DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 1 Oct) – Behind the astounding sceneries of the hinterland community of Talaingod town in Davao del Norte are lumads who are torn apart into two groups by what some of them call external forces, yet they are on the same boat fighting for a similar cause, that is, to protect their children, women, culture, and ancestral domain.
But Datu Lumansad Sibogan, a member of the board of trustees of the Ata-Manobo Tribal Council of Elders Association Talaingod, urge outsiders to let the lumads resolve internal conflicts.
He wants conflict resolution done through their own ways and tradition based on their customary laws that have governed the indigenous people since time immemorial and not through the mediation of any group.
Some 200 lumads from Talaingod fled their homes last May, claiming they wanted to escape militarization that has reportedly brought human rights abuses by the military and the paramilitary group “Alamara.”
They are now staying at the Haran, an evacuation center run by the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) here, along with 500 lumads from Kapalong in Davao del Norte and San Fernando, Bukidnon, for five months.
The datu, however, denied such threats against the lumads and claimed he has no knowledge on the presence of any paramilitary group in their community.
“Ang Alamara wala mahitabo sa Talaingod (The Alamara never happened in Talaingod),” he said.
What he did not deny is the presence of members of the New People’s Army (NPA) and their Bagani warriors who are supposedly under the command of the datus that protect their community.
Sibogan has 10 of such warriors at his behest.
These bagani members, he said, are only armed with bows and arrows, spears, and other traditional weapons that they have used in their tribe ever since.
“Sagrado para sa amoa ang bagani (Bagani is sacred to us),” the datu said.
He said the lumads have been caught between the conflicts of the military and the NPA.
Sibogan recalled four years after the NPA infiltrated their community in 1981, the first gunfight broke out.
Since then, different non-government organizations came in to extend hand to the lumads who had been affected by the conflict between the government and the rebels.
The same scenario dragged on until 1999, this time with more NGOs coming into the picture. But Datu Sibogan claimed the NGOs’ interventions were of no help.
“Ang mga NGOs ang niyatak sa among katungod. Kami na hinuon ang manduan sa among katungod (The NGOs deprived us of our rights. They’re now the ones dictating what our rights are),” he said.
Sheena Duazo, secretary general of Bayan-Southern Mindanao, belied that it is the NGOs who have become threats to the lumads.
She added the NGOs are there to assist the lumads in their call for help to protect their ancestral domain.
“Gusto nila idiscredit ang role sa mga NGOs sa mga lumads. Dili matabunan ang riyalidad nga naay human rights violation. (They want to discredit the NGOs’ role to the lumads, but it cannot hide the fact that there are human rights violations),” she said.
Duazo alleged that the lumads are in quandary now due to the military, Alamara, and failure of the current and past administrations to hear the plight of the lumads.
Datu Sibogan even challenged those who were behind the exodus of the lumads to Davao City on a duel, known to them as “tigi,” which is done by dipping their hands in a boiling water.
“Kung dili ka mapaso, naga-estorya ka og tinuod (If you don’t get scalded, you are telling the truth),” he said.
“Ang tinuod nga lumads, dili mahadlok pero ang mga NGO dili na mosugot (Real lumads will not be scared but the NGOs won’t take up the challenge,” he said.
Talaingod is comprised of three barangays – Sto. Niño, Dagohoy, and Palma Gil – with 17,000 lumad residents.
“Kung tinuod nga naay militarisasyon, ngano dili man nila hutdon og dala ang mga lumad? (If militarization is real, why won’t they take all the lumads?),” he asked.
“Sa wa pay NGO ug NPA, nagkahiusa ’mi. Paghuman nga nakasulod, wala girespeto among kultura ug nagasiaksiak (Before the NGOs and NPA came in, we were united. After they entered, they did not respect our culture and we were torn apart),” he said
Lumad NPAs, Lumad CAFGUs
Datu Sibogan admitted that there have been lumads who have volunteered to join the Citizen Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) while others have been recruited by the NPA.
He lamented that, at the end of the day, it would be the lumads of the warring factions who would take arms against one another.
If this won’t be stopped, he said this will lead to tribal wars.
“Ang military mouli sa barracks ug ang mga NPA mamalik sa bukid, ang mga lumad lang gihapun ang mabilin nga mag-away (The military would return to their barracks while the NPAs to the mountains, and lumads will be left behind to fight one another),” he said.
At some point, Datu Sibogan agreed that military should stay out of their communities and even offered help to mediate between them and the NPA.
The 700 lumads who have taken shelter at the Haran are firm in saying they will not return to their communities in Talaingod and Kapalong in Davao del Norte and San Fernando, Bukidnon unless the military pull out their troops and disband the paramilitary groups.
On the other hand, the datu feared that the absence of the military will result in the rise of NPA numbers in their community.
He claimed that 17 datus have been abducted by the rebel group since the 1980s, some of them were killed. The NPAs, he said, demanded three horses for the release of each datu.
In his presentation at the Davao City Council last month, Col. Jake Obligado, commander of the 10th Infantry Division’s Civil Military Operations, said the NPA penetrated Talaingod and Kapalong after Typhoon Pablo struck in December 2012, which damaged their bases in Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley.
He claimed that the NPA has established a shadow revolutionary government – or the Komiteng Rebolusyonaryo sa Municipalidad (KRM, which translates to Revolutionary Committee in the Municipality) – in Kapalong and Talaingod where camps and landmines were also discovered.
Obligado said the military did not violate the IP’s customary laws as they always pay a courtesy call