Velez: For lumads, Christmas is survival

OUTSIDE of a brightly-lit fast food chain near a mall lays a figure leaning on its grills. This frail, shriveled elderly lumad man, with a child lying asleep on his lap, stretched out his arms to me and other passersby asking, “Luoy mo sa lumad. (Have compassion for the lumad).”

There are 5,000 lumads who have come down from all over Davao provinces to Davao City, to celebrate the Christmas season by begging for money and food.

It has been like this for the past years, which the local government has turned into an annual incident by accommodating them in public gyms and feeding them day and night. The rest of the day, the lumads go house to house, or to the establishments, playing instruments or asking for kind-hearted people for spare change or food.

This is really saddening and ironic that lumads who are supposed to live in a land where it could nourish them with food and water (if there is still any left unharmed by logging and mining), are coming down to the city to beg.

And if they are not down here, they are up there, dying.

In the past two weeks, 13 Manobo lumads in Talaingod, including children as young as three, are dead following bouts of diarrhea and pneumonia, and lack of social services. This is according to the Solidarity Action Group for Indigenous Peoples and Peasants network.

One of the dead is their Chieftain Datu Gombil Mansumuy-at from Sitio Sambulungan, Barangay Palma Gil.

Fellow lumads and lumad advocates picture out Gumbil as a soft-spoken but firm leader of their tribe. He is one of the leaders of their group Salugpongan who joined exodus from Talaingod to UCCP Haran on April 2014 because of the militarization in their village. He joined the Manilakbayan to voice out the need to protect their ancestral domain and their people.

A few days before passing away, Datu Gombil was even interviewed by the online news Davao Today, to talk about the plight of their communities.

When the Talaingod Manobos returned to their community a few months ago after the ceasefire declaration, he said the effect of militarization was the neglect of their farms, thereby leaving them hungry.

Food such as rice, corn and root crops would take six months to grow, he said.

Lack of food coupled with the torrential rain resulted to children and adults getting sick. The Salugpongan said their communities are downed by cases of diarrhea, pneumonia and fever. Some have been brought to hospitals which they had to trek for hours.

It's an emergency situation there. But it is also much the same down here. Lumads have to find their means to survive.

A few years ago, a leader of the indigenous group Kalumaran, Dulphing Ogan, asked the local government, that instead of accommodating the lumads into the city, why could they not do it a better way by bringing the much needed assistance to the lumads.

Food, farm support, health services and schooling are much needed in lumad and farming communities out there. It is a much better gift than giving the lumads piece meals. It is much better to empower them, rather than tolerating this culture of begging.

We hope we can heed and act on the words of the late Datu Gombil, who will be buried on December 14.

For those who want to help the Talaingod Manobos, you can call Sagip secretariat Grace Beryl (09466091270) and/or Pastor Mikal (09461835699) or at Tel No: 224-3369.
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