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ANGAY-ANGAY LANG: The Minoritization of the Indigenous Communities of Mindanaw and Sulu (11)

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Part XI

Stemming the Tide of Tribal Opposition

In an attempt to stem the tide of growing tribal opposition, both the NAPOCOR and the PNOC have reportedly “agreed to set up an Environmental and Tribal Welfare Trust Fund.” Also involved are the DENR, the Cotabato Tribal Consultative Council, and the local government units of Cotabato.

One centavo per kilowatt-hour of the net sales of NAPOCOR’s generated power will be plowed back into this Fund, as well as 20 percent of the royalty share of the local government units and the fund components of the annual environmental management funds of NAPOCOR and PNOC. The Fund will be administered by the Multi-Sectoral Management Group.

More Opposition

Early in February 1992, news leaked out that the PNOC was set to start full-scale drilling operations. The unconcealed entry into the Mt. Apo area of hundreds of Army troopers was more than eloquent proof of the seriousness of their intentions.   On February 27, 1992, about 8,000 demonstrators marched through the main streets of Kidapawan to protest the resumption of operations of the controversial Mt. Apo Geothermal Power Project and the alleged militarization of the project site.

Bishop Pueblos of the Kidapawan Prelature and Congressman Andolana of Cotabato joined hands with the protestors. Participants from many areas in North Cotabato were stopped at various checkpoints set up by the police and military and asked to get off from their vehicles for inspection of bags and presentation of residence certificates.

Not only did the demonstrators roundly reject the February 12 Memorandum of Agreement which allowed the PNOC to resume its road-building and geothermal well drilling operations, they also accused the government of militarizing the area not only because of the presence of army soldiers but also for the formation of paramilitary units from among the tribal peoples.

This was not the first local demonstration to protest the construction of geothermal plants at Mt. Apo. This is in fact only one of several, starting from the one led by Datu Inong Awe. Nor does it promise to be the last.

Other Related Issues

Issues raised were not confined to matters directly related to ancestral domain; militarization is another. Moreover, ecological concern has increased since environmental destruction around the Mt. Apo area is bound to affect the lives of the people, both Lumad and settlers inhabiting the vicinity. But all these concerns have been framed within the fundamental tribal right to their ancestral lands and the ongoing Lumad movement for self-determination led by Lumad-Mindanaw.

Dyandi: Defend Mt. Apo to the Last Drop

Opposition has come not only from the Bagobos of Davao. The Mt. Apo area and its environs, encompassing portions of Davao City, Davao del Sur and Cotabato, is the traditional homeland of several ethno-linguistic groups like the Bagobos, the Tahabawa, the Jangan, the Ata on the Davao City side, the Kalagan and the Tagakaolo farther away in Davao del Sur and the Manobos in Cotabato.

As early as April 1989, an alliance of the various tribal groups have been established, and this has been sealed with a dyandi or blood compact where the participants, twenty-one tribal leaders in all, vowed to defend Apo Sandawa to the last drop of their blood. Does this indicate a bloody turn in the opposition? Not necessarily. It was clear to the participants that they must exhaust all peaceful means.

Their vow meant a readiness to set up barricades against the project or to bodily prevent the PNOC people from entering the project site. But there was the unmistakable hint to resort to arms when pushed too far.

They stated their position emphatically in Christian terms so that the people in the government would understand: “Apo Sandawa is like your church to us. If you were a Christian, a priest or a Catholic, would you allow a hole to be bored into your church?”

Pamaas, the Counter-ritual

But PNOC cannot be accused of leaving any stones unturned. If the opposition had its dyandi, the pros had their pamaas, a propitiatory rite to appease Apo Sandawa and rid the geothermal project of evil spirits and curses which might interfere with its implementation. This, in fact, was specifically stipulated in the Environmental Certificate of Clearance (ECC) issued by DENR to the PNOC.

