The story on Lumad children “rescued” in Cebu City should go beyond the debates on the legality of the police operation, the alleged slant of the news by mainstream media and the detention of the teachers and Lumad elders. This episode is just the tip of a bigger issue — the legacy of exploitation of the Lumads in Mindanao.
Unlike the Muslims who are united by religion and were able to successfully attain their pursuit of an autonomous region, the Lumads were divided by distance, language, traditions and beliefs, thus, were unable to form a united front against abuses committed to them through decades, if not a century. It was during the founding of the Lumad Mindanao Peoples Federation on June 26, 1986 in Cotabato that they found their voice and their collective grievances.
For starters, it is good to read the entry on Lumad in Wikipedia. Unbiased and written in plain language, the narrative allowed me to discover the diversity and richness of the Lumad culture, and struck the deepest of my emotions learning of the injustices committed against them.
According to the material, “Lumad peoples confront a variety of social issues. They face loss of ancestral lands due to land grabbing or militarization, economic and social exclusion and threats to their traditional culture and identity. Lumad groups contend with displacement, extrajudicial killings, harassment of Lumad rights defenders and forced closure of Lumad schools.” The last item is the reason the Lumad children took refuge or “bakwit” in Cebu City.
I believe that the paramount point at issue is ancestral land rights. Multinational companies, loggers, miners, politicians and the government have expropriated the homeland of the Lumads using both legal and illegal means that contradict the indigenous concept of land ownership.
True that ancestral domains are protected by the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act of 1997, which gives the Lumads control of these lands. Section 5 of the law provides: “Indigenous concept of ownership sustains the view that ancestral domains and all resources found therein shall serve as the material bases of their cultural integrity. The indigenous concept of ownership generally holds that ancestral domains are the ICC’s/IP’s private but community property which belongs to all generations and therefore cannot be sold, disposed or destroyed. It likewise covers sustainable traditional resource rights.” A landmark law, but sadly unimplemented.
Let us learn more about the Lumads of Mindanao — the Subanen, B’laan, Mandaya, Higaonon, Banwaon, Talaandig, Ubo, Manobo, T’boli, Tiruray, Bagobo, Tagakaolo, Dibabawon, Manguangan and Mansaka. Let us not only give them refuge from the conflicts and the harassments, but assist them in righting the wrongs done to their communities.