THE chair of the House committee on national cultural minorities, a body tasked to look into the welfare of lumad communities, has been criticized for allegedly uttering derogatory and humiliating statements toward evacuees during a dialogue Wednesday at UCCP Haran Evacuation Center in Davao City.
North Cotabato Representative Nancy Catamco has been described by lumad leaders and various groups as arrogant and does not fit to a public office.
During the dialogue, the congresswoman reportedly commented on the foul smell at the evacuation center and questioned the legitimacy of the lumad leaders.
Catamco presided over the dialogue attended by representatives of different government agencies and lumad victims of forcible evacuation from the areas of Talaingod and Kapalong in Davao del Norte and San Fernando in Bukidnon, together with their support groups.
Catamco, identifying herself with the indigenous peoples, referred to them as "mabaho" during a dialogue supposed to address the issue of human rights violations by the military in lumad areas.
Catamco even asked the lumad children if they had already taken a bath and if they used soap and shampoo, adding that she does not want to go back to Manila without sending them back to their homes.
She added she cannot afford to see children and other evacuees staying in a place with foul odor.
The evacuation center has been housing around 700 lumads since May, as they refused to go home due to continuous military presence in the area.
It has been reported that the said dialogue was divided into two parts, wherein the other one was held in Haran because of the military officers Catamco invited without asking permission from the lumads.
Lumad leaders, in a separate interview, criticized the Catamco-initiated dialogue, saying it was a "slap" on their faces.
"Kining pag-abot ni Congresswoman Nancy nakita namo na dili ni pag-sulbad sa among mga problema sa lumad kung dili dako ni siya na pag-sagpa sa among nawong (We are looking at the coming of Congresswoman Nancy as something that will not solve the problem of the lumads but this is a big slap on our faces)," said Datu Kailo Buntolan, a tribal council leader from Kapalong.
"Mu-ingon siya nga dili niya kaya muuli sa Manila, na hantod kanus-a ning mga bata na manimaho na sila. Murag ni-anhi lang siya sa amua para magsaway sa amoang kabataan, para mag-ingon sa amua nga dili daw mi mga leader (She was saying she can't leave without sending us back home. that our children have already turned smelly. It was like she came here to us, to insult our children, to tell us that we are not leaders)," Buntolan added.
He said that even if they were not appointed by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, they were chosen by their community as leaders.
During the heated discussion, Catamco called the lumad leaders as inefficient as they do not want to let their community members to go home immediately.
In their defense, Buntolan said that even during the second set of dialogue at Apo View Hotel on the same day, she did not give them the chance to speak for themselves and their community.
"Among pag-sabot, nakita namo sa among pulong na usa kini ka spokesperson sa mga sundalo diha sa EastMinCom (Eartern Mindanao Command), so nganong maka-ingun man ta ana, usahay inig isa namo ka-estorya putulon, wala mi naka lugar na pwede mi makaestorya sa taas na pag-estorya (We see her as a spokesperson of the EastMinCom, why did we say that, it is because every time we talk, she would cut it)," he said.
He added that they all want to go home but they want an assurance the military forces in the area will be pulled out.
It was previously reported that the lumad leaders, together with committee on IP members Partylist Representatives Luzviminda Ilagan of Gabriela and Karlos Zarate of Bayan Muna, walked out during the dialogue.
During the first dialogue Wednesday, Catamco failed to inform the lumad communities that she had also invited military officers which resulted to their dismay.
Datu Jimboy Mandagit from Bukidnon said that what she did resulted in a bigger problem in their community.
"Kining mga lumad na akong gidala, dili ni sila kasabot ug bisaya mao to ang hinungdan na kung makakita ni sila ug military, mahadlok ni sila (These lumads whom I brought here, do not understand Bisaya. That is why, every time they see military forces, they are scared)," Mandagit said.
Bontulan said they do not see sincerity in Catamco's efforts as she was forcing them to go home right away on that day.
"We feel that she wants to take pride on her name by giving solution to our problems that is why she is forcing us to go home as soon as possible," he said in vernacular.
In a separate media interview, Catamco said that she was just "emotional" during the dialogue. She said what she had wanted was to put an end to what the lumad evacuees are going through at Haran.
"It's just that maybe I was just so emotional because gusto ko sana masolusyonan na eh. It's not fair hindi po hustisya ito para sa mga IPs na nandito sa Haran," she said.
"Kahit siguro sinong tao yan, kahit ang IP walang silang pinag-aralan, ignorante sila pero hindi po nila gugustuhin ang ganitong sitwasyon," she added.
She also said that she requested some military officers, namely, Army's 1003rd Brigade commander Colonel Harold Cabreros and deputy commander of the Eastern Mindanao Command Brigadier General Alexander Balutan, to come to the dialogue in order to answer the concerns of the lumads.
Pull-out cannot be granted
Despite the lumad leader's request to pull out the military forces in their area, Balutan said they cannot do such since they are supposed to guard the equipment for the projects being constructed in the area.
He said it is for the lumads to experience the services of the government. (KGL/With CCC)