LUMADS or the Indigenous peoples (IPs) are the hardest hit as massive destruction of mining operations and armed conflict in Mindanao continues.
These two man-made whammies become more tragic when nature brings its wrath to these lumad communities particularly the recent Typhoon Pablo that hit mostly areas where mining operations ravaged their forests.
The Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform organized the Northeastern Mindanao Religious Leaders’ Peace Summit here on June 27 – 28 where various Christian churches and groups in the country including the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines and the National Council of Churches of the Philippines gathered.
Based on the workshop outputs of the summit on the current socioeconomic conditions of communities, the common results of mining operations have been environmental degradation and the displacement of Lumads from their ancestral domain.
The participants from Bukidnon cited the killing of Jimmy Liguyon, village chief of Dao in San Fernando town as the result of his opposition to mining activities in his barangay.
Liguyon was shot in front of his family on March 5, 2012.
Liguyon’s death was blamed on Butsoy Salusad, a former New People’s Army (NPA) rebel who surrendered sometime in 2010. The Regional Trial Court in Malaybalay City had issued a warrant for his arrest but he has remained free.
In the span of nine months in 2012, two lumad communities belonging to the Matigsalug-Manobo and Tigwahanon tribes in San Fernando town in Bukidnon province sought refuge outside the Provincial Capitol in Malaybalay City due to threats, harassments, and murder.
They have been displaced in the ancestral lands they inhabit since birth. A place where their ancestors saw the light of the world, lived their lives, and buried. It is a place where life is simple and contentment a bliss. A place where nature endowed it much resources and gold a bonus, but the greed of gold by large-scale mining companies divided the lumads.
This group that the State used to suppress the lumads’rights to protect their ancestral domains has been armed to enforce with impunity human rights abuses and violations to those who oppose them.
They were the families belonging to the clan of Liguyon and residents of Dao. They left the Provincial Capitol with justice still elusive. Some of them remain in hiding while others returned to Dao and chose to face looming death from people they oppose with due to mining disagreement.
Pastor Arturo Veladiez of the United Church of Christ of the Philippines said that Liguyon’s successor, Fausto Bacliran, was shot in a beach resort in Barangay Bonbon here on June 24, the feast of St. John the Baptist or San Juan.
Bacliran was a barangay councilor who was Liguyon’s ally. Three unidentified men shot him point blank in front of his colleagues and family at a beach resort where they wanted to fulfill a yearly tradition, to celebrate San Juan.
Veladiez, who belongs to the environment watchdog Panalipdan-Mindanao, said Bacliran’s death was also related to mining.
The vast ancestral lands of the IPs in Mindanao have been under attack with development aggression that puts the lumads in the crossfire between overlapping government policies and the national government’s policies on developing the countryside in the name of national patrimony and economic gain.
In Mindanao, vast track of lands that belong to the Lumads is rich in natural resources. The rich forests of Bukidnon and Agusan provinces belong to the at least eight tribes whose traditional ancestral lands are only bounded by rivers and ridges of mountains.
Farther north in the coastlines of Surigao provinces, the mountains are rich in mineral ore deposit.
In the mountains of Noventa bordering the two Surigao provinces, sits one of the world’s largest Iron ore deposits. Mining companies started their exploration in the 1990s and started full operations in early 2000.
The Mamanwa of the Surigao sits in arguably one of the riches section in Caraga region and yet they still remain one of the poorest people in the region.
In fact, the two Surigao provinces belong to the poorest provinces in the country, an irony to their rich natural resources.
According to Carl Caesar Rebuta of the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center, Incorporated, a non-governmental organization, the plight of the Lumads is a microcosm of a faulty system of government policies.
Environmental defenders and the human rights activists fighting for the rights of the lumad have been targeted for execution.
Timuay Luceni Manda, a Subanen tribal leader in Zamboanga Sibugay has been targeted for his stand to defend his ancestors’ land.
In September 2012, Manda was ambushed, he survived but his 11-year old son Jordan did not.
Intimidation, used of force, bribery and other cruel means have been implemented to dissuade lumads from resistance.
The divide and rule tactics are also employed.
Tribes have been divided with corporations and ranchers employing lumads and offering incentives to get favorable response from them.
One Manobo datu even quipped that if there are tribal leaders, there are also tribal dealers.
International Peace Observers Network (IPON) in its November 2012 issue of their The Observer Journal, a biannual magazine that looks into the plight of human rights violations noted that in the Philippines, laws are passed without any intent to fully implement them.
On The Observer, IPON opined that in the Philippines, actual impunity means that laws are nothing but paper promises.
The right of the Indigenous Peoples to self-determination is an inviolable as basic as the tenets for human rights.
The lumads’ only fault, for all its frailty and misfortunes, is living on a fertile land.
And in that land, the conflict for resources arises and the lumads are caught in the crossfire.
Resumption of GPH-NDF peace talks
Some 60 priests, pastors, nuns and bishops from Northern Mindanao, Caraga Region and the Davao provinces attended the summit to push for the resumption of talks between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front (NDF).
They said they would bring the situation of the Lumads along with some recommendations to the attention of the negotiating panels of both parties.
Fr. Albert Alejo, SJ, former member of the government technical working group on social and economic reforms in talks with the NDF, said the plight of the Lumads could be addressed by making the environment a framework for peace and development.
Alejo noted that the Lumads are locked up in all types of conflict in the island, from those involving the NPA and Moro rebel groups as well as in resource-based conflicts due to ancestral domain claims and the expansion of plantations.
He noted that there are “gaps in peace and development framework as against IPs worldviews.”
“Let’s examine the proposals of revolutionary groups for the IPs. What is their development plans for the IPs?” he said.
Plans for IPs
“They make war in the lands of the IPs, but what are their plans for the IPs?” Alejo added, alluding to both the government and rebel groups.
“Some of us may side with either the military or the rebels, but who side with the Lumads?” he added.
Higaonon Datu Antonio Lumandong of Claveria, Misamis Oriental lamented that Lumads have been torn between the military and the NPA. He said this situation has pitted even relatives against one another.
He said programs and projects proposed by government and corporations have also divided the lumads.
The tribal leader said that one way to address this problem is to clearly define the functions and limits of both formal governance and traditional governance as practiced by the lumads.
He added that lumad leaders could be more effective if they get formal education. “If they understand the ways of the lowlanders and the government bureaucracy, they can’t be easily swayed by groups with vested interest. No matter how good a tribal leader is, he will encounter difficulties if he is not familiar with the world outside his domain.”
Lumandong attended the summit as an observer. (With a report from H. Marcos C. Mordeno/Mindanews)