‘Lumad’ takes IP struggle to Congress
SURIGAO CITY, Surigao del Norte, Philippines — After years of struggling for the rights of indigenous peoples (IPs), Manobo tribeswoman Eufemia Cullamat from Surigao del Sur finally leveled up her advocacy with a seat in the House of Representatives.
“I will pledge my life for our struggle and bring it to Congress,” said Cullamat, a native of Lianga town, after she took her oath of office before Surigao City Vice Mayor Alfonso Casurra on June 3.
Cullamat is the second Manobo to serve in Congress after former Cotabato Rep. Nancy Catamco, but she is the first from Surigao del Sur and the first “lumad” (IPs in Mindanao) to represent the Bayan Muna party list in Congress.
“We have prevailed, despite the circumstances that we have faced during the campaign period from the harassment and threats,” she said.
“Even if they have accused and vilified us for being supporters of communist armed groups, we stood our ground and we proved them wrong,” she added.
Fight for IP rights
“After years of aiming and hoping that the voice of [the] lumad will be raised to Congress, it is now becoming real,” Cullamat said.
Cullamat, who will turn 59 in August, stressed that her new position was “not mine but of the lumad people” and promised to press the fight for lumad rights.
Cullamat has been at the forefront of the IP struggle since the 1980s.
The town of Lianga has been a key hub for logging operations since 1960, as a concession area of Lianga Bay Logging Co. Inc.
“Our rights have never been respected. When the logging operation started, our elders recalled that nobody even bothered to ask for their consent [and people took] advantage of their lack of education,” Cullamat said.
From mid 1980’s and into the early 90’s, when logging operations slowly declined, she said it was the turn of mining companies to covet their lands.
To address the lack of education in her tribe, Cullamat, along with other groups and church leaders, established lumad schools in her province, including the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (Alcadev) Inc. that opened at Sitio Han-ayan in Lianga in July 2004.
Right to self-determination
It was the same school that was later dubbed by the military as a recruitment hub for the New People’s Army and became the object of harassment by soldiers and paramilitary men.
On Sept. 1, 2015, Cullamat along with several residents of her village witnessed the execution of her brother Dionel Campos, then chair of a lumad organization, and her uncle, tribal leader Datu Juvello Sinzo, as well as Alcadev school executive Emerito Samarca.
The killings forced around 2,400 IPs from their homes. They lived inside the sports complex in Tandag City for a year, or until September 2016.
Cullamat said they had hoped for a better future when President Duterte, whom they supported, won in 2016.
But their hope was dashed when the “military operations in our area became more frequent and severe” and worsened when martial law was declared in Mindanao.
Members of her tribe have also been displaced five times between 2016 and 2019, she noted.
In Congress, she said, she would push for laws that would “further strengthen our struggle for our right of self-determination and for us to have a say about the resources within our ancestral land and not be dictated [upon] by someone or those who have greedy motives toward mining and illegal logging in our area.”
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