Lumad develop community-based rights emergency initiative

“Please bring these with you,” Negro Domino, an officer of the Pig-akuman Lumad organization said, gesturing to the bananas his wife had prepared in a basket. They hosted the project staff of Healing the Hurt, fed them, and then gave them fruits upon their departure.

“It is the Lumad tradition to give to our visitors. It is our gesture showing how thankful and happy we are that you were able to reach our remote community,” Domino said.

The road to Sitio Linaw-linaw of Barangay Sangay, Buenavista, Agusan del Norte in good weather was very rough and rocky at best. It’s an almost three hours ride on a ‘skylab,’ a motorcycle ‘with wings.’ The skylab was designed to allow a single motorcycle to transport goods by attaching wooden plans on its sides. At times, the skylab transports up to a maximum of eight persons.

But residents of Sitio Linaw-linaw, more known to the locals as Bulak, prefer to walk to the center of Buenavista especially during the rainy season. When it pours, the rocky stretches of the road become the better parts as the rest turns to deep mud. During these months, skylab drivers rarely agree to transport anything.

“You have to have at least three clear days straight for the roads to be dry enough,” said Aljen Hilogon, a member of the cooperative. “Otherwise it passengers will have to get off at many points so that the motorcycle will not sink in the mud.” During this time, residents prefer to consume their produce instead of bringing them down to sell.

The community has three major products they bring to the Buenavista market – corn, bananas, and abaca. They pay the skylab driver P4 per kilo of whatever product they are transporting.

“Their realization is that if they transact business per individual, they incur more costs because of course in Buenavista they will have to eat, spend money,” said Evelyn Naguio, the Healing the Hurt Project Officer in charge of the component setting up the cooperatives. “They also have to separately seek for buyers who may not have the same rates.”

Pig-akuman decided to simply put up a cooperative that would cut costs and at the same time raise their income – a buy and sell center. Currently, they only have the system in place for abaca, which does not rot like food products. They look for a good buyer and sell in bulk. And since the transportation of the product is done once, the costs incurred are also minimized.

They admit that introducing a Cooperative system was new to them in a way that it offered them a large capital.

“Talking about finances in our organization can be tricky,” said Domino. “The people here were not used to managing big funds. Some of our members can get antsy sometimes when these funds are not mobilized immediately.”

But instead of allowing this to negatively affect their organization, they see that it is healthy for them. “Money can’t stay with one person for a long time,” said Domino. “It forces us to act quickly so that members of the cooperative see that the funds are not being used by just one person. The members’ wariness is a natural check and balance for us.”

While they acknowledge that introducing a bigger financial system may be tempting, they are confident that members will not be overwhelmed by the money. Even before the cooperative was setup, they already had a system of contributing part of their income to their community through their organization.“We have understood well that the cooperative’s profits are for the community’s use in times of attacks,” said Domino. “We know that it is for our common good and not for any individual’s interests.”

Bulak has been a target of several military operations in the past, the community accused of supporting the rebel group, New People’s Army. The locals admit that they sometimes see rebels crossing their community. But they stand firm that if the armed groups would want to fight, they should do it away from their civilian population. On many counts, the Pig-akuman has led the community’s organized evacuation in times of military operations to protect their members.

“The contributions they give to their community are used during these times,” said Naguio. “Now, the cooperative is allowing them have ready funds that would aid them during times of emergency.”

The Pig-akuman Multi-Purpose Cooperative is one of the nine community-based cooperatives established by the ‘Healing the Hurt’ Project in various indigenous villages of Northern Mindanao and Caraga regions. The cooperative is foreseen to generate dynamic funds for Lumad leaders and community members at-risk.

Implemented by the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines-Northern Mindanao Sub-Region and four other partner organizations, the ‘Healing the Hurt’ Project seeks to contribute to the promotion of the rights of indigenous peoples consistent with the spirit and letters of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. To achieve this, the project specifically seeks to protect and enhance human rights capacities of Lumad structures of community development to better allow them to combat discrimination, violence and criminalization induced by aggressive industrialization in Mindanao.###


[Photo above: The Pig-akuman Multi-Purpose Cooperative in Bulak.]