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The Lumad in Haran Compound: what is the problem?


(This is a repost from the column of Mags Maglana in SunStar Davao, October 24, 2015. Maglana is a member of the SOS Network and SAGIPP. Photo from SunStar Davao)

IS IT an evacuation or a mobilization? Are they innocent victims or are they partisan actors? The situation of the 700 or so Manobo and Matigsalog who have been in the Haran Compound in Davao City since end of May this year is a conundrum. A conundrum because it’s one of those situations that cannot be summarized by a simple cause and effect analysis where one side is clearly wrong and the other, the hapless wronged.

It has reached a point where those who do not have immediate access to the Lumad groups in question but try to be more aware are truly puzzled and in some instances even put off by the narratives and images provided by mass and social media, and other sources. To the unfortunate extent that the non-government organizations, academe and churches that could have been involved in the delivery of humanitarian response, and the search for more durable solutions are not engaged, whether out of confusion, paralysis or choice.

Participating in a few of the processes that sought to discuss the Haran situation and the plight of other Lumad such as the October 15 Multi-sectoral Dialogue on the Normalization of the Lumads in their Ancestral Homes convened by the Ateneo de Davao University (ADDU), and the October 19 Peace Forum on the Children’s Agenda in the GPH-NDFP Peace Process organized by the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP), it was interesting listening to varying conceptualizations of “the problem” as viewed by different stakeholders. I think though that it’s really far from being just a singular problem.

The problem is not whether they left forcibly as in an evacuation or out of conviction as in a mobilization. One of the problems is that a significant number of people have left their homes and farms and stayed away for five months now, their lives disrupted, and with no clear indications in sight of satisfactory agreements that would enable them to go back and remain safe. Answering the question why they left is important. But only in so far as they provide insights into what triggers Lumad departure from their domains, and certainly not as a precondition for effective actions that would enable them to return.

The problem is not that the Haran situation does not meet notions and standards about what an evacuation is, and whether all, the majority or only some of the community departed from their place. One of the problems is that Lumad communities, and Talaingod is a good example of it, are not politically homogeneous, and no longer fit the stereotype of communities defined and united by traditional rule. Centuries of being dominated by extraneous political, cultural and economic systems, decades of being exposed to different economic interests as well as political education and mobilization, and their own societal dynamics have made Lumad communities politically diverse, even divided and charged—much like other populations.

Some Lumad are comfortable being part or supportive of multiple political institutions such as the Philippine State and its economic agenda, and their tribe’s political and economic systems. It is not surprising thus that the political consensus that others require in Talaingod is not there, and that instead there are disagreements. For instance, much has been made of the complaint allegedly filed by some Manobo and LGU leaders against the community learning centers of the Salugpungan ‘Ta Tanu Igkanugon and which apparently led to the non-issuance of the centers’ permit. And just to speak to the matter, studies and stories about displaced peoples have shown that those who are faced with threats and uncertainty take calculated risks and make arrangements about who stays or periodically returns to check on their homes and livelihood.

The problem isn’’t that Lumad students of the Salugpungan learning centers are, assuming the observation is valid, learning through their ABC’s that the letter “I” stands for imperialism. One of the problems is that there are not enough schools, teachers and facilities for Lumad communities that are in interior and mountainous areas, and that the Lumad are at risk of not being conversant with the languages, beliefs and institutions that mainstream society and government use in their day to day business, including making choices that impinge on the Lumad and their cultural, political, economic and natural resources. Now, the fear that a generation of Lumad children could grow up to become ideologues is not a small matter and deserves discussion. But it is flawed thinking to assume that the solution then is to let the situation stand as it was before the 700 Lumad mainly from Talaingod and Kapalong left their homes and farms: to allow military and paramilitary groups to occupy schools and disrupt the education of children, to abet the recruitment and formation of paramilitary groups among indigenous communities that only increase tensions and the conditions for violent conflicts instead of security.

The problem isn’’t that the Lumad were agitated into action by being told that government had been remiss in delivering services to them. One of the fundamental problems is that the assumptions and results of processes like the Treaty of Paris of 1898–which had been entered into between the Spanish and American colonial powers, caused the annexing of even the unconquered territories of Mindanao and paved the way for laws that nullified traditional land claims and governance systems of the indigenous peoples — were carried forward unproblematically by the Philippine Republic. The lackadaisical delivery of public services is but one manifestation of the historical injustices committed against indigenous peoples.

The problem isn’’t that Lumad and support groups are mounting a nationwide campaign through the Manilakbayan to call attention to the threats to ancestral domains, the dismal delivery of essential services, and militarization. One of the problems is that they have to do so before government and society truly pay attention. Because the preferred state seems to be for the Lumad to endure and be accepting of their situation, to stay out of sight, and to only conveniently come out during festivals.

I keep saying “one of the problems” because it is in the nature of conundrums to resist reduction to only one problem, no matter how strong the desire to come up with the definitive tagline or meme, or to uphold one view against another. And there certainly are more problems such as the recent killing of Mayor Dario Otaza of Loreto, Agusan del Sur and his son Daryl, and whose deaths are being used to fuel more animosity in Lumad communities.

But it is a test of our maturity to be able to wade and sort through problems, to recognize inconsistencies and contradictions, decide what standpoint to uphold based on one’s beliefs amid the complications, and figure out which solutions can be dealt with first or more realistically but with the intention of getting to the very heart of things without making that the precondition of action.

The thing about conundrums of a social nature is that they deserve to be problematized in earnest by society. This is where the engagement of more non-government organizations, academe and churches in the Haran situation is particularly missed. Studies, dialogues and other processes that bring more light and understanding to the problems, identify wider common ground, as well as surface deeper commitment to the solutions are needed.

If I may say so, opting to distance from the Haran situation and reinforcing the notion that it is a contestation between the Leftists and Government, well, that’s one of the problems.