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Indigenous Peoples: To walk for a Cause

Kim’s Dream Orlan Ravanera
TAMA NA: Agaw Gubat, Agaw Lupa, Agaw Buhay

Land , water, forests and all natural resources called commons are the economic assets of the poor especially the Indigenous Peoples who for thousands of years have been using these resources in the spirit of sharing and service. However, when the colonizers came and privatized these commons especially during these neo-colonization contemporaneous times, there is the continuing exclusion of these commons at the expense of the Indigenous Peoples who are now living in extreme poverty. After decimating the 17 million hectares dipterocarp forests, the home of the billions of species of flora and fauna, the source of food and the “pharmacy” of the IPs, millions of hectares of ancestral domains land have been transformed into massive plantations to satisfy the consumerist needs of the people in advanced countries while we cannot even produce basic staples to feed our hungry people.

We in the ecological movement are voicing our firm opposition to the destruction of the vital commons which are so essential for our survival. Without water, fertile land and crop and plant genetic diversity, economic development will become impossible. We have to stop extreme poverty and the massive oppression of the Indigenous Peoples. When I invited no less than the amazing journalist, Mr. Ceazar Soriano early last year, he heard the narratives of oppression of the different tribes in Mindanao which he had shown in 3 episodes in his weakly program, MAGANDANG GABI PILIPINAS entitled, “ AGAW LUPA, AGAW TUBIG, AGAW BUHAY.” Here is the summary of the IPs’ narratives: “Since 2016, a total of 92 individuals especially IP leaders have fallen victims to extra judicial killings with around 169 victims of frustrated EJks, 227 IPs have been illegally arrested, detained and abducted and 27 reported being subjected to torture.” For what? For resisting the continuing illegal land grabbing of their ancestral domains.

Let us revisit some of these painful narratives. In San Vicente, Sumilao, Bukidnon, the Manobo Tribe headed by a lady Datu named Bae Merlita Mayantao stood up to defend their 5,000-ha. ancestral domain which was fenced into a ranch by a powerful corporation. When the tribe protested in 2016, barrage of bullets rained upon them and 3 protesters died and 3 wounded including two of her children. Until now, it was so painful to know that nothing has been done and I was told they are seeing the killers going around freely who are members of a well-known Security Group. But such is just a tip of the iceberg. If you go to the 2-lane highway in Butong, Quezon, Bukidnon, more than one thousand families of the Manobo-Pulangiyon Tribe are living under shattered tents for more than five years now eating only “kamote” once a day. Why? Because they were ousted from their 1,111 ha. – ancestral domain by a powerful multi-million pineapple plantation company, Kiantig Development Corporation, owned and managed by the incumbent Mayor, Pablo Lorenzo III. After six years of advocacy and legal struggle, the long-awaited Certificate of Recognition has been issued by the National Commission of the Indigenous Peoples, signed by no less than the Chairman, Sec. Allen Capuyan and six NCIP Administrators which recognizes the ownership of the Tribe of their ancestral domain. With that concrete and categorical Certification, can the tribe now enter their ancestral domain. No! When the chieftains together with NCIP lawyer served the notice to the corporation printed in a tarpaulin, the notice has been torn-off into shreds by the armed men of the corporation.

On April 19,2022, the tribe has finally decided to enter a 4-ha. vacant area just some 50 meters aways from where they have been living under shattered tents. They could bear it any longer as five of their children have already been hit by running cars. But upon entering the 4-ha. vacant area, the goons of Kiantig Development Corporation headed by a powerful Mayor rained bullets upon them for 15 minutes, shooed them away like rats by the Mayor’s goons. Five tribal members got hit including women and children. Until now, no one has been made accountable. The AFP and the PNP who were just near the shooting area, did nothing at all. After the shooting, they just left, not even helping the wounded children and women. What a shame!!! For that alone, they should be the subject of investigation as it was only a month prior to the May 2022 National Election when it was disallowed to carry or fire guns especially by goons who are not even registered as a security group.

