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.

How to help the Manobo evacuees

Calls for support to the Manobo communities driven out from their communities by the paramilitary murders of their leaders have increased in recent days.

The Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, which has community schools in lumad areas in Mindanao, call out to the Catholic groups to support the alternative learning schools and call for the end of militarization in Mindanao.

“We encourage different sectors especially the church people to join and support in condemning the continuous attack to Lumad communities and their alternative learning schools. We challenge the Aquino government to immediately act and stop the political killings, harassment and militarization not only in Surigao del Sur but the whole Mindanao region.” said RMP National Coordinator Sr. Francis Añover, RSM, who is also a Mindanaoan.

Añover also appealed to the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines to condole with the Manobo evacuees. “We also urge the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines to condole with the victims by condemning the offense and the implementation of Oplan Bayanihan.”

Meanwhile, Manila Bulletin columnist and blogger Tonyo Cruz wrote about things the public can do to help the indigenous peoples in Mindanao, as suggested by Karapatan:

1. Ask President BS Aquino, the military’s commander-in-chief, to immediately order the withdrawal of military forces from all Manobo Lumad communities, houses, and schools so that the displaced communities could return home.

2. Call for an end to displacements, abductions, killings, and massacres of Manobo Lumads, and for an independent investigation into the tragic incidents.

3. Call for the prosecution of the perpetrators.

4. Call for abolition of Magahat Bagani, Alamara, and other “vigilante” groups.

5. Ask for the resignation of Rep. Catamco as chair of the House Committee on Indigenous Peoples, and for her investigation over the June 23 attack on UCCP Haran.

6. Seek an end to the “Oplan Bayanihan” counter-insurgency program for targeting civilians and civilian communities.

Statement: Attacks on Mindanao Lumad schools and communities intensify as Aquino’s military goes berserk for Oplan Bayanihan

The last year of the Benigno S. Aquino presidency has meant a bloodbath for indigenous peoples and for Lumad education, two months after his State of the Nation Address where he gloated of figures that have purportedly addressed classroom shortages and increased the quality of Philippine education.

Emerito ‘Tatay Emok’ Samarca, executive director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Development, Inc. (ALCADEV) and a convenor of the Save Our Schools Network was killed by government-backed indigenous paramilitary forces. His body was found lying in a pool of blood, with stab wounds on his neck, and his throat slit. While Dionel Campos, chairperson of MAPASU (Persevering Struggle for Future Manobo Generations), and his cousin Aurelio “Bello” Sinzo, were strafed dead before the terrified community of Han-ayan, Lianga town, Surigao del Sur province.

The paramilitary group Magahat— armed, controlled, and commanded by the 36th Infantry Battalion, Philippine Army— burned down the school cooperative building and threatened to massacre the entire community if they would not leave the area two days before the killing of the Samarca, Campos, and Sinzo in the morning of September 1, 2015.

The dastardly crime which was perpetrated at dawn and later carried out in broad daylight, terrified the erstwhile peaceful Manobo school and community. As of this writing, the number of evacuees in Caraga has swelled to 2,000 individuals or 500 families coming from the municipalities of San Miguel and Lianga, with some 70 families still lost in nearby forests.

The Philippine military’s attack on ALCADEV using indigenous paramilitaries is by far the gravest and most vicious violation of indigenous peoples’ right to education and constitutes a wholesale violation of children’s rights. Moreover, as schools are an integral part of communities, the attack is an open declaration of the Philippine state’s war of annihilation against people’s organizations and communities resisting foreign largescale plunder of ancestral domains.

The 36th IB Philippine Army-Magahat rampage at the ALCADEV School shows that the Aquino government has dropped all pretenses of adhering to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international human rights instruments. It also demonstrates the irrefutable crimes of the Philippine Army against indigenous children which the UN Special Representative of the Secretary General on Children and the Armed Conflict has continually glossed over, understated, or consistently concealed in its annual reports.

The Philippine government’s attacks on the ALCADEV School clearly shows its contempt towards self-determined development asserted by indigenous communities. Alternative Lumad schools are pushing for their own culturally-relevant pedagogy that liberates indigenous peoples from the yoke of institutionalized discrimination and corporate plunder of ancestral lands.

