I hear that the Lumad communities who have been in UP Diliman the past week will be transferring to Manila in Liwasang Bonifacio on November 1, and staying there at least until November 12. What I say in this essay stands still. And I hope that we all realize how these Lumad have traveled four days to get here, and are camping out in Manila for reasons far larger and more urgent and important than we can even imagine. I hope we realize that this behooves us to speak to them, engage with their stories, and listen listen listen. There is no justification for the kind of violence they have experienced, no rationale for the kind of displacement and fear they live with.
Meet the Lumad
On October 26, 800 Lumads will arrive in Manila. They will have traveled a long way from their homes, to do this protest caravan that calls for an end to the Lumad killings and the military occupation of Lumad schools and communities.
It behooves us to engage with the Lumads, to speak to them, to learn more about their lives. At a time when Manila’s mainstream media can barely get over itself doing election-related stories and “phenomena” like AlDub and JaDine, the stories about the Lumad crisis become old easily – if these are told at all. At a time when so much depends on the “public pulse” – which is to say falling back on what’s trending on social media – the Lumads living in evacuation centers in fear of their lives, is not a story that will get the hits mainstream media seeks.
The Lumad crisis is one we are complicit in after all, if only because we allow for this silencing to continue.
The question of militarization
Despite the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP’s) denials about the presence of military and paramilitary troops in Mindanao and the CARAGA region, it is clear if we listen to the stories of the Lumad and given their lives in evacuation centers, that there is truth to their fears.
Their leaders are being tortured and killed. Teachers are left for dead, if not killed in front of the community, a warning about what could happen to them if they refuse to leave their homes.
The questions are numerous. Why are the Lumad communities being subjected to this kind of violence? Who is funding the paramilitary groups that are wreaking havoc on their communities? Why is the AFP unable to beat these paramilitary groups and bring peace to these communities, presuming of course that they are truly for protecting the Lumad?
The issue also gets muddled given the AFP’s and government’s insistence that in fact the Lumads who have been killed thus far are actually presumed to be members of, or are sympathetic to, the New People’s Army (NPA). And yet they have yet to answer why these victims are not given due process. Why are they being killed instead of being arrested and brought to court, for whatever charges they create against rebels?
And if this is really about one, two – even 10! – individuals being suspected of being rebels, why must a whole community suffer? Why must they be threatened by violence enough to want to leave their homes?
The question of education
In June this year, the story about 3000 Lumad students who were about to lose their schools made the news (Philstar.com, 1 June). It was revealed then that Department of Education Davao del Norte Superintendent Josephine Fadul had “requested the closure of Lumad schools and requested for permission to install a public school which will have military personnel as para-teachers.” This request was endorsed by DepEd Region XI Director Alberto Escobarte. In particular, they were eyeing the closure of Salugpongan Ta’Tanu Igkanugon Community Learning Center and MISFI Academy schools.
The Save Our Schools (SOS) Network also revealed that in fact since 2011, schools and communities “have been harassed by soldiers under the 60th and 68th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army.” (Philstar.com, 1 June)
In September was the death of ALCADEV Executive Director Emerito Samarca and Lumad leaders Dionel Campos and Datu Bello Sinzo in Surigao del Sur. (Manila Times, 19 Sept)
In October we constantly heard stories of continued militarization in the region, and the planned shut down of Lumad schools. (Inquirer.net, 6 Oct)
On the CMFR-Philippines website, they talk about the importance of establishing how Lumad schools are different from the learning institutions we are familiar with, given the fact that these are being closed down, as well as how critical it is to the discussion of the militarization of Lumad communities.
“These learning institutions fill the gaps left open by insufficient infrastructure and programs for the Lumad people. These schools emphasize the Lumad way of life and how to preserve it by teaching them to love and respect the environment or their “lupaing ninuno” (ancestral lands).” (CMFR-Phil.org, 16 Oct 2015)
Educating the Lumad is the same as educating the rest of us about nation. The violence the Lumads are subjected to, the amount of time and energy spent trying to close down their schools, is an indication that there is apparently much to fear about the educated Lumad.
The question of land
All of it has to do with the indigenous people’s (IP) lands. It is land that is desired by many, even when it is not for sale. Landgrabbing is rampant; the number of agricultural plantations keeps growing. The Lumad meanwhile is left to contend with the consequences of development that dispossess them of their lands. They are turned into mere workers of the land, instead of being treated like its landowners.
The fact that Mindanao has the largest rubber, banana and pineapple plantations in the country, with some of these encroaching on ancestral lands, and yet the Lumad remain impoverished and uneducated, tells us worlds about how development has further disenfranchised IP communities. (REAP Concept Paper, Oct 2015)
And lest one is in disbelief about the real state of the Lumad, then I respond with this: it does not even matter where you stand with regards who is at fault for this state of being Lumad in the Philippines. What matters is that we are being given the opportunity to engage with them, Filipinos who we never see or talk to, and who are coming to Manila so that we might know their stories to be true.
They can cease to be yesterday’s news. They are here.