Talaingod evacuation in retrospect: Why they ran away

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Monday, May 19, 2014


WHAT would drive village dwellers from their mountain homes to the hot cement of the city with nary a means to provide for themselves, where they live like evacuees in cramp spaces?

The answer: Fear.

And it was only upon the assurance of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte that they will be escorted back to their villages and that the military will be pulled out of their areas, when they agreed to go home, almost a month later. The Ata-Manobos of Talaingod, Davao del Norte were temporarily housed at the Haran House of the United Church of Christ of the Philippines (UCCP) in Davao City from April 2 to May 1 because of this fear.

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This is their story.

Tears rolling down her face, running barefoot from the sound of gunshots, she was no longer aware of the things around her all she wanted to do was flee; until a piece of sharp wood pierced her stomach.

Blood was all over her body and the next thing she knew, she was lying at the door of their house, motionless. She was not shot to death - she had a miscarriage.

This is the picture that keeps appearing in Moning Talwa's mind - the terrible picture of his wife, with blood all over her body. In that moment, the fear and confusion left him petrified, not knowing what to do.

"Sakitan ko oy, kung namatay akong asawa, manigbas gyud kog sundalo gyud kay naa man sila sulod sa amo balay, (It was painful. If my wife died, I would have killed the soldiers since they were inside my house,)" said Talwa, teary-eyed.

Moning Talwa, also known as Mang Moning, is an Ata-Manobo. He belongs to the Talaingod people. He was one of the many who struggled to stop militarization in their place.

The Talaingod people live far away from most people, mostly keeping to themselves. As Talwa said, "basta taga-Talaingod ka, inosente ka, buta ug bungol. (If you're from Talaingod, you're innocent; deaf and blind.)"
He may not have a college degree but he knows about farming. His family lives because of it. They harvest healthy crops such as, kamote, balanghoy and karlang. He added that they only to eat rice once a year, so harvesting rice is something they immensely value.

Mang Moning has three kids and a wife. They reside in Sitio Bagang, Talaingod. Together with other Manobos, they evacuated to the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) - Haran.

Together with other Manobos, they evacuated as a stand against militarization in their homeland.

Several incidents happened in their area since the military encampment occurred. One of these is the tragedy that befell his wife.

"Nihilak gyud ko ug akong mga bata, basa na akong dughan sa akong luha, (I and my children cried. My chest was wet from my tears,)" said Mang Moning. His wife, however, is recovering from the incident.

What pains him the most is that a military made a joke out of the incident after the medics helped his wife. Mang Moning narrated what happened, saying, "naglagot ko ato ba gi-ingnan kog 'lisod raba magbuhat ug bata', nakahinuktok ko ato oy, gikomedyahan rako. (I was angry because they said to me, 'making a baby is difficult.' I stopped and thought how they made fun of the situation.)"

While the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) is investigating the matter, the office refused to release a statement. Fatima Escarillo, CHR's investigator on the incident, said, "dili mi mag hatag ug statement, dili mi magpainterview samtang on going pa ang investigation."(We won't give a statement nor allow interviews while the investigation is still ongoing.)"

"It's our company's [sic] policy, ang amoang regional director lang ang naay right or pwede mustorya about sa issue, kung gusto mo makakuha ug statement siya dapat ang inyohang interviewhon."(It's our company's policy, only our Regional Director has the right to talk about the issue, if you want to have information you should interview him instead,)"she added.

When called, however, the secretary said that the Regional Director will also not give any information regarding the case while investigation is ongoing. According to one of CHR's personnel, the Lumads didn't have any formal complaints and the only thing they did is rally outside their office. The Lumads allegedly did not file a case nor formally talk to them. It was also said that the CHR's people reached out to them but no one has faced them to give a statement on what happened in Talaingod.
The CHR said the case is not new to them, as same tactics were used by people against the government. Years before, they encountered a similar issue wherein "lumads" were used by the New People's Army (NPA) to stop military operations.

On the other hand, the office of the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP) said they are having difficulty defending the people of Talaingod because they cannot open a formal dialogue with them. According to Chief Administrative Officer Geroncio Aguio, Ata-Manobos went to their office to rally outside but resisted invitations to talk. Geroncio said, "unsaon namo pagsolve sa ilang problema kung sila mismo dili makipagstorya? (How can we solve their problems if they themselves don't speak to us?)"

When asked if NCIP extended aid to the evacuees in Haran House, Aguio said that the NCIP had no allotted funds for that because they were focused more on the Indigenous peoples' delegation, land titling and development plans. "Basta ang NCIP, with its resources, is doing the functions na gimandate saiyaha. Importante man gud ng matituluhan na na sila kay kung naa may manulod dira, dili na gyud na makuha sa ila kay nakaentitle naman na saila. Natituluhan na manang Talaingod so wa nay makahilabot anang ilang yutang kabilin so kung naa may mag-intrude dira, maabtan ra gihapon na sila sa legal courses. Mao na ang among primary function, ang maissuehan silag titulo para mastabilize ilang ownership sa ilang ancestral domain. (The NCIP, with its resources, is doing the functions mandated to it. It is important for them to be given titles so if others try to encroach on their land, nobody can take it from them since it's already entitled to the IPs. If someone tries to intrude on them, legal courses will take care of them. That is our primary function, to issue titles to them to stabilize the ownership of their ancestral domain,)" he added.

That was the second time they evacuated to this city and fought for their rights. The first time was in 1994 when Alcantara and Sons tried to grab their land for industrial purposes.

"Ang among yuta tabunok gyud day, bisan pa imong ilabay ang liso, mutubo gyud na mao ng ibuwis namo among kinabuhi para sa yuta, (Our land is very fertile. Even if a seed is just thrown, it will grow, and that's why we're prepared to give our lives for our land,)" he said.

"Ang pagtuo sa sundalo, dapig mi sa NPA, pero wala man mi kalaban. Kung naa ang NPA, atimanon namo sila, kung naa ang military, atimanon pud namo sila, lisod man naay dapigan, labina inosente raka na tao, (The military believes we're with the NPA, but we don't make enemies. If the NPA is around, we attend to them, if the military is here, we attend to them. It's difficult to take sides, especially if you're innocent,)" he said.

Even with Mang Moning's says he knows little, he knows that the military's job is defending the people. He said, "dapat unta, sila ang naglantaw sa amoa nga kami dili hilabtan, nga maayo among pamuyo ba. (They should be the ones making sure that we aren't being harassed and are living peacefully.)"

"Mu-ingon ang mga military, ayaw mog apil-apil sa mga NPA, unya unsa may labot namo na mag-uuma raman mi, (The military tells us to not join the NPA, but we're just farmers who have nothing to do with them,)" he added.
Mang Moning shared what the Ata-Manobos see as most important to them, "ang pangandoy namo didto, maayong panglawas, eskwelahan, ug yuta. (We dream of good health, education and land.)"

All throughout the interview, Mang Moning constantly said that what he and his people want is the end of militarization in the area. He said, "ang amo na unta pagbalik namo didto, hapsay among balikan, mawala na ang mga sundalo didto, aron makapamuyo mig tarong, makabalik mig uma, mao ra unta among hangyo. (We hope that when we return, the soldiers are gone, so we can live properly and go back to farming. That is all we ask.)" Now, with the help of local leaders, they have headed back to Talaingod which is safe once more. The only question now is, for how long? (Pamela Orias/MSU Intern and Sheila Napal and April Uyan/UIC Interns)

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on May 20, 2014.

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