CONTINUING on the issue of Mindanao’s Lumads, I was fortunate to have met a Manobo descendant who incidentally will perform with me as a member of the Filipino ethnic music group PINASugbu in the upcoming multicultural music event, Beyond Boundaries, in Hamilton, New Zealand. And as I was hosting Fr. Fernando Alombro, Filipino chaplain, in a dinner after the mass organized by the Hamilton Sto. Nino Ecclesial Community on Feb. 19, he told me about Fr. Conrad Casas, a priest in the Bukidnon Diocese, who regularly conducts a feeding program for Lumads in San Fernando, Bukidnon. James Marc, who incorporates the kubing in one of our numbers, Asin’s “Balita,” shared about his relatives who kept the Manobo traditions. One of his uncles, who passed away, a leader of their tribe, was proud to don their traditional costume during important occasions. I asked James if he could speak the Manobo language and he started conversing with me in his native tongue. “Could you teach me to sing a Manobo song?” I asked him. He replied that he would ask his mother to teach him one so he could share it with me. I said that I’d like PINASugbu to perform this in future gigs. As we finished our rehearsal, James was still searching for a photo of his uncle that he wanted to show to me.
Fr. Alombro gave me the Facebook account name of Fr. Conrad. I immediately sent a message introducing myself. It was the next day that the Bukidnon clergy replied, having read my column about Mindanao’s Lumads. He told of having created a feeding program for the Lumads last year at the height of the pandemic, aware on the possibility of them starving. Consisting of 1,268 families, the Lumads have been displaced because of the war raging in their ancestral lands. Fr. Conrad admits that his program is but a ‘band-aid’ remedy, but it is the best that he could under the circumstance. He stated that the Lumads are “really neglected,” referring to the poor state of accommodation and lack of provision for the 6,000 affected individuals.
In his latest FB posting with accompanying photos, Fr. Conrad wrote: “45th Wave! despite of pandemic, we can always find ways to be a blessing.” I suppose this was the 45th feeding mission of his volunteer group to the Tigwahanons and Matigsalugs, indigenous peoples of Bukidnon.
I sent a message to the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) asking about their position on the “bakwit” children in Cebu and of the accomplishments of their office for 2020. I have yet to get a response, but looking at their official government page, the latest posting was dated Oct. 9, 2020. It should be interesting to know what the NCIP has been doing for the Lumads of Mindanao against harassment and exploitation -- and from neglect.