These Ethnocidal attacks on indigenous education, indigenous leaders and their staunch advocates and supporters are but the latest in a string of Aquino’s orders to tighten the noose on Lumad schools:
1.Since April of 2014 up to present, 25 Lumad schools and community schools were forced to halt operations for the entire month of June due to harassment by the AFP and sanctioned by the Department of Education (DepEd).
2.At least 84 cases of attacks on 57 community schools have displaced and disrupted the education of over 3,000 Lumad children.
3.Three (3) minors were brutally killed by the elements of 3rd Company of the 1st Special Forces Battalion under the ground commander Capt. Balatbat with Col. Nasser Lidasan as Battalion Commander on August 19, 2015 in Pangatukan town, Bukidnon province. They were part of 5 Manobo tribals strafed and killed on suspicion of being NPA combatants.
4.The schooling of Lumad children under the Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur was disrupted when residents of Brgy. Siagao, San Miguel, Surigao del Sur were displaced. The victims were killed by an armed group led by Hasmin and elements of the 36th IBPA.
5.A Lumad child was among 14 farmers in White Culaman, Kitaotao, Bukidnon who were illegally detained and arrested by elements of 8th IB ug 23rd IB headed by Nicolas Rivera and an official named Tocmo. All were accused as members of the New People’s Army in contrast to the fact that they are members of organizations Nagkahiusang Mag-uuma sa Barangay White Culaman ( NAMABAW) and Tinananon Kulamanon Lumadnong Panaghiusa sa Arakan (TIKULPA). The Army threatened to burn down the MISFI-run (Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation Incorporated) school which offers 7th and 8th grade education in Sitio Dao, Bukidnon.
6.Adding to these abuses is the ongoing mass evacuation of the Talaingod people in Davao City since April of this year due to intensified military operations and threats from the terrorist paramilitary group ALAMARA. Around 1, 000 individuals from San Fernando Bukidnon, Kapalong and Talaingod, Davao del Norte have sought sanctuary at UCCP Haran, Davao City. Learners from STTICLC in Talaingod have been holding their classes at the refugee camp since the evacuation started.

The Aquino government should be held accountable for all these violations. It is responsible for the formation and arming of the paramilitary groups, the paving the way for the enty of largescale destructive projects in the ancestral domains, the sowing of disunity among IPs, and the killings that have claimed the lives of many.
The Save Our Schools Network demands Justice for Samarca, Campos, Sinzo and all victims of human rights abuses! End all forms of attacks on schools and communities!

Prof. Mae Fe Templa, RSW, MSW
Convenor, Save Our Schools Network

Stop the killings in Mindanao

UN expert Chaloka Beyani urges action on Manobo evacuees

Dr. Chaloka Beyani, UN Special Rapporteur (at the middle) stands beside Datu Tungig Mansimoy-at, a Manobo evacuee and tribal chieftain from Talaingod, Davao del Norte during the visit of human rights advocates in Manila last July 21. (photo from Karapatan)


Dr. Chaloka Beyani, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of the internally-displaced persons, recently made an official visit to the Philippines last July 21 to 31, including a visit to UCCP Haran in Davao City to talk with the Manobo evacuees. Prior to her visit to Davao, she met Manobo leader Datu Tungig Mansimoy-at from Salugpongan in Manila last July 21 where the tribal leader initially talked about their plight.

The rapporteur released an official statement which included the following excerpt on the Manobo communities, which ends with an urgent call to take concrete actions to protect the indigenous communities.

“It was striking to me that indigenous peoples have been particularly vulnerable to conflict-induced displacement in many regions, particularly in Mindanao. For example, I am concerned by the plight of some 700 indigenous peoples currently living in basic Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) church run facilities in the city of Davao having been displaced from their ancestral homes for several months due to long-standing conflict between the government and the New People’s Army (NPA) in their region. I travelled to Davao to consult the national and local authorities and the indigenous peoples themselves on this situation. I heard from the AFP its assertion that it is seeking to protect the communities and provide services to them in conflict regions; however the displaced IPs made it clear that it is their presence and that of the paramilitary groups in their communities that continues to create anxiety amongst the indigenous communities. The community wishes to return to its lands but stressed to me that they will only feel safe to do so if the long-term militarization of their region comes to an end and they can return with guarantees of safety, dignity and protection. They described to me their concerns including their alleged forced recruitment into paramilitary groups, known as Alamara, under the auspices of the AFP and harassment in the context of the on-going conflict between the AFP and the NPA. Schools have reportedly been closed and/or occupied by the AFP or Alamara, hampering the access to education of indigenous children. While tribal leaders informed me that they are not being detained against their will at the UCCP centre in Davao, as is evident by reports of their periodic return to their communities, their current situation is neither acceptable nor sustainable. It is essential to find a rapid and peaceful solution to their situation in full consultation with their legitimate leaders, with their voluntary and secure return to their ancestral lands being a high priority. I urge the Government, in consultation with indigenous peoples themselves, to give greater attention to addressing the causes of displacement whether it be due to the militarization of their areas or due to development projects.

