A MISHMASH of emotions dominated by hope, that was probably how one would describe the reaction of the Lumad bakwits at UCCP Haran compound as they watched and listened to the first State of the Nation Address (Sona) of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte last July 25.
Cheers and applause accompanied by yelps and gasps were evident every once in a while all throughout the scene as witnessed by SunStar Davao who had the privilege to sit and watch the Sona with the Lumads through a small television set installed at the sanctuary.
Lumads cheered as Duterte announced a unilateral ceasefire with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) during the Sona as this could only mean one thing: they can finally go back in peace to their respective communities without the fear of experiencing conflicts and harassments allegedly perpetrated by the members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the paramilitary groups.
Or can they really go back now?
Fast forward to five days after Duterte’s declaration of the unilateral ceasefire -- the once joyous mood of the Lumads has been replaced by dismay and worries especially with the news that had just broke out last Saturday evening about Duterte lifting his previous truce declaration when the CPP-NPA-NDF failed to respond to the ultimatum he had given that lapsed at 5.p.m. of the same day.
Worried and Dismayed
“Dako gyud among kabalaka isip bakwit dinhi sa UCCP Haran kay aduna gyu’y puruhan nga dugay-dugay pa mi makauli sa amoang komunidad tungod sa mga panghitabo. Busa among panawagan nga dili unta magpadala si Digong (Duterte) sa mga [init] og huna-huna tungod kay [ginaagi man gyud og] proseso ang ceasefire (We have great apprehensions as Lumad bakwits here in UCCP Haran because this could only mean that it will take us longer time before we can go back to our communities due to the things that had just happened recently. Duterte should not be carried away by rash decisions because the call of a ceasefire always undergoes a process),” a distraught Datu Mintroso Malibato from Kapalong, Davao Del Norte said in an interview with SunStar Davao on Sunday, July 31.
The same concern was also echoed by Ellen Manlibaas of the Matigsalog tribe, who was among the some 300 lumad bakwits currently staying at the Haran compound, in a separate interview on the same day.
Archives of reports about the massive evacuation of the Indigenous Peoples (IPs) from the different parts of Mindanao would point out to alleged military and paramilitary harassments and human rights violations as culprits behind the displacement.
“We are so bothered if we can really go back to our communities especially now that Duterte had lifted the ceasefire declaration. Maybe Duterte want the CPP to immediately reciprocate his declaration but they have different principles. The CPP was supposed to declare ceasefire but it was already late,” Malibato expressed in the vernacular.
Malibato added that they had been so hopeful with Duterte’s plans for the lumads during his Sona because they had long wanted to go back to their communities and finally live there harmoniously.
Ellen Manlibaas of the Matigsalog told SunStar Davao why they are greatly affected by whatever outcome will result in the peace talks between the government and the CPP-NPA-NDF.
Living in the mountains where there are both presence of the NPAs and the AFP, it is sometimes inevitable that they can be implicated in any incidents and conflicts that arise between the two parties, which had considered each other as enemies, for over a long period.
“Pag naa mi sa bukid, wala mi ginadapigan (When we are in our communities, we do not take sides),” Manlibaas said, adding that since both parties are armed, they do not dare take sides from either of them.
When the NPAs come to their house or community, they welcome them and the same goes with the members of the AFP, Manlibaas said.
By associating with either of the parties, they had been tagged by the military as NPA members even when they really are not and that was one of the reasons they cited where they become involved in conflicts between the two parties.
Though not all soldiers are treating them badly as there are those few who are concern of their welfare, there are some who had been quiet abusive to them and that’s what caused them to fear the presence of the military, Manlibaas shared.
Then, there is also the alleged issue of soldiers arming lumads whom they called paramilitary groups that also allegedly caused disturbance among the lumad communities.
“Sa among mga panawagan, nganong wala mi masulti sa NPA kay [tungod] wala mi ikasaway sa ila (When we do a protest to call for justice, we do not mention about the NPA since we have nothing to say against them),” Manlibaas said,
He added the NPAs were even helping them on how to improve their farm, among others.
Doors still open
Despite the recent developments that brought them weariness, Manlibaas said that they are still hoping that the peace talks between the two parties can still be pursued.
“We had always wanted to go home peacefully and see our children continue their studies in our community,” Manlibaas expressed.
She said that they still believed in Duterte especially that the pronouncement he had previously made favors the poor.