Ravanera: How oppressed are our indigenous people?

Kim’s Dream

ELECTIONS had just come to pass when power has been exercised by the people where it rightfully belongs in consonance with the legal dictum, “sovereignty resides with the people and all governmental powers emanate from them.” After that, power is transferred to a few elite through money politics, enamored in so much self-promotion and gratification, giving importance to superficial looks and mundane trivialities with the help of the mainstream media. Yes, only those with money, endorsed by influential people and religious groups won. Now, we ask, how well are the voiceless, the poor and the oppressed represented especially by so-called party-lists? Even our beloved President has questioned the razon e’tre of the party-list system which is apparently used by the rich and powerful to perpetuate their stranglehold to power.

Who are those who will speak on how the marginalized sectors especially the Indigenous People are oppressed, losing their lands to influential multi-national corporations? Who will stand-up in Senate or Congress to expose the many faces of oppression done by so-called oligarchs and cartel to perpetuate their greed?

Indeed, oppression has many faces and it is committed in various ways. It is seen in the life of the poor peasantry tilling the land not their own and if they own the land, they do not control the mode of production and marketing? It looms in the life of the consumers buying products that have already passed several marketing layers because everything that is sold in this country passes at least 5 marketing layers. A Lipitor pill that is just bought in New Delhi, India, at P0.30 per pill is sold in our pharmacies at P50 or a bag of fertilizer (Ammonium Sulfate) that is just bought in Ukraine at P50 is sold in Mindanao at P1,500, to the detriment of the poor farmers. It is seen in the life of the 11 million member-consumer-owners of so-called Electric Cooperatives whose capital shares, when consolidated, amount to hundreds of billions of pesos are until now not recognized.

Of these, many faces of oppression, nothing could beat that of a tribal community that had been coerced to live with cows. How was that? Here is the story.

That happened in Panalsalan, Maramag, Bukidnon in the late ‘60s when a rich influential man holding a high elected position from a region in the Visayas turned the barangay (called barrio then) into a ranch. He came one Christmas day in 1969 distributing “gifts,” P20 per family (in the ‘60s, P20 is now equivalent to about P1,500). A month later, the powerful man came back with his armed cowboys, fencing the barangay with barb wires (6ft. high) claiming that those “gifts” were his payments for the land.

I personally had seen the terrible face of oppression as a young student leader and editor of the school publication then, publishing a feature article entitled, “A Barrio in a Cage.”

It was by all means, a barangay with a chapel and an elementary school building, a barangay hall and hundreds of houses but was fenced like a “concentration camp.” So difficult to live with cows, I concluded then because cows would enter school premises and even would dirty the chapel.

Worse, cows were destroying cornfields and all other crops in the farms, to the detriment of the tribe’s livelihood. Every time they would throw stones at the cows, they would be arrested for “malicious mischief.” In fact, 19 Manobos had to sleep in prison in Maramag on Christmas day in 1969 for just shooing away the cows eating their corn.

So desperate a father had mixed poison in the food of his family and when everyone was dead, he drank the remaining poison. Going around the barangay, I saw a burnt house and was told that a man just burned his own house to end it all.

That happened some 43 years ago but until now the picture of the barangay heavily fenced like a “concentration camp” is still vivid in the inner recesses of my thoughts, wondering if justice had been done to our oppressed Lumads in the upland hinterland barangay. When I wrote about it, I was threatened by an armed cowboy inside the University where I studied then. In fact, I was ordered arrested and had to stay in prison for two days.

Well, I suppose that kind of oppression does not exist anymore, perhaps, not that brutal because oppression in contemporaneous Philippine Society has many faces, more subtle, more deceitful, more scheming but nevertheless exemplifies exploitation by those who control, by those who benefit, by those who decide over a group of ignorant and helpless people.

There is no “turning of barangay into ranch” now; only converting the lands once owned by the Lumads into giant plantations, planted with all kinds of fruits, not for us, but to satisfy the consumerist lifestyle of foreign people and fellow citizens far beyond their share of the world’s natural resources.

In fact, there is a tremendous commercialization of land now in Mindanao and our Indigenous People are now willing “partners” as tens of thousands of ancestral lands in this beautiful but forsaken island are converted into plantations, mostly for bio-fuel, this time jeopardizing our food security and ecological integrity as toxic chemicals are massively applied. Oh when will we ever learn?

Look at our wily politicians especially those who dare to monopolize power through political dynasties. While our Fundamental Law prohibits political dynasties, the same cannot be translated into laws for the simple reason that such goes against vested interest.

Indeed, when economic dictatorship by a few oligarchs is grafted into the electoral, representative democracy, a toxic growth of religious fundamentalism and right-wing extremism is the consequence, resulting not only in the death of democracy but in the democracy of death.


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