Story of ‘lumad’ poverty repeats every Christmas | Inquirer News

Story of ‘lumad’ poverty repeats every Christmas

/ 12:10 AM December 27, 2014

Carrying her 1-year-old baby, Christine, in a piece of cloth wrapped around her body called “salulo,” Ata-Manobo mother Mercy Licunan roams Davao City to ask for Christmas gifts.  INQUIRER MINDANAO

Carrying her 1-year-old baby, Christine, in a piece of cloth wrapped around her body called “salulo,” Ata-Manobo mother Mercy Licunan roams Davao City to ask for Christmas gifts. INQUIRER MINDANAO

Her year-old baby bundled in a wraparound called “salulo” while her 4-year-old daughter tailed barefoot, Mercy Licunan roamed Davao City’s market, stores and narrow alleys in the downtown area, tapping on doors and begging for Christmas gifts.

“With little chances of celebrating Christmas with enough food on our table in our village, we decided to join our tribal folks in going down here in the city to ask for gifts,” Licunan, 25, said. They were hundreds of miles away from their house in an Ata-Manobo community in Sitio Mangani, Barangay Tampak, in the hinterlands of Paquibato District.


The woman and her two children are among around 16,000 indigenous people, mostly from the Matigsalog and Manobo tribes, who are staying in eight cramped shelter areas in the city for the holidays.


It was already noon that sweltering day, so Licunan sat on the concrete pavement to rest and breastfeed Christina. Heaving a sigh, she reached into her pockets and counted the money she had after five hours of walking around. She counted P5 coins.

“It can buy us only water. It is not enough to buy rice or canned sardines. But we will survive,” she said, wiping the sweat off her face.

Licunan has been joining the yearly trek down the mountains for the past seven years to celebrate Christmas in the city. Every Christmas is a story of a difficult experience, she lamented.

The City Social Service and Development Office (CSSDO) has been providing shelter and assistance for the “lumad” (indigenous peoples) since 2003, and their numbers have been swelling every year, with more coming from as far as Talaingod town in Davao del Norte province, Arakan town in North Cotabato province and Kitcharao town in Agusan del Norte province.

The shelter areas are usually open gyms or basketball courts where the lumad, including the children and elderly, sleep on cold concrete floors with whatever belongings they have.



“We have advised them repeatedly to not bring the elderly, children and pregnant women with them. But they cannot be stopped,” said Maria Luisa Bermudo, chief of the CSSDO.

“The challenge for us now is how to efficiently deliver the needs of the lumad in terms of food, sanitation and security,” Bermudo said. “We also provide health services along with the City Health Office. And most importantly, we provide daily food rations for them.”

She noted that “many became ill because of the crowded shelter areas.” This year alone, at least three persons had died of different ailments. Other deaths in the past have also been documented, including a child who was hit by a vehicle.

The CSSDO also seeks to ensure that the lumad would not be abused or exploited, and their rights protected during their stay, Bermudo said. She said discrimination against the lumad is still strong.

For hours, Licunan and her children scoured the downtown area, receiving consecutive “no” and “sorry” from people they approached. She surmised that many could not spare much money because of the economic crisis, but what disappointed her was how they still see them as lowlifes.

“When we pass by people or when we ride the jeepney, many people would cover their noses. We know we don’t smell bad because we take a bath daily. Sometimes, some jeepney drivers would not allow us to take a ride. Why would they refuse us? We have money for fare,” she said.



A few would jeer at them, calling them “natives,” or mock them because of their dark skin, she said.

“I also don’t get it why some would call us indolent. We work hard in the farms. We earn only P150 a day if we work for a landlord, but we toil tirelessly. We just hope that these people would stop judging us,” Licunan said.

Bermudo said the practice of receiving the lumad is an exercise of respect to their right to travel. “The best thing that we can give to them is respect. We should respect the no refusal policy,” she said.

Licunan found it ironic that there were still people who regard the original inhabitants of Mindanao that way, considering that Davao City takes pride in the grandiose Kadayawan Festival, which is originally a tribute to the 10 lumad tribes.

“If they enjoy Kadayawan, then they should learn how to respect the lumad,” she said. She, however, has not yet attended the festival because no one has extended an invitation or asked for help.

This Christmas, Licunan said no one had told them to go to the city, but the statements made by its mayor, Rodrigo Duterte, encouraged them to join the festivities. “Mayor Duterte never told us to go to the city but the local government said it was always ready to welcome us,” she said.

Aya Ragragio, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of the Philippines in Mindanao, described the practice of the lumad going to the city as doing more harm than good because it is creating and maintaining a culture of dependency.

“Begging and doling to those who beg, is seen as a viable approach to solving poverty,” she said.

“People may say that, well, it’s Christmas and that’s what we are supposed to do. Which brings us to the second reason and that it masks the real conditions of why poverty exists among those who give, such as the urban middle class, and instead reinforces the illusion that charity is all that is needed to solve this,” Ragragio said.

The practice might have negative effects on the cultural integrity of the lumad, she said.

“There is no doubt that their culture is dynamic and that they are able to process and appropriate external influences, but is this the kind of influence we want to share with them? That once a year we have this occasion called Christmas during which they can get a kilo of rice or get treated to Jollibee and then afterward we all go home happy?” the professor asked.

Instead of giving doles, Raragio said the government and those who wanted to help should make their presence felt in the lumad communities all year round.

“I definitely agree that social services, and the swift and efficient delivery thereof, will do a world more good than the current arrangement. These needs like health and education do not occur only during holidays and then magically disappear just right after. They occur year-round, and have been lacking for decades,” she said.

“If the government and civil society are sincere in helping the lumad then they must take concrete steps in addressing the root causes of their poverty, such as development aggression and the distorted process of securing their ancestral domain,” she added.

Considering the limited resources of the local government, some of those who went to the city to try their luck never returned to their villages.

“Our ancestors used to roam freely in this land that we call home. Our fathers and mothers said that this land is ours and that there will be no Philippines without the lumad. That is why our dream is that we will be able to fully enjoy the resources of our land,” Licunan said.

But after years of failed promises forcing them to knock on doors for spare coins, Licunan said she was only hoping that her children would be able to go to school and would not die from simple illnesses.

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“My wish? I just don’t want my children to experience what I am doing right now,” she said, with tears in her eyes.

TAGS: Ata-Manobo, CSSDO, Davao City, lumad, Manobo Tribe, Poverty

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