In January 2015, families from Tabontabon, Maputi, and Tabanganan, all sitios of Brgy. Mahagsay, San Luis, Agusan del Sur, left their homes and sought sanctuary in Brgy. Balit of the same municipality. They were members of the Banwaon People’s Organization, Tagdumahan, and had fled from the threats of a paramilitary group known as Rebel Returnees.
The evacuees kept together in an unfinished hospital in Balit for three months. Far from their farms, their livelihood was non-existent during those difficult months. Tagdumahan, as their mother organization, worked tirelessly to get the support to sustain the evacuation camp.
More than a year later, on August 4, a similar incident happened to their neighbors, the Manobo communities in the village of Zillovia and some remote areas along the Pantaron Range. Forty-eight families had evacuated because of the military occupation of their community.
At that point, Tagdumahan had already started to set up their multipurpose cooperative, albeit it wasn’t yet functioning fully – official establishment had been in September 2016. The communities to serviced by the cooperative had chosen to do buy and sell of agricultural products. As the cooperative serves victims of rights violations, it would facilitate easier access to market, and farm supplies for many Banwaon farmers.
The cooperative, seeded with a P300,000 capital, was then test operating, selling seeds and other farm implements to the communities. It had then earned roughly P50,000. It was initially run by Tagdumahan members as they had agreed to setup the cooperative in the organization's area. Tagdumahan, knowing fully well that the income of the cooperative would be dependent on the cropping season, had intended at first to put back the money as additional capital in preparation for the harvest season. However, the pressing need of Barangay Zillovia put to test the cooperative's ability to immediately respond to the very situations it was put up for.
The cooperative decided to help with that little they had. Monitors from the communities gathered the data on the rights violations, and the cooperative contributed to the food needs of the evacuees. This roughly amounted to P40,000.
Julito Otacan, Secretary General of Tagdumahan, recalled the time when it was very hard for them to help with the financial needs during evacuation. "It is most difficult on the second day when whatever ration we were able to carry with us have run out, we are just setting up the camp, and support from other organizations hasn't yet come," he said. "This was what we had in mind when we learned of our fellow Lumads’ decision in the nearby village of Zillovia to come down from their homes."
The communities were very thankful for the setup of the cooperative. This firmed up their need to remain in solidarity especially in the incessant attacks against their communities.
The Tagdumahan Multipurpose Cooperative is among the nine cooperatives set-up by the ‘Healing the Hurt’ Project implemented by RMP-NMR and supported by the European Union through the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights. These cooperatives, set-up in various parts of northern Mindanao and Caraga regions, were put up with a dynamic fund to support Lumad leaders and community members in times of human rights emergencies.
[PHOTO: Junjun Tantiado, vice chairpesron of the Tagdumahan Multipurpose Cooperative]