THEY were once the masters in the land that no one owned because private ownership is not in their language based on the strong belief that no one can own land which out last him. They asked, "How can you own something that will outlast you? You cannot own the land, the land will own you." Their ancestors passed on to them the use of the land in the spirit of Res Communis (no one owns but everyone uses). And rightfully so because just like water and air, land is a means to life and must not be used for so much rakings by a few.
For thousands of years, they had lived abundantly in a land oozing with ecological resources in the spirit of sharing and service to one another. In Mountain Province, the indigenous People in that place even collectively transformed the land into rice terraces, using technologies that trust in the inherent processes of nature. They were one with nature, knowing when to plant just by looking at the stars. Look up to the Big Dipper and when the cup-like formation of stars appears that as if it is tilted that water will flow, then that is a sign that there will be rain.
They had no pharmacy then but no problem, they know what herb to take to cure whatever ailment they had. They wanted to eat fruits or meat? No problem, the land is home to flora and fauna, the richest in the world as the Philippines was home then to endemic species not found anywhere else in the world.
Then came the colonizers bringing their version of a flawed a lifestyle that is founded on the material pursuit of instant wealth and power. And everything was not the same again... forever.
The Lumads woke up to a new kind of reality of private ownership. Then suddenly, land titles came about, vesting land ownership to individuals or corporations where haciendas or big plantations sprouted. What happened to our Lumads? They have become squatters in their own land as they have no papers to show in terms of ownership. Are the thousands of years of occupation conclusive proof of ownership? Not at all, as far as these neo-liberal capitalists are concerned. Thus, it came to pass that our people lost their lands, the choicest of land. Where are they now? They are tilling the land as agricultural workers of these big plantations or pushed to the marginalized hilly areas. "Matud pa, tulod lang ang kabaw, moligid na."
However, there are still tribal groups who are standing firm on having foothold of wasted tracks of lands. The Datus of these tribes came to us lately in the Cooperative Development Authority for assistance to be organized into cooperatives. They have learned their lessons. They told me that there are foreigners who came, enticing them to allow these investors to "develop" these lands, to turn these into plantations of "bio-fuel." And if they do so, the Lumads will be the workers.
Yes, there is now a tremendous pressure on land brought about by a contemporaneous globalized set up. So much use of fossil fuel by the Northern Countries is now wreaking environmental havoc and they are now shifting to bio-fuel at the expense of the poor countries. No sir. We need our land for ecological integrity and food security!
There is now this move to amend our Constitution to allow foreigners 100 percent land ownership. No sir! Look at Mindanao. Seventy percent of our land is already controlled by transnational corporations. A land that is so rich yet people are poor because our people do not have access and control over these resources that are fast slipping though our fingers. We have already learned our lessons.
We must now empower our Lumads. Yes, let they be organized into cooperatives to harness their collective spirit to be the ones to manage their own resources. Yes, there will be problems of capital and capacity-building. But these will be overcome after becoming cooperatives. This will be the scenario after being organized as cooperatives. They will be capacitated to develop vast tracts of their land, planting crops that have global competitiveness, i.e., bamboo, coffee, cacao and what have you. Bamboo, for example, has high demands abroad. In fact, Taiwan is in need of some two million chopsticks every day.
After harvesting, these crops should be processed, packaged by the Lumad cooperatives following supply or value chain approach. Question? Where will they get their capital for processing plants? Well, that will not be a problem because these crops have high demand in the international market, big cooperatives will not hesitate to help as these are very viable, profitable, and sustainable endeavors.
This is just one of the many ways in which we can empower our Lumads. When empowered through their respective cooperatives, they will become a strong liberating force against poverty and be freed from a flawed development paradigm aptly called Neo-Liberal Capitalism, a rotten system that is now collapsing because it was only successful in sacrificing the people and the environment to the altar of greed and profit. The President's heart is to liberate the Indigenous People from the quagmire of poverty and cooperativism is the empowering path now being pursued by CDA in coordination with the National Commission of Indigenous Filipinos under the chairmanship of Chair Allen Capuyan. Together with the TESDA under Sec. Isidro Lapeña, the capability-building of the IPs will also be given top priority.
What is ever more amazing is CDA has now a Consultant on IPs' Empowerment, Madam Lorna Ricafranca Tadina, formerly the Project Development Officer III of DSWD, whose compassionate service to the IPs especially in Mindanao is a trail-blazing path for IPs to be drawn into the mainstream of development process. Indeed, the liberation of the IPs from the quagmire of poverty and social injustice has finally come under the present dispensation.