The forgotten displacement

The provincial government of Bukidnon already ceased from supporting the case of the 90 Manobo families who fled their communities and are encamped in the grounds fronting the provincial capitol in Malaybalay City. 

The Manobo leaders—Datu Bansing of Sitio Tapayanon, Datu Leoven of Cabanglasan, and Datu Jimboy of San Fernando—not only witnessed the plight of their constituents, but also experienced the injustices themselves. From harassment, land-grabbing, ransacking, encampment of facilities, strafing, vilification, arson, demolition, torture, red-tagging, forced evacuation, to extra-judicial killings, these leaders have been victimized either the Philippine Army or paramilitary groups, ALAMARA and New Indigenous Army Reform. All these forced them to temporarily evacuate at the provincial capitol grounds on May 1, 2017.

Such turning a blind eye on the Lumad by the state, or institutional oppression by the state itself, is no longer new. With the culprits of protecting the interests of mining and agri-business oligarchs being the state military and paramilitary groups, this is not surprising. Ironically, the Philippines in 2007, was one of the 144 member states who adopted the historic UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) which vitally laid out the human rights standards for the 370 million Indigenous Peoples (IPs) worldwide which is roughly 5% of the world's population. What is startling is that they constitute 15% of the world's most poor, making them the world’s most vulnerable population to poverty, and lack of access to healthcare and education.

For instance, Sitio Salumpikit in Barangay Bunacao of San Fernando is currently occupied by the Philippine Army ‘s 6th Infantry Division because of clash with forces of the New People’s Army (NPA).

Ungat, who comes from Sitio Salumpikit and a constituent of Datu Jimboy of San Fernando, narrated his first-hand experience of intimidation. Employed in a plantation of narra and mahogany by the the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Ungat and his coworkers who are also from Sitio Salumpikit were brought to the police station because a coworker named Junty Sedom was alleged to possess four bullets. At the police station, the chief of police interrogated them whether they are NPA  (despite having supporting documents such as voter’s IDs and barangay cedula) with a table full of bullets and guns between them. They were physically forced to sign a document written in English which they were not able to understand. After being held by these state forces for more than 24 hours, Ungat and his coworkers were released except Sedom. To date, Sedom is still in the provincial jail.

The displaced communities were also disheartened of how the regional office of the Department of Social Welfare and Development was treating them. “Dili sinsero ang DSWD sa pagtabang namo! (The DSWD is not sincere in helping us.)”  says Datu Leoven of Cabanglasan.

Such was supported by Anabel Tuyor, 36, and Rebecca Pacquiao, 42, from Lumad support organization Pigyayungan (literally “pagtinabanga” in Binisaya or “communal assistance” in English) as they retold that aside from 20 sacks of rice, a number of canned goods, and some packs of instant noodles from the Provincial Social Welfare and Development (PSWD), the 400 internally displaced Manobos, more or less 90 households, from the municipalities of San Fernando and Cabanglasan (including Sitio Tapayanon) did not receive further support from the government unit. This was contrary to how the evacuees last year were given importance by appointed DSWD head, Judy Taguiwalo. It was difficult for them, however, to get their issues past the PSWD.

Already, an average of two Lumad children are also admitted to the provincial hospital per week because of diarrhea and respiratory diseases.

The Lumad, in a letter dated to July 10 addressed to Gov. Zubiri, called to (1) end the military occupation in their communities where their livelihood and properties are seized, (2) abolish the paramilitary groups such as ALAMARA and the New Indigenous Army Reform, (3) support the needs of those who were forced to evacuate, (4) release Junty Sedom from prison, and (5) stop mining operations in their ancestral domains which are rich in mineral deposits.

When asked what his plans are, Datu Jimboy says, “Padayon ang pakigbisog! (We will continue to fight!)”