THERE are a lot of mirrors and smokescreens that are meant to confuse people’s understanding of the burning issues of the day. But to borrow one adage, the fish is often caught by its’ mouth. It is through Duterte’s own off-the-cuff pronouncements that reveal the real imperative behind the workings of government. Besides, where else would government and the armed forces get their marching orders but through their commander-in-chief?
His recent speech before a government-sponsored gathering of Mindanao indigenous groups in a military camp in Davao City exposes in a single set of utterances the President’s plan for Mindanao, particularly Lumad communities many of which are reeling from the effects of long-term conflict and intergenerational poverty.
For the president, the solutions are shockingly easy and simple. Drawing from the same playbook of previous administrations, particularly perfected during the time of the dictator and virtually adopted by subsequent administrations, the solutions to long-standing conflict and underdevelopment in Lumad areas are predictably counterinsurgency and state-led development. In other words, it is more of the same heavy-handed and state-centric approaches that have caused the continuation of the conflicts and the poverty in these areas in the first place.
There is an ideology behind this, the contours of which Duterte himself revealed in his recent rant. It is the same belief that has animated paramilitary groups and death squads, and the transformation of ancestral domains into mining and large-scale agricultural enterprises.
The president supposedly said, in his characteristic folksy manner, that Lumad communities should prepare to leave their precious ancestral domains behind. Just like what happened to Marawi, they will be moved to government-built shelters and they will receive ample royalty for the productive use of their land by investors.
Not in so many words, Duterte argued that since indigenous groups have not been able to make productive use of their resources, presumably even under the mechanisms provided by the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA), government should step in and open these areas for development. He will personally oversee the process and select which investor should come in and he will see to it that no corruption will occur.
He book-ended his speech by warning Lumad groups not to get in the way of his plans. He asked them to refrain from thwarting his development agenda by joining those who resist, perhaps pertaining to rebel groups who have challenged these encroachments over the decades, the same groups that he labeled as bothersome.
These words may as well have been uttered by Spanish friars or American expeditionary forces at the turn of the last century when they tried to appropriate Mindanao’s vast untapped resources during the colonial era. Obviously, that process has not ended even with the departure of our colonial rulers. Our own government in previous regimes and no less than the son of Mindanao who now sits at Malacañan have no qualms about fronting for local and foreign business interests at the expense of indigenous communities.
Typical of the chauvinism of those who hold the dominant narrative of Philippine nation-state, it never occurred to Duterte and his advisers, like the presidents and generals before him, that the conflict that they have tried to address for decades stem from such brutal methods of pacification and disrespect for the history and culture of the Moro and indigenous peoples and their right to control and benefit from their ancestral land in Mindanao.
Neither have they considered the right of these national minority groups to chart their own destiny as a people and define development according to their own terms. Paid for by the blood and struggle of their people, the indigenous rights discourse pioneered by Filipino minority groups as encapsulated in the IPRA law of 1997 and the 1987 Philippine Constitution, and also the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of 2007 (UNDRIP) is brazenly set aside as inconsequential by Duterte and his administration.
Duterte and those who think like him imagine the Lumad as a naïve and uneducated people who can be pacified by jobs and royalty. If they have the gall to reject these generous offers from government and big business, they must be, to their mind, manipulated by an external ideology such as those espoused by rebel groups. What they fail to see is that the very conditions that they create provide the strongest imperative for the Lumad and the rebels to actually coalesce. Over time, it may be the case that both have learned from each other about the common struggle of peasants, workers, and minority groups.
Duterte is calling for a bloody showdown, pitting fellow Filipinos against each other over what history has once again revealed to be the timeless struggle over land and resources in Mindanao. In this showdown, they have conscripted some indigenous leaders and groups to share in the spoils just to facilitate the entry of destructive businesses into ancestral domains. It should be clear which side Duterte and his supporters find themselves now – frothing attack dogs of big business interests out to appropriate Mindanao’s resources at the expense of the Lumad.