Velez: Unsettling the Lumads

AT THE start of Duterte's term in 2016, the Manobo evacuees in UCCP Haran had optimism that this president can bring them home. They knew him as the mayor who was their mediator with the military, who bravely asked the commanders to stand back and allow them to return home.

The Lumads waited a bit, and even joined a People's SONA in Manila to hear Duterte asking some time to ensure their return. Later, a ceasefire in lieu of the peace talks enabled the Lumads to return home.

But on 2017, the Lumads were back in Haran, as the same problems crept back in their communities and schools. They went back to Manila for the second SONA of Duterte. But what greeted them there was not a welcome, but a warning.

"Leave, I will bomb your schools, for they are operating illegally!" The president's words ran and struck the Lumad students and activists.

2017 was not a peaceful year. Martial Law, bombings in Marawi, Lumad communities and schools strafed by paramilitary. For their safety, Lumad students were welcomed at UP Diliman and UST who hosted their "bakwet schools" so they can continue their schooling.

It's been four years since all these attacks on Lumad schools happened, and there is no end in sight.

Last week, the President during an Indigenous Peoples' summit in a military camp, proposed that Lumads will relocate and resettle in houses similar to Marawi, while he will choose investors, specifically oil palm and mining to cultivate the ancestral lands.

Resettling the Lumads from their ancestral lands, however, leaves them unsettled.

“If this (investment) happens, we cannot cultivate our lands anymore. We cannot grow local crops on our ancestral domain. They will only force us to evacuate and use the military who will not think twice to kill us if we stop their project,” said Datu Kaylo Bontulan of Talaingod chieftain.

The Talaingod Manobos know what this kind of development brings. In the 1990s, they saw what the logging company Alsons' IFMA project did to pollute their forests and rivers with the military harassing them. They mounted a resistance to drive Alsons away.

In the past two decades, nearly 500,000 hectares in Mindanao have been swamped with large-scale mining investments, agri-business and energy projects. Now they are pushing towards the ancestral lands in Mindanao, offering cash, projects. Along with this, the military are deployed as security.

Of interest to Duterte is oil palm expansion. There are already 40,000 hectares of oil palm in Mindanao, according to research from the Network Resisting Expansion of Agricultural Plantations in Mindanao. But a Malaysian company, Bali Oil Palm, is eyeing 45,000 hectares in Bukidnon and Misamis Oriental.

Mindanews reported that in 2014 another Malaysian investor was eyeing to expand 4,000 hectares in Davao City's Paquibato District, where the soil is fertile and good for oil palm. Paquibato has strong presence of the NPA. And the Luamds there rejected the offer.

Now Duterte insists on pushing with these investments, despite acknowledging the problems of infighting among Lumads between preserving their land and opening up for profits. "You were given your ancestral domain, but the problem is you did not use it," he told the Lumad leaders during the assembly.

But the PASAKA Federation of Lumads in Southern Mindanao sees otherwise. "Driving us away from our ancestral lands is no solution. It rather creates more problems because of massive displacement and destruction of our environment," said PASKA chair Kerlan Fanagel, a Blaan leader.

Fanagel added, "Genuine development for Lumad communities will only happen if our right to self-determination is respected.”

Facing this kind of debacle, the Lumad problems remain far from settled.

(tyvelez@gmail.com)
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