Burnishing bona fides
In Sunday’s Inquirer, columnist Randy David recalled the “Mang Pandoy” tragedy. On a 1992 TV show with 11 squabbling presidential contenders, this dirt-poor gardener offered a startling swap: his life for cash. His kids could then finish studies and break free of poverty that sapped his own life.
The nation was haunted by a man “whose unspeakable despair stood as an indictment of the sharp inequalities and poverty in our society,” David wrote. President Fidel Ramos hired the gardener as his anti-poverty program icon. “Mang Pandoy’s circumstances never improved.” He died as poor as he was before plucked from anonymity.
Multiply “Mang Pandoy” by thousands of lumads. There are roughly 12 million plus indigenous people in 19 provinces. Many of these 18 tribes cluster in conflict-torn Mindanao: from the B’laan in Davao del Sur and South Cotabato, Manobos in Agusan del Sur, Davao and Bukidnon to Subanons in Zamboanga peninsula.
There, they assert—or used to—native title over swathes of land as their “ancestral domain.” Waves of migrants, spurred by resettlement programs over the years, shoved the lumads into eroded uplands with thin forest cover.
Their predicament is carved into “Timbang Tungkay’s” face. He heads a T’boli village of 14 families by Allah River in South Cotabato. “Hunger defines our lives,” this father of 24 children told researchers from Environmental Science for Social Change at Ateneo and United Nations.
Many of his children “died from coughs, fevers and bad stomachs,” his interview says in the book “Forest Faces: Hopes and Regrets of Philippine Forestry.” Before, there were “many months that we were hungry. Now, it is seasonal.”
Landless Hilongo migrants came to settle. “They did not have money, so the T’Bolis let them use the land—which the migrants now claim as their own… The T’Boli were elbowed into plowing remaining areas not occupied by migrants.”
“The need is for children to go to school,” Timbang Tungkay adds. How they continue as T’Bolis is not clear. There is need for our children to “be conscious they are T’Boli.”
Today, lumads find their future teetering again in the jerky peace process between the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
“If and when a settlement is reached, thorny questions about protecting the (lumad’s) distinct identity and land (must be) addressed,” the Brussels-based International Crisis group cautioned last week. Ignoring overlapping claims “will be a shaky foundation for peace” and stoke “further claims of injustice.”
Lumads “will benefit from a political settlement that’d end armed rebellion,” MILF asserts. “On surface, it seems natural that Moros and lumads would share common interest. Both were pushed off their land as Mindanao was incorporated into the Philippine state.”
This solidarity barely masks differences among tribes. Some see themselves as distinct. They resolutely oppose being included in an expanded Bangsamoro homeland. “Others are resigned to their fate.”
“In practice, relations are uneasy,” notes Asia Report No. 213 released by the group’s Jakarta office. Tribal leaders recall enslavement by some Moros. Will lumads be better off under a Moro substate? Many doubt it, “especially if it will not respect existing land titles… and other indigenous rights in national legislation could be curtailed.”
“Lumads are also frustrated by the government’s flawed implementation of the 1997 Indigenous Peoples Rights Act.” In any case, IPRA does not apply in the sleaze-bugged Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao now being overhauled by President Benigno Aquino III.
Since P-Noy took office, GRP and MILF held consultations with lumad leaders. “But these efforts have neither dispelled the fears of lumads. Nor have they reassured them that their rights will be guaranteed after a settlement.”
Both the GRP and MILF “must address the issue of land because it is the bedrock of tribal identity and self-governance. The Aquino administration ought to prioritize implementing indigenous rights in the ARRM.
Specifically, “applications for ancestral domain titles from tribes, who live in areas that may be included in an expanded Bangsamoro homeland should be processed without further delay,” the group said.
The MILF should clarify “whether IPRA would apply in a Bangsamoro substate.” That would dispel suspicions. How will overlapping ancestral domain claims be resolved? “The issues at stake cut to the heart of many concerns about how democratic a substate would be.”
Lumads never took up arms against the Philippine government. Is that why “they are not one of the parties at the GRP-MILF negotiating table?” Divisions within and between tribes make it also difficult for the lumads to unify.
“The vast majority of lumads are impoverished and marginalized,” the group points out. The handful of leaders who speak on their behalf struggle to be heard. Thus, their grievances and problems rarely blip on national radar screens. “Out of sight, out of mind,” Homer curtly says in “The Odyssey.”
President Aquino can burnish his bona fides for lumads by jump-starting the stalled probe into the assassination of Fr. Fausto Tentorio. The Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions priest, who served the lumads of North Cotabato for 33 years, had been gunned down last October… ironically in “Indigenous People’s Month.”
Nailing Fr. Tentorio’s assassin sooner, rather than later, will not only strengthen P-Noy’s hand in MILF peace talks. It complies with his oath to do justice for vulnerable peacemakers.
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