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ANGAY-ANGAY LANG: The National Cultural Minorities of Mindanao and Sulu. A preliminary study (6)

mindaviews rodil

6th of seven parts


Population and Location

Based on the 1970 census, the largest Subanen population is found in Zamboanga del Sur which has a total of 43,866 (including Zamboanga City which has 974), followed by Zamboanga del Norte with 43,674, then by Misamis Occidental with 2,825. If we include the Kalibugan (also known as Kolibugan) of the two Zamboangas who speak a Subanen related dialect, we shall have an additional 10,928.

Level of Adjustment to Majority Culture

Insufficient data for any definite conclusion on this matter.

Current Socio-Economic Situation

The traditional Subanen still practice the kaingin method of cultivation. Due to limited implements and the dictates of their belief system, weeding has not become important in the agricultural process. This limits their use of a clearing for three years at the most. They subscribe to their panday munition, their native astrologer, who tells by the position and appearance of the stars when to plant, when to hunt, when to fish, or when not to do any of these. They have equivalents for each month of the year. This practice, however, has undergone various modifications owing to the influence of Christian religion or to their nearness to the urban centers. Hunting, fishing, trapping, and gathering of forest products constitute an integral part of their economic life.

“Ownership” and the use of land

In Zamboanga del Sur, property, including land, is generally private. The women are allowed to acquire and own property. Certain things, however, are considered communal property, like permanent fruit trees planted by ancestors, the fruits of which anyone may partake. Should there be an occupant in the land where the tree is located, he is a mere custodian. He should distribute the fruits and may not destroy the tree.

Threats to Survival

In the old days, Meranaw invaders constituted the prime external threat. During the Spanish period, the Spanish missionaries, their military men and their Filipino  Christian recruits were regarded as a threat by those near the  coastal area. In the 20th century the threat came from the loggers, ranchers, and settlers. When asked whether they were still giving permits for logging concessions, a senior official of the Bureau of Forest Development at Zamboanga City Region IX office said that there are no more areas to be leased out. A Subanen respondent pointed out that large groups of settlers started to come into the Subanen area after the last war. Some started as tenants to Subanen landowners. Then these tenants would lend money to their landlords who, not knowing any better about money, usually paid off his debts with his land.

Selected Aspect of Culture

The Subanen of Lapuyan, Zamboanga del Sur have developed a sophisticated system of adjudication. Conflicts are resolved according to Guhuman, the Subanen custom law. They have a four-level court system, the highest of which is the court of the Timuay Labi, the supreme leader of the Subanen people. Two appeals (to lower penalty or to nullify the same) are allowed in the second and highest courts.

The institution includes a system of fines in kind or cash. If the accused is found guilty in all courts, should an appeal be made in each, the fine is doubled with each level. If the accused cannot afford the fine, a Tumanggong, usually a wealthy man appointed to this role, comes to the rescue to prevent a slavery. He then brings the guilty party and his family to his village to be his subjects (but not slaves) forever. Theoretically, the guilty is treated as a freeman. Since the fine is fixed, he can be free as soon as he pays off his debt to the Tumanggong. In practice, paying back the former is an almost impossible task.

In all court proceedings, the court is usually divided into two, one half prosecutor, and one half defense.

The court of the Timuay Labi has exclusive jurisdiction over cases of intentional murder, kidnapping, rape with death, and large scale theft.  The rest can be handled by lower courts.

In case of high crimes, the relatives of the parties concerned can easily get involved due to quick retaliation, which in turn, can result in a series of killings and counter-killings. Prompt intervention by the leaders, however, can stave off such development.

In spite of some seemingly harsh procedures, the whole system tends to be reconciliatory in that the resolution of any case, especially if it is serious, is followed by a celebration to seal the restoration of good relations.

In the Sindangan Bay area, their judicial system appears to be simpler in form. Major cases are usually handled by the bisara (a court of timuay) in the house of the datu. The datu and the timuay are distinct in that the former is limited to civil affairs while the latter has some religious functions. Petty cases are handled by the saliling next lower in rank to the timuay.

Before the trial, each party deposits with the datu some valuable posakag (goods for collateral) such as gongs, jars, brassworks, which are retrievable only when the guilty party has complied with the decision of the bisara.

The duration of a trial depends on the gravity of the case. Any adult male, with sufficient skills, may play a jural role. In the end, every participant in the settlement of a case gets a share of the fine, the lion’s share being given to the one handling down the decision.

Fines are measured by a unit called kumpaw. Each kumpaw is equivalent to twenty centavos.

Inability to pay the fine makes one a debt slave of the datu. Theoretically, he is supposed to pay the fine in three years. In practice, it is a lifetime debt slavery.

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

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