Meet the 'Lakbayanis' from northern Mindanao

The national minorities from northern Mindanao have come together again to protest the government’s continuing violation of their rights. Contrary to the claims of the current administration of improvement in the lives of the minorities, several of the changes the government promised are still unfulfilled, and a number of these are in fact adversely affecting their communities. Foremost of the current administration’s policies that furthered the minoritization of their communities is the declaration of martial law, discriminatory in content and implementation.

These few participants bring their issues to the National Capital Region to relay the real state of the nation, the ongoing impunity in the rural areas, and the continuing violations and abuse of the rights of the national minorities.

They will set foot in Metro Manila starting September 1, 2017 for the ‘Lakbayan ng mga Pambansang Minorya para sa Sariling Pagpapasya at Makatarungang Kapayapaan’.

Datu Danny Polenda of Pangantucan, Bukidnon continues the Manobo’s call for justice for the massacre in their community two years ago. On August 8, 2015, members of the 3rd Company of the 1st Special Forces Battalion killed the defenseless Emer Somina, 17 years old, Welmer Somina, 19 years old, Norman Samia, 14 years old, Jobert Samia, 20 years old, and Datu Herminio Samia, 70 years old. Datu Herminio, who was already blind with age, unintentionally wandered away and was shot in the back. The rest were shot execution style. The five had been in their farm house, cooking cassava when the military ordered them to come out, accusing them of being members of the New People’s Army. Earlier that day, the military had passed by their house, reportedly looking for rebels.

Sultan Macara Sampuan leads a Maranao community from Marawi in their demand to stop the bombing of their city. Marawi residents are left in limbo as their city is pounded to rubbles in the three months of war waged by the state forces against the ISIS-influenced Dawal Islamiyah/Maute Group in what is now known as the Marawi Siege. The survivors of the siege are now seeking for justice for their killed or missing relatives, for their ruined homes and livelihoods that resulted from the indiscriminate bombardment of their communities. They, likewise, decry the mounting human rights violations against them under the declaration of martial law, many of their kinsmen already subjected to harassments, and at worst, figured in cases of enforced disappearance.

Comugong Balanban, evacuee from San Fernando, Bukidnon once more brings the plight of their communities to the National Capital Region. They have been constantly subjected to threats and harassments from the paramilitary group, New Indigenous People’s Army for Reform (NIPAR) led by Alde Salusad. Earlier this month, Salusad had supposedly surrendered as a member of the New People’s Army. His victims, however, had decried this move as he had already surrendered as an NPA back in 2010. He had then formed the NIPAR and had been terrorizing their communities since, allegedly under the protection of state forces. Salusad had also reportedly linked with the bigger paramilitary group, Alamara, operating in the mountains of Bukidnon and Davao Province.

Nabila Amer marches against Islamophobia. Moro women traditionally wear kumbong to hide their hair and cover their chests, following the rules of Islam. However, many of the displaced Maranao women from Marawi City have been subjected to harassments and discrimination in cities where they have sought sanctuary. Their identity as Muslims has become almost synonymous to terrorists for some of the uninformed public. Many of the Maranao women, to avoid this, remove their kumbong, and disown their Maranao traditions. Members of Tindeg Ranao wear their identities proudly on the streets of Manila, asserting their right to practice their religion, reclaiming their pride in their identities as Muslims, as Maranaos.

Jimboy Mandagit, the warrior datu. Taking the responsibility from his father, Jimboy has been defending his community from state aggression and human rights abuses since he was in his early teens. Despite his position as a warrior datu, Jimboy has asked for nothing but peace in his community. State-backed paramilitary forces, however, has been targeting him, and had even threatened the people around him, accusing him of supporting the New People’s Army. Jimboy, however, has not backed down, asserting their community’s right to their ancestral domain, their right to self-determined development, and their right to self-governance.

Angely Ventura, more popularly known as ‘Dats Ann’ in his community and to people who have known him for a long time, proudly claims his identity as a part of the LGBT community. Respected for his consistent assertion of the rights of the Manobo community of the TINDOGA in Butong, Quezon, Bukidnon, he said it had not been easy for him to express his identity as a transman. But through his sincere actions and commitment to serve his community, they have accepted him, and have in fact recognized him as a leader.

Datu Jeffrey Balag is fighting to reclaim their land. Under the previous Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, the parents of Datu Jeffrey tried to apply for the land they have been cultivating for generations in Quezon, Bukidnon. Their tax, however, amounted to 4M pesos, an amount that not even their entire community could pay for. Their community, therefore, decided to assert their right to the land that has been their home for several years, and occupied this.

Bae Jocelyn Agdahan has been leading their community in their assertion of their right to their ancestral domain against a local landlord who intends to use their land for contract growing pineapples. Bae Jocelyn, at first the typical indigenous woman who assists her husband, has transformed into a community leader, respected for her ability to command their community members. She has shown her bravery in representing them in dialogues and lobbying activities, never backing down even in the face of threats to her life, as long as she knows she is rightfully fighting for their community. 

Jomorito ‘Datu Imbanwag’ Goaynon has faced multiple slap suits in the course of more than a decade of defending the rights of the Lumad in Northern Mindanao. He has been time and again re-elected as the chairperson of the Kalumbay Regional Lumad Organization, a network which encompasses ten Indigenous Peoples’ Organizations in the region, fearlessly asserting the right of the Lumad to their land, self-determined development, and traditional and cultural practices.

Maraminao Balanban is a traditional leader of the Umayamnon tribe. On July 6 this year, members of the Alamara paramilitary group, headed by Sammy Diwangan, killed Ande Latuan, an Umayamnon from Cabanglasan, Bukidnon. This killing was a show of force to the Umayamnon families who the group had been threatening for going against their rule of force in the Lumad communities in Cabanglasan. They therefore sought sanctuary at the provincial capitol grounds, refusing to go back to their homes unless they were assured of their security against the impunity of the Alamara. 

 

[Photos by Alana Cortes, Media Officer of the northern Mindanao contingent of Lakbayan 2017]