In Sitio Kibaritan, Malinao, Kalilangan, Bukinon, some 167 members of the Kibarian Farmers Higaonon Tribe Cooperative are the victims of massive oppression and harassment by men in uniform as their 195-ha. area has been transformed as part of the 42,165 military reservation. They are now living in hunger and extreme poverty as their farms are continuously being tructored, buckhoed and griderred by men in uniform. Such is a travesty of their prior right as they have been occupants of the area for the past 50, 60 or even 70 when their ancestors who were settlers began occupying the land as settlers. Never should the Sitio be transformed into “firing range” as it is already a community with an elementary school, a chapel and a day-care center. In utter disregard to the recommendation of agencies of government and the LGU, such conversion into a military reservation proceeded which resulted to the death of three children who were victims of the explosion of an Unidentified Explosive Ordnance on March 25,2016 which until now was not given any justice or no one has been made accountable as apparently the children’s horrible death was due to gross negligence of men in uniform who did not even provide warning sign after converting the area some 150 meters away near the elementary school into a “firing range.”

These Indigenous Peoplss cannot take the non-stop oppression of their basic human right to continue. All these years, they have been advocating with a firm collective intent to fight for what is right, what is true and what is just but no one is listening. Indeed, in this country, no one is above the law, all must bow down to the majesty of the law because we must follow the rule of law and not of men. But it is so painful for them to see that the rule of law being defied without let-up. What is being followed is the rule of the guns, rule of money and rule of power. Thus, they have decided to walk for a cause to Manila to present their problems to no less than the President of the Republic of the Philippines and to a much bigger court: the Filipino People.

They have decided to do what the Panaw Multi-purpose Cooperative had done for justice and sustainability. Let us revisit the Cooperative’s amazing successful story.

The 147-hectare flat agricultural terrain at the foot of Mt. Kitanglad in Sumilao, Bukidnon as an ancestral land where the Higaonon Indigenous Communities, as early settlers, had lived sustainably for hundred of years. It was their forefathers’ but not anymore. A series of evictions came beginning in the 1930s up to the 1970s when powerful clans in Bukidnon turned the land into cattle ranch and grazing areas. With the advent of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, struggle to regain back the blessed land began in the `1990s but the powerful clans’ grip of the land had been tightened through legal maneuverings. Thus, in 2007, 55 landless farmers who were members pf the Cooperative did a decisive move that would reverse the flow of history that always favored the rich and the powerful. This time, the appeal for justice was to a bigger court – to the Filipino people themselves.

“Walk for land, walk for justice,” was their battle cry when they began their 1,700- km. hike from Sumilao, Bukidnon to Manila that lasted for two long months or 55 days. Day and night they would walk under the excruciating heat of the sun and braving the coldness of the night. Upon reaching Manila on Dec. 5, 2007, and set-up camp at the DAR Central office in Quezon City, the Sumilao farmers walked further to Malacanang on Dec. 17,2007 in a church-led procession escorted by hundreds of supporters including bishops, priests, nuns, seminarians and students. They met then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for dialogue. Finally on Dec. 18,2007. The President through her Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita issued an Executive Order to revoke the conversion order of 144 hectares the farmers were fighting for and put the land back under the CARP. Their cause had ceased to be theirs alone but became a national outcry getting outpourings of support from all sectors. The long oppressive years had finally ended for the Sumilao farmers.

But the journey to liberate the oppressed Indigenous Peoples has just begun. Let the trail-blazing “walk for a cause” by the Sumilao farmers be a model. Therefore, soon thousands of Indigenous Peoples will march to Manila to bring to the fore the painful realities of oppression to the Filipino people that will unify the poor and the oppressed firmly believing that the PEOPLE UNITED, CAN NEVER BE DEFEATED! TAMA NA ANG PANG- AAPI DAHIL ANG MGA INDIGENOUS PEOPLES AY TAO AT HINDI BASURA! They are human beings and not disposable wastes! Let us now fight for what is right, what is true and what Is just for God’s greater glory!

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