Tribal warriors’ legalization gains support
KIDAPAWAN CITY—The proposal to legalize the tribal warriors or Bagani (also known as Bahani among some tribes) has gained support among indigenous peoples (IPs) of North Cotabato province.
Datu Arcadio Aman of the Kilanan Manuvu ancestral domain claim in Arakan town said the bagani forces had been an important part of efforts to defend their territories and if recognized by the government, its existence would be legalized.
Aman, who leads at least 136 bagani members armed with such weapons as shotguns, said they had been defending their communities from land grabbers and other vested interests.
“We have been receiving death threats from non-‘lumad’ intruders, who wanted to enter our ancestral domain claim,” he said.
Aman’s ancestral domain claim covers about 114,000 hectares.
Aman said they banked on a provision of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act, which says that IPs have all the right, including the defense of their territories, in maintaining their tribal warriors.
Datu Jaime Odo, a lumad datu in Makilala town, admitted that in most cases, the Bagani were ill-equipped against intruders and that only their desire to protect their communities was what makes them fight intruders.
“Legally arming the Bagani would ensure an effective defense against land-grabbers,” he said. “Arming the Bagani does not mean they will start hostilities.
Aman said it has always been the Bagani who played a major role in the survival of the indigenous peoples.
The office of North Cotabato Rep. Nancy Catamco, who proposed the idea, said data showed that there were at least 1,250 active Bagani forces in five North Cotabato towns alone.
Odo said tribal communities had always been a target.
He said as of 2006, 439 lumad had been killed in defense of their ancestral domains in Mindanao.
“Most of the victims were killed by such intruders as illegal loggers and land-grabbers,” he said.
Odo said legalizing the Bagani would also spare them from suspicion of being rebels.
“Two of my men were killed when soldiers belonging to the Army’s 57th Infantry Battalion clashed with heavily armed rebels inside our ancestral domain. He was killed on suspicion of being a rebel,” Odo said, identifying the slain Bagani as Joni Antak.
Last week, Catamco said she would seek the government’s full recognition and regulation of indigenous community defense systems, such as the Bagani or tribal warriors, to prevent their exploitation by vested interests.
Catamco, who chairs the House committee on the indigenous peoples, issued the statement amid reports that lumad paramilitary groups have been terrorizing IP communities in Mindanao.
Recently, the Bagani were thrown into the limelight anew after reportedly killing three people in Surigao del Sur on Sept. 1.
Catamco said by legalizing the Bagani, they could be effectively controlled and regulated by the government, unlike their shadowy status today.
“The process of recognition will weed out those (who) are posing as Bagani, when in fact they are mere armed groups organized by non-IP interests groups,” she said.
Catamco said under her proposal, which she would soon be submitting to Congress after consultations with IP communities, only “authentic defense systems of IP communities borne out of their cultural tradition in preserving their way of life as distinct groups of people and their ancestral domain” should be made legal.
“Regulation will set the rules to ensure compliance with existing laws,” she said.
Catamco clarified that she was not proposing that the Bagani forces be turned into paramilitary groups such as the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu) although they would be allowed to bear firearms.
She said Cafgus are organized to meet local insurgency threat while the Bagani system is part of the historical preexisting defense system of an IP community.
“Whether armed or unarmed, (they) have evolved from their assertion of their distinct identity, defense of their freedoms, independence, territorial integrity and culture,” she said.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.