And so, on March 10, 1992, an 84-year old Manobo presided over a pamaas at Lake Agko, held purposely to dispel the solemn vow of the dyandi performers nearly two years ago. Mr. Monico Jacob, head of PNOC, and Mr. Pablo Malixi, head of the National Power Corporation, and ten other officials attended.

As part of the ritual, these officials were conferred the rank of datu and other tribal titles. Then, two Manobo datus, under the guidance of the Office of Southern Cultural Communities (OSCC), handed over to the officials a map of the 701-hectare Mt. Apo geothermal reservation, an act relinquishing tribal rights over the area to the government.

In exchange, the Manobo community, which is also identified with the Cotabato Tribal Consultative Council that took part in the pamaas, was reportedly promised jobs inside the power plant site and a tribal fund that would come from plant operations.

Tribe vs. Tribe

Barely a month later, on April 17, 1992, opposing tribal groups figured in a near encounter when pro-PNOC Manobo tribesmen declared a pangayaw (tribal war or headhunting) against the oppositionists who set up camp near the project site.

Panipas, Preparation for Armed Confrontation

Exactly a month after this or on May 17, 1992, the oppositionist magani or warriors headed by Bagobo Datu Tulalang Maway, 85, and a participant of the original dyandi, held another ritual, called kanduli or panipas in Bagobo, at the peak of Mt. Apo. Traditionally, this ritual was done before warriors went to battle. They prayed to Mandarangan, the Bagobo god of war, and asked for his blessings. Now, they were prepared for armed confrontation. They stressed though that violence would only be resorted to if they were attacked first.

NPA Enters Scene

Meanwhile, the New People’s Army has entered into the scene. The government has responded not only by sending in the police units and Army regulars, more than five battalions have been reported as early as March and about a thousand more in mid-July, but also by organizing local tribal militia, reportedly 500 strong, all deployed within and around the project site. As of July 1992, a government agency has placed a 40,000.00 pesos reward for the head of Datu Tulalang, now the oldest living Bagobo magani.

President Ramos Makes Presence Felt; Favors Mt. Apo Geothermal Project

On January 24, 1993, a national newspaper reported an important event related to Mt. Apo. It says: “President Ramos yesterday lauded the formal signing of the memorandum of agreement among local officials and tribal leaders which provides for the continuation of the construction of the Mount Apo geothermal power plant project… Signatories to the agreement included Cotabato Gov. Rosario Diaz, Kidapawan Mayor Joseph Evangelista, Manobo Datu Artia Guabong of the Cotabato Tribal Consultative Council, Environmental and Natural Resources Secretary Angel Alcala, Energy Secretary Delfin Lazaro and Philippine National Oil Co. president Monico Jacob.”

In a dialogue with President Ramos two hours after the signing, Lingka Ansula, a tribal representative of the opposition, said in part to the President: “This is a day of sorrow for all people who stand up in defense of Apo Sandawa against the Philippine National Oil Company.”

Other Energy Projects in Mindanaw and Effects on ICCs

The Mt. Apo question is not the only adverse situation the Lumad of Mindanaw must face. The T’boli of South Cotabato have protested against the proliferation of fishpond leases by outsiders in Lake Sebu. The Bukidnons and Manobos of Bukidnon province are up against the Pulangi Dam IV in the municipalities of San Fernando, Quezon and Maramag because of the strong possibility of inundation affecting farmlands and several thousand tribal peoples. The Higaunons of Agusan del Norte and Misamis Oriental have been seriously affected by the continuous logging operations of big capitalists in their ancestral area.

What it sums up to is that tribal community rights are being violated and the communities themselves are being forcibly displaced to make way for so-called national development. This story is not new. The same old pattern of dispossession goes back to the beginnings of Spanish colonialism. Nor does it look like it is about to end.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. A peace specialist, Rudy Buhay Rodil is an active Mindanao historian and peace advocate)

Tomorrow: Part XII Chapter 5

Agus I Hydroelectric Plant; What Price Electricity?


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