I HAVE always meant to write about Renato Anglao, our fallen Lumad leader who was gunned down by bonnet-wearing assassins last February 3, in Quezon, Bukidnon. But the reason that I have held off writing about him is because I am still weighed down by his passing and it is difficult to process these feelings of anger, grief, and indignation all forming a suffocating cocktail of heavy emotions.
I sit here thinking that the intervening weeks should dull his murder’s blow and I can write more calmly. But it remains as fresh and as painful as that morning when I received the information.
We all know that a murderous rampage has terrorized urban communities and drenched the same in blood in the name of a ruthless war against drugs. The same acts of impunity have since included not just the usual street drug dealer but also known local leaders of progressive groups when the peace talks between the National Democratic Front and the Philippine Government collapsed just recently.
In fact, the death of Tatay Renato came at the heels of the incident in Malaybalay where three soldiers were killed in an NPA checkpoint. That singular unfortunate event provided the basis for the scuttling of the peace talks by the President. He was killed by motorcycle riding-in-tandem assassins the next morning after the news broke.
For the longest time, politicians and government forces vilified the Lumad organization, Tindoga, that he was a part of a New People’s Army sympathizers. Many observers cannot help but conclude that his death, while no doubt welcomed by Vice Mayor Poling Lorenzo, the landlord who insists on controlling Tindog's ancestral land so he can lease these to pineapple plantations, it can also be a retaliatory act by the military for the Malaybalay incident.
The blame can be equally shared by these two separate forces that both represent basically the same interests in Philippine society for the longest time. The landlord benefits from his death because an organic leader and champion of Lumad rights can no longer marshal his people to fight.
The military has neutralized what they consider to be a soft counter insurgency target, for anyone espousing these things is sure to be an insurgent. It would not be surprising if there was a collusion between these forces, both signing off Renato’s death sentence for their shared interest.
His murder is a confirmation that the landlord and the military share the same morbid and sickening belief in a twisted form of peace and development. For them, peace is when dissenters are gunned down mercilessly in front of their wife and child. Development is when indigenous ancestral lands are taken away from them so that a landlord can have these leased to plantations.
A thousand strong funeral cortege composed of Lumad leaders and community members from all over the provinces of Bukidnon and Misamis Oriental confirmed this truth when fully-armed soldiers brandished their long arms and menacingly took photos and videos of the crowd when the procession passed by the Quezon municipal hall.
Given this state of affairs, government has the gall to feign surprise and alarm over the growth of the number of those who go up the mountains and take up arms against a system which has victimized the small and the voiceless for generations.
Tatay Renato was not someone who was schooled or had access to money and power to make him influential and respected in his community and to other Lumad organizations beyond. Like many Lumad leaders like him, it is actually the realization that the future is bleak for their children if they are driven away from their ancestral land. They become impassioned leaders of their community because they rise up to the challenge of their kind’s forced bleak circumstance.
I saw these traits in Tatay Renz when I had the privilege of hearing him lecture before college students immersing in their community. Among the Manobo Pulangihon that make up Tindoga, he was one of the few who knew how to read and write. He had a small tattered notebook for his notes, no doubt filled with scribbling about the lectures he had also listened to and sought to share with his community.
While most people, including myself, shirk away from every chance to stand before a crowd and speak, Tatay Renz was different. He grabbed every opportunity to share his convictions and his belief. Those were his only weapons actually, the courage of his convictions and a set of beliefs chiseled into his heart by what he has experienced as a marginalized Lumad. In this country of ours, you are rewarded with a bullet in the head for having these.
As a bonus, they put two in Tatay Rene’s head, while he was driving his motorcycle with his wife and child on the curve of the Busco Quezon crossing.