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ANGAY-ANGAY LANG: The Lumads are Our People, Too! (2)

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Part 2 of 7: Lumad Concept of Ancestral Domain

(Editor’s note: This article is a slight revision of the lectures the author delivered between the years 1999 and 2000 to two major audiences — the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility in Metro Manila and the Bishops-Ulama Forum, now known as Bishops-Ulama Conference, in Davao City.)

Certain key elements in the indigenous concept of ancestral domain are shared by all Lumad communities. First, although communal ownership is exercised by a clan, not by a whole tribe, territories of clans of the same tribal group tend to be contiguous. Second, the domain, clearly bounded by natural markers, includes the land actually occupied and used by each family, the forests in which they hunt and gather wild fruits, and the bodies of water in which they fish, and so on. Third, land use within the domain is regulated by clan authorities. Fourth, members of the clan exercise the right of usufruct, not private ownership of the land within the territory. Fifth, the territory is jealously guarded against trespass from without, and outsiders generally respect these natural boundaries. Sixth, the domain is a gift from God and is held in trust by the community. Seventh, the domain is viewed as a source of life to the community.

The Process of Marginalization

The forces that were responsible for the marginalization of the minority peoples of the Philippines were the same forces that minoritized the Lumad and Moro communities of Mindanaw. First, it was the Spaniards, then the Americans and, finally, by its adoption of the same policies and programs implemented by the colonizers, the government of the Republic of the Philippines.

Minoritization was a long process and to understand it in context, we shall examine how these three governments employed the three-fold elements of colonial practice: (a) official labeling, (b) creating the administrative structures within which these labels became operative terms of reference, and (c) the actual dispossession of the indigenous peoples of their traditional lands, not necessarily in that order.

To fully appreciate the process, we need to at least quickly proceed from one regime to the next.

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Spanish contribution in the realm of official labeling

The main contribution of the Spaniards to the minoritization process was colonization, also known as Christianization – though not necessarily Hispanization. To make a very long story short, let us do a quick leap forward and view the matter from hindsight at the end of the Spanish colonial regime.

In 1898, at the collapse of the colonial regime, the entire population of the Philippine archipelago could be divided into two broad categories, those who were colonized and those who were not. Once belonging to independent small barangays, the conquered became the Christians. Indirectly they all acquired a new common identity, that of being subject to a centralized colonial order.

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When they felt abused, it was they, too, who repeatedly rebelled, independently of one another, as they were wont to do in the barangay days – more than two hundred cases were recorded in 333 years – until their struggles ripened into a common cause. They acquired a common Filipino identity, and they gave birth to the Filipino nation and the Republic of the Philippines.

Those who were not conquered may be further subdivided into two groups. Those who fought back and were successful in maintaining their independence throughout the period of Spanish presence were the proud Moros of Mindanaw and Sulu and the indigenous inhabitants of the Cordillera. The others were those who kept out of Spanish reach, thereby remaining free. The Moro people at present are popularly known today to be classified into the 13 ethnolinguistic groups, as follows: Meranaw, Maguindanaw, Tausug, Sama, Yakan, Sangil, Badjao, Jama Mapun, Palawani, Kalagan, Molbog, Iranun and kalibugan.

Where then is the Spanish contribution? This may have been unintended; it was in creating the conditions for the various barangay communities to discover a common collective identity in being Christians and subjects of Spanish colonialism, and find a common cause in their struggles to eliminate the unjust colonial order. The result was the Filipino nation and the Republic of the Philippines in 1898 whose centennial we are now proudly celebrating. Their population was estimated to be nearly seven million, thus making them the majority population as a political aggrupation. They are, as enumerated by the American colonial officials in 1903: Bicol, Cagayan, Ilocano, Pampangan, Pangasinan, Tagalog, Visayan and Zambalan.

The non-Christians, on the other hand, who were not identified as Filipinos, neither by the Americans nor by themselves, were placed at approximately one-eighth of the total population.

American Labels

The first labeling done to us by the Americans was to call the Philippine Islands as their Insular Possessions, acquired, they claimed, through the Treaty of Paris on 10 December 1898 whereby Spain ceded the entire Philippine Archipelago to the American government. Spain included in the cession those lands and people who were never colonized! This treaty legalized the first act of wholesale land grabbing.

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American authorities refused to acknowledge the legitimate existence of the six-month old Republic of the Philippines, the Magindanaw Sultanate and the Sulu Sultanate which were states in their own right. Their propaganda line was that there was no such thing as a Filipino nation, only scattered and disunited tribal groups. Armed opposition were neatly labeled as cases of insurrection against legitimate American government, or plain piracy or simple banditry.

Packaging and Tagging the People

Mr. Dean Worcester, member of the Philippine Commission, was placed in charge of the non-Christian tribes. He popularized two neat labels: Christian or civilized and wild or non-Christian. These labels were liberally interchanged in official documents. Within a few months after the establishment of the civil government, the Philippine Commission created the Bureau of Non-Christian Tribes under the Department of the Interior headed by Mr. Worcester himself, thus institutionalizing the labels. Within two years of its creation, the office was renamed The Ethnological Survey for the Philippine Islands, headed by Dr. David P. Barrows. Dr. Barrows later published an article entitled “History of the Population,” in Volume I of the 1903 Census. The article had two major sections, one on the “Civilized or Christian Tribes,” another on “Non-Christian Tribes.” All tables of Volume II, the statistical portion, which had Christian and non-Christian populations, consistently used the phrase “classified as civilized and wild” in the titles. The label non-Christian later made its appearance in very important laws, especially those affecting ownership and distribution of land and the disposition of natural resources, and in special administrative structures which in turn further deepened the popularization of the names. In addition, the idea of amalgamation or assimilation was popularized. Partly, the reason for the latter was the American conclusion that “the customary laws of the Moros and non-Christians were either non-existent or so vague and whimsical as to be impracticable of administration in courts of justice.”

Official Labels Under the Republic

With the enactment of R.A. 1888 which also created the Commission on National Integration (CNI) in 1957, the Philippine government decreed that “non-Christian Filipinos … would henceforth be called the National Cultural Minorities.” In order to erase the social stigma that came with the name, the Constitutions of 1973 and 1987 introduced Cultural Communities and Indigenous Cultural Communities, respectively. These latter changes, however, did not remove Non-Christian from the Public Land Act which has continued to be in effect to this day.

Labels and special structures constitute only one aspect of the story of minoritization. The more fatal aspect was that of legalized land dispossession, initiated and nurtured in colonial times, and sustained until the present. We now go to the discussion of the regalian doctrine and how it affects ancestral domain.

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

Tomorrow: Part III: Actual Process of Disposession

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