THE news of the “rescue” of Lumad students in a makeshift "Bakwit school" in the University of San Carlos in Cebu that led to arrests of their teachers and tribal leaders, and their return to Talaingod without their parents again raises confusion about what is the issue at hand.
Authorities again raise the issue of kidnapping, strangely, on the teachers and tribal leaders. This again, raises questions. How can the very people who are traditionally their community leaders become the villain when in fact they are with the students they have “kidnapped” all the time?
Authorities again raise the issue that they were in Cebu to be indoctrinated as child warriors. But netizens, advocates and even the members of the USC community question, how do you have an “indoctrination” inside a Catholic university right in the middle of the city and not in the countryside?
SunStar Cebu wrote an editorial that drives the point. When you see those children “rescued” cower in corners and screaming something is amiss. Let these “rescued” speak.
Actually, the administration of University of San Carlos and the Society of Divine Word (SVD) have spoken out that there is no need for rescue. The fact was, they had opened their facilities to house 42 Lumad students since late 2019 to help facilitate their continuing education as they had been displaced in Talaingod. And with the pandemic and the ensuing lockdown in 2020, the school and congregation extended their being host to the students and even coordinated with the Department of Education (DepEd) to avail of learning modules.
Another fact was that the USC and SVD had facilitated the students to return to Talaingod by batches and had to comply with protocols in traveling. So how does the “rescue” narrative connect here?
By now, the legal charges on the datus and teachers will be pressed on, the children are sent home. But this raises the same questions, are the problems of the Lumad solved?
In the first place, do we understand the situation of the Lumad? Do we ascribe to their point that the Lumad are easily fooled or “indoctrinated”?
Let us remember, we are Davawenyos and Mindanawons. We always talk about embracing the diversity of tribes on our island. Do we understand this concept? Or do we just ascribe this to festivals and fashion, fossilizing their culture as accessories as one anthropologist points out.
Do we not talk about the never-ending stream of narratives of “historical injustice” and struggles of Lumad and Moro to protect their communities and defend their ancestral land from what they call “outsiders” that exploit their land?
If we look at things from that perspective, perhaps it will lead us to understand that the indigenous peoples, such as the Talaingod Manobo embroiled in their struggle, are capable of unlocking their problems and determine what they want.
They fought backlogging plantations, and now they want education. This struggle contributes to the Mindanao history of self-determination. Somehow, that narrative is muddled in this current state.
But like what advocates say, we must let the Lumad speak. And we must listen, understand and help.