IT STARTED 21 years ago with a group of teachers and religious helping around 700 Manobo evacuees from Talaingod, Davao del Norte who were driven off from their own ancestral domain.
That group mobilized resources and facilitated dialogues with local officials to resolve the Manobos' plight, and around that time the group turned into a formal network to address bigger issues confronting the lumads in Davao Region.
The group was called Sagip, an apt name which in Tagalog means rescue. But it also stands for their purpose, to act in solidarity with the cause of the lumads. Solidarity Action Group for Indigenous Peoples.
In over a decade, Sagip brought into the mainstream terms such as 'development aggression' and 'ethnocide' to make people aware of the effects of fast-track modernization and projects that have brought of the environment and the indigenous communities.
Through that same period of time, Sagip also led to the formation of Kadumahan, another group of educators who would field volunteers and education materials for lumad children. Eventually, Sagip helped established a literacy school in Talaingod in 2005.
Twenty-one years later, the same Manobo tribe from Talaingod is back again in the city last April, driven away this time by reported militarization. And again, Sagip was relaunched as SAGIPP (to include peasants) in an assembly last August 24 at Redemptorist Church's Pastoral Building drawing some 180 lumad advocates from church, students, academe, environment and rights advocates.
One of Sagip's convener and former chairperson, Gabirela Women Partylist Reprsenetative Luzviminda Ilagan said history repeats itself as the Manobos sought refuge again at the same UCCP Haran they went to years ago.
“Before, the lumads came down because of logging activities encroaching their land. But now it is mining, and also the harassment brought by militarization,” she addressed the assembly.
Ilagan was then a professor at the Ateneo de Davao University when she and other teachers from other universities became active with Sagip. Ever the educator, Ilagan told the assembly that historical injustice starts with what is being taught in schools.
“We should educate ourselves again. There are many mistakes being taught in schools,” she said.
“We should relearn our social sciences, history, philosophy. We should not rely on reading because the books are written with a different perspective from the lumads.”
This point was supported by development worker Mags Maglana, who points out that development frameworks in this country have long neglected the views of people in the communities, especially the lumads.
“They do not look at the integrity of the lumads, they often see them as ignorant, not capable of managing their communities. But why is development being equated to just having modern projects?” she asked the audience.
Maglana said policy-makers must understand the concept of ancestral domain and listen to the indigenous peoples.
Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Isagani Zarate pointed out that investment projects in Mindanao are driving away the lumads from their ancestral homes. These projects include 83 mining tenements worth $312 billion; 304,000 hectares of palm oil expansion, plus energy and utility projects.
Zarate said the projects are facilitated by the military operations. “They are being facilitated by the state's Operation Plan Bayanihan which targets IP leaders who are vocal against these investments and the oppression of their communities.”
Ilagan issued a challenge to the conveners. “Our solidarity should come with actions to support them. If we don't act or push for accountability, then the state will keep on doing this and this will turn into a culture of impunity,” Ilagan said.
The activity ended with participants writing their messages in a paper leaf which they tucked in a “Solidaritree”.
Among the participants were the City Council Mandatory IP Rep. Halila Sudagar, Redemptorist Brothers, UCCP pastors, faculty from UP Mindanao and sisters from Assumption College, students from UP Mindanao and Holy Cross of Davao College, representatives from Panalipdan Southern Mindanao, Kalumaran, Katribu Partylist, and Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self Determination and Liberation.