IT’S been two and a half months since the raid on Mamasapano in Maguindanao last January 25 in the now infamous Oplan Exodus hatched to get international terrorist Zulkifli Abdhir alias Marwan. But the conflict it sparked continues to be felt by those in Central Mindanao, as they flee their homes and farmlands to seek shelter where they can hardly provide for themselves.
The peace brokers themselves are now being called traitors by an agitated public, while the continued call for peace by Mindanao residents are drowned by the outrage of those who have greater access to air out their prejudices and unfounded beliefs.
This has moved the indigenous peoples of Central Mindanao to seek the protection and guidance of the Supreme God as they too called for peace and respite from drought in a simultaneous midday ritual last March 28 in different indigenous peoples communities, in what they called the "Pemuhat Atag te Kelilintad" the Erumen ne Menuvu phrase for IP Ritual for Peace.
“Naniniwala kami na ang mga Katutubong Mamamayan sa lahat ng panahon at lalo na kapag kaharap ng anumang krisis ay kailangan lumapit sa Dakilang Lumikha... at ito ang aming nakitang tugon sa mga kasalukuyang krisis sa ating mahal na Mindanao (Indigenous peoples always seek intervention from the Divine Creator whenever our people are caight in a crisis. The simultaneous ritual is our response to the crisis that Mindanao is in today),” Timuay Labi Bello said in explaining what the ritual was all about. Bello is the supreme chief of the Timuay Justice and Governance (TJG), a form of government of the Teduray and Lambangian tribes in Central Mindanao. This is equivalent to President of the tribes in the area.
“Kasama sa aming panalangin na pakinggan ang aming mga minimithi at kahilingan na isali sa binabalangkas na Bangsamoro Basic Law ang kalipunan ng mga batas na magpo-protekta sa karapatan ng mga katutubong mamamayan sa aming pagkakakilanlan, lupaing ninuno at sariling pamamahala (Among our prayers is for the Bangsamoro Basic Law to include provisions that protect the indigenous peoples and their communities and respect our identities, ancestral domain, and self-governance),” he added.
Provisions in BBL
The draft Bangsamoro basic Law (BBL) has been described as a law that gives greater attention to IP rights. This can be seen in the different provisions of the proposed law.
Section 5 of Article IX on Basic Rights explicitly says: “The Bangsamoro Government recognizes the rights of the indigenous peoples, and shall adopt measures for the promotion and protection of their rights, the right to their native titles and/or fusaka inged, indigenous customs and traditions, justice systems and indigenous political structures, the right to an equitable share in revenues from the utilization of resources in their ancestral lands, the right to free and prior informed consent, right to political participation in the Bangsamoro Government including reserved seats for the indigenous peoples in the Bangsamoro Parliament, the right to basic services and the right to freedom of choice as to their identity.”
A similar trend can be discerned in Section 6 of the same article under “Customary Rights and Traditions”, Article X (Bangsamoro Justice System) Sections 23-24 -- “Traditional/Tribal Justice Systems and Office for Traditional/Tribal Justice System”; Article XI (Public Order and Safety) Section 18 – “Indigenous Structure”; Article XIII (Economy and Patrimony) Sections 11-12 – “Preferential Rights of Bona Fide Inhabitants of the Bangsamoro and Rights of Indigenous Peoples over Natural Resources”.
But there is unease among the IPs because of the singular ancestral domain that is referred to under the Bangsamoro. As explained by tribal leaders, ancestral domains are tribal in nature and cannot be covered by one general domain. But that is but one question that many an IP leader has asked and sought to get assurance about. This uncertainty indicates a need for further deliberation and discussions on the BBL. But amid the anti-BBl sentiments, everything has been drowned out.
In the meantime, the IPs pray for the protection of their land.
The rituals were held in 35 IP communities in the provinces of Sultan Kudarat, North Cotabato and Bukidnon.
The simultaneous “pengapor” (ritual in the Erumanun Manuvu dialect) was done at exactly 12 noon to illustrate the heat of the problems the people and the land are facing.
The IPs of Mindanao, while many of them have already been converted to various Christian sects, still hold dear their belief systems that weave their communities and survival to the spirits their ancestors have long respected and prayed to.
Much more is their attachment to their ancestral lands because much of their culture and norms are linked with the land and everything that grows on it.
The areas populated by Teduray, Lambangian and Uvo Manuvu tribes in Maguindanao, North Cotabato, and Sultan Kudarat are identified as Bangsamoro and the IPs are insisting on their right to self-determination as non-Moro tribes.
In holding the ritual, the tribal leaders are one in saying that this is all about giving thanks for the continued protection their people have been bequeathed by their Supreme God. It is also for asking mercy to lessen the sufferings of their villages, and serves as “a unifying act of indigenous peoples not to inflict pain toward their fellow creatures”, as they believe that “inflicting pain on fellow creature and of all creation is not the answer to the ongoing crisis of our beloved Mindanao”.
Aveen Acuna-Gulo, who works with the Central Mindanao tribes as head of the IP Program of the Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG), which is part of the implementors of the EU co-funded project titled ‘Recognition of the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao for their Empowerment and Sustainable Development’ (IPDev), said it was their common observation that the IPs they have been working with has not held a ritual for peace for some time already. Acuna-Gulo was also former project manager of IPDev.
IAG is in the consortium implementing the IPDev along with Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) and DEVCON Development Consultants Inc. IPDev works for the protection and promotion of rights of Indigenous Peoples (IP) in 81 barangays in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and has been wrapping up operations as the three-year program is about to end.
“Morag atong mga time nga gasige mi ritual, hapsay dagan tanan... medyo matagal na ang last na ritual, medyo nahirapan uli (During those days when we would often hold rituals, things were doing well. But it has been some time since the IPs have held a ritual and then the conflict). I hope this time things will be better with renewed energies,” Acuna-Gulo said in a conversation over the Internet.
In the IPs’ declaration about the simultaneous rituals, they recognize that not only the people are suffering from the conflict, but also the land.
Said in their dialects and performed in age-old ways by different bilyan and welyan (shamans) of the tribes, IPs gathered together in common aspiration as they believe only the Divine Creator can bring back the peace that was broken by the Mamasapano raid that has since brought back gunbattles and bombings in their villages.
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