Work kept me from visiting the Lumad Camp in the University of the Philippines Diliman early in the week. On Tuesday evening, their second night, I arrived close to midnight to bring a cash donation for the camp’s food fund and some medicines from a doctor.
Feeding 800 Lumad at P50 pesos per head is P40,000 pesos per meal after all. From the moment I heard that they were coming, this was what I wanted to raise funds and get donations for.
Thankfully, my network of real and virtual (i.e., social media) friends were ready and willing to donate, depositing varied amounts into my bank account and hoping it will help in any way. A writer-musician friend got the product he endorses to make a huge tocino donation, with some hotdogs for the kids to boot.
At the tail-end of the week, Art Relief (the heavens bless them!) was coming in to put up their mobile kitchen and feed the Lumad. Many food and water donations came in, too, throughout the week, and one can’t help but be glad that so many are rising to the occasion of the Lumad.
Meet The Lumad
I got to walk around the Lumad Camp for the first time on Thursday. We did not know anyone in the camp; I had coordinated for donations via text and Facebook messages. I am not part of any organization; I even forgot to wear my Press ID that day.
But it did not matter. People had ready smiles, and the camp was organized in a way that allowed for conversations to happen easily. All around the camp, impromptu conversations were happening in small and big groups between Lumad and UP students, sometimes with a translator, often without. Contrary to what many might assume about these conversations, the Lumad is the one who speaks here.
Of course there are also conversations that seek to educate the Lumad, lessons that seek to help them understand their world better. On Thursday, a geologist was speaking to the Lumad about the minerals familiar to them, but which they might not know to call by name, or might not know the value of. But this is less of a lecture and more of a free-for-all conversation.
At some point, after a young geologist was introduced to the group, a Lumad woman quipped: “Baka ikaw yung nagbubungkal ng lupa doon sa amin, ha!”
The group laughed.
Hear the Lumad
It is in these moments and in these conversations with the Lumad that it becomes clear that they come from a very specific culture that empowers them to speak, and which makes organizing as a community almost second nature. And no one pushed them to organize, no one made community leaders out of the Lumad, other than the threat of mining and the fact of militarization itself.
After all, if your community was faced with violence and displacement, when the land you inherited and which you know only to hand down to your children becomes the object of transnational mining’s desires, what is there to do but fight? What is there to do but learn the language of struggle so that it might be understood by everyone in your community, as well as everyone beyond it?
And to me, this is really the point of going to this camp. It is trying to understand what the Lumad have gone through, and what they continue to go through. It is about hearing the voice of the Lumad speaking about their experiences and telling their stories.
For those we heard speak on Thursday, the violence started in the early 1990’s, when mining interests became a real and present danger to their indigenous peoples (IP) lands. It has gotten worse since. Some of the Lumad speak of bombs being used to destroy their land in recent years. Many of them have been threatened by paramilitary; all of them live dangerously by their mere insistence to live on their own land.
The past year we have learned of how Lumad leaders and teachers have been tortured and killed, and how whole Lumad communities have been forced to evacuate their homes and lands, given the presence of the military and paramilitary in their communities, and the growing number of mining applications pending with government agencies such as the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP).
Deaf, blind to the Lumad
The fear is palpable in these Lumad voices. But so is the conviction that comes with knowing they are fighting for their rights, and that they need to be heard.
And yet so many in Manila have decided not to see the Lumad, and not listen to what they say. So many have decided they are not worth talking to.
It surprises me that mainstream media has yet to get into a more critical discussion of the Lumad crisis, which demands that we speak of mining interests in IP lands, and the government’s complicity in protecting these interests. It surprises me that this is not being treated as an urgent issue, as what fills our social media feeds is Halloween excitement and the laglag-bala-modus over at our airports.
Probably more disappointing than the apathy is the anti-Left rhetoric that has muddled the fact of the Lumad crisis. Only those who have not spoken to the Lumad in these camps, only those who refuse to give the Lumad their own independent minds and voices, would imagine that this is all about one organization manipulating them.
It is not only wrong. It is yet another injustice that we subject the Lumad to as we presume they do not know to speak and stand for themselves.
That this kind of rhetoric is shared by Communications Office officials of Malacañang is telling of what this government thinks of the Lumad.
Apparently they don’t think much of them. That gives them even more reason to stay in Manila, if only so they might be heard. They should be allowed to stay as long as they need to.
The Lumad Camp continues at the Liwasang Bonifacio from November 1 onwards (thanks to Mayor Erap Estrada’s permit!). Donations in cash and kind are still welcome, but so are friendly visitors to the camp who seek to understand better the Lumad crisis and speak to the Lumad themselves. I enjoin everyone to come and use this opportunity to learn more about the Lumad because there is no talking about nation without including them in the conversation.
Published in The Manila Times, 1 November 2015.