crossfire between government forces and armed non-state actors who are free to sow terror and violent action.”

Those who are not familiar with Mindanao’s history and reality might find themselves scratching their heads as this story unfolds. For, indeed, the whole narrative is complex. In Mindanao, it is not just a question of the conflict between Muslims (or Moro)  and Christians (descendants of migrant settlers). Or between the Lumad and those of the corporate and State entities (from the military to the police to the bureaucrats who are majority Christians). There is also the Moro and the Lumad especially in the territory now being claimed by BARMM.

Only time can tell if Mindanawons would be able to maneuver through these historical tensions, find ways to engage in conflict management and dialogue and find ways to resolve to conflicts in order to assure the next generations that they will enjoy a  more peaceful and progressive abode far from the tragic memories of their ancestors ’  lives.

[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar is a professor at St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute (SATMI) in Davao City and until recently, a professor of Anthropology at the Ateneo de Davao University. Gaspar is author of several books, including “Manobo Dreams in Arakan: A People’s Struggle to Keep Their Homeland” which won the National Book Award for social science category in 2012,  “Desperately Seeking God’s Saving Action: Yolanda Survivors’ Hope Beyond Heartbreaking Lamentations,” two books on Davao history, and “Ordinary Lives, Lived Extraordinarily – Mindanawon Profiles” launched in February 2019. He writes two columns for MindaNews, one in English (A Sojourner’s Views) and the other in Binisaya (Panaw-Lantaw)]

From RAG to ARMM to BARMM: The IP’s struggle for ancestral domains continues

1st of three parts

2nd of three parts

Last of three parts


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