Tuesday , April 24, 2018

Velez: Tattoos, tags and tribes

THERE’S a side event in the ongoing Kampuhan of the National Minorities in University of the Philippines-Diliman which showcased the traditional manner of the magbabatok by the Igorots from Cordillera.

While indigenous tattooing has become a fad and tourism attraction, the tattooing sessions in this kampuhan invites people to understand that tattoos are also stories of the struggles of the indigenous communities.

These stories can be told by the tattoos themselves, in which they serve as decorative art on bodies or even narratives or symbols. Even the Manobo women in Talaingod have tattoos that adorn their midsection as their clothes hang on their midriff.

Tattoos are in the news recently, as a presidential son is charged of sporting a tattoo linking him to a drug syndicate. That allegation raised eyebrows. But I am reminded of a story where a Lumad was held by a soldier at knife point, alleging him as a New People's Army because he bore the same "mole tattoo" in his face just like the New People’s Army (NPA).

This kind of accusation against Lumads, and their schools, that allegedly are supporting the NPAs are like tattoos being tagged on them. Lumads have been the target of soldiers and paramilitary, who conjure stories that Lumad schools are actually teaching the students "how to rebel" and that Lumads who benefit from the social welfare's Pantawid Pamilya Program are helping NPAs.

None of these is true. But the allegations prove deadly. On September 2, a 19-year old Manobo student of the Salugpongan Learning Center in Talaingod, Davao del Norte was shot several times by two paramilitary members. The boy, Obillo Bay-ao, was shot while tending his farm in Sitio Dulyan, Barangay Palma Gil.

The paramilitary members, according to the Save Our School Networks are the Salangani brothers, where one of the brothers had killed another Salugpongan student previously in 2016.

Talaingod also lost a Lumad teacher this week, Salugpongan director Ronie Garcia, who succumbed to pulmonary arrest at a young age of 29. The constant stress from the attacks on schools and the surveillance against him for the past few years perhaps took its toll on his health.

These tagging of Lumads pose danger, and lots of questions as well. Why are Lumads being branded as enemies? What about the protection of their ancestral lands which are being plundered for large-scale mines and agri-plantations? What about their right to education and to social services?

There are also equally disastrous tagging on other cultural minorities such as the Moro people, who are perpetually tagged as "terrorists" and "enemies of the state" by the generals, without much looking on the deep history and culture of the Moro people.

We can also ask questions to the president, who in the past have been protecting Lumads from militarization, but has now raised the boom of bombing Lumad schools. He has also said he will bring peace for the Moro land, but has instead unleashed air strikes that flattened Marawi.

The Lumads and the Moro want to take away those tags, and reclaim their rights and identity. Let that struggle flow, like the ink that sticks to our flesh and memories.