This situation clearly demonstrates the massive and potentially irreversible impact of the on-going conflicts on displacement of such vulnerable communities who are often caught up in the conflict and suspected of involvement with armed groups. Displacement, whether due to conflict or development, not only destroys the homes and livelihoods of indigenous peoples, but has an incalculable impact on their cultures and ways of life that are part of the rich and diverse heritage of the Philippines that must be protected or otherwise lost, perhaps forever. Indigenous peoples are poorly equipped to survive away from their ancestral lands and are therefore deeply affected by displacement. The needs of these vulnerable people must be assessed, with their full participation, so as to provide essential assistance for them, including durable solutions which are culturally sensitive and appropriate, when displacement has taken place. The displacement of such communities whose very lives and cultures are intimately entwined with their ancestral lands and environments must only be a matter of last resort. It is clear to me that existing legislation and institutions, including the exemplary Indigenous Peoples Rights Act cannot provide adequate protection from displacement unless fully implemented in practice. Specific provisions on the rights of indigenous peoples should be included in the IDP Law currently under consideration.”

The full text of Beyani’s statement can be found in the United Nation Human Rights website here.


Police, military and Congresswoman Catamco sued over church attack

Manobo leaders and the UCCP heads filed charges against police, military officials and Congresswoman Nancy Catamco over the attack at UCCP Haran last July 23 that left 15 injured and
traumatized children.

The complaint filed by Bishop Hamuel Tequis of UCCP Southeastern Mindanao and leaders of Salugpongan, charged North Cotabato 2nd District Representative Nancy Catamco, Davao City Police Deputy Director Colonel Marvin Pepino, PNP Regional Intelligence Office Head Col. Filmore Escobal, and Colonel Jake Obligado of Eastern Mindanao Command as responsible for the incident.

They are charged with violations to the Revised Penal Code on seven provision including Usurpation of Authority or Official Function, Physical Injuries Inflicted in a Tumultuous Affray, Serious Physical Injuries, Qualified Trespass to Dwelling, Grave Threats, Grave Coercion, and Malicious Mischief.

Also charged are leaders of the paramilitary group Alamara which the Salugpongan leaders claimed instigated the attack. This is the same paramilitary that has been harassing them in Talaingod and Kapalong, Davao del Norte.

(Photos courtesy of Davao Today. Read coverage of the case filing here)
Respondents to Haran attack

Cases on Haran incident

Woman chieftain chastises Catamco

Watch this video as Matigsalug leader Bae Bibiyaon Ligkayan Bigkay, one of the few woman chieftain in Mindanao, chastises North Cotabato Congresswoman Nancy Catamco in the aftermath of the police clash with her fellow lumads at the UCCP Haran.

Bae Bibiayon, a leader of the Natulinan organization in Bukidnon, rebukes the Congresswoman for betraying their trust as a fellow lumad and insisted them to return back to their villages through police force.

The Congresswoman is also declared persona-non-grata the lumads for disrespecting their leaders and insulting the lumad children in a dialogue. See story here.

Below is the statement of the Salugpongan Ta ‘Tanu Igkanugon criticizing Catamco over the incidence.

The declaration of ‘pangayaw’ by a datu supported by Nancy Catamco is arrogant and fascist, and this is the message shown by the group of police, Alamara and civilian-wearing soldiers ordered by Catamco to disturb our shelter at UCCP Haran.

Their brutality and murderous intent were shown in their actions in our communities and once again here in Davao City.

We condemn the infiltration made by the group led by Catamco that disturbed our peaceful evacuation. They destroyed the gates of UCCP Haran, beat our families, dragged some of the UCCP pastors, and accused us as criminals.

What Catamco did is plain disturbance and disrespect to us lumads. He used the police and Alamara to forced us to go home but she and the notorious police and Alamara have failed in doing this.

The anger that Bae Bibyaon Ligkayan Bigkay expressed in front of Catamco yesterday is not even enough to show our anger towards this Congresswoman who claims to be an educated lumad but we witnessed her arrogance, disrespect and fakery.

Catamco should be investigated for her actions and her connections with the military. She should be held accountable for the troubles she made that resulted to the police brutality and dispersal at UCCP Haran.

Catamco’s threat that she will return to UCCP Haran poses a threat to the security of our families and to the Manbo community.

Watch police clash with Lumads in evacuation center

(contributed photo)

Police and other state forces barged their way into the UCCP Haran last July 23 Thursday in an alleged attempt to “rescue” the 700 Manobo evacuees.

Some 15 lumads were injured from their attempt to block the shield and stick-wielding police. The incident disrupted classes of some 180 Manobo children inside the compound who were rushed into a safer place in the compound.

Watch the footage of the incident from Kilab Multimedia.

The clash fizzled after Davao City Vice Mayor Paulo Duterte intervened and allowed the Manobo evacuees to decide who wanted to leave the shelter and take the free transportation provided by authorities. Not one Manobo evacuee volunteered.

The Save Our Schools Network joins the Manobo evacuees in condemning the police attack. They blame North Cotabato 2nd District Congresswoman Nancy Catamco for instigating the attack after announcing that she will get them out of the compound.

The group condemns Catamco for ignoring the real issue of the Lumads which is the presence of military and paramilitary troops in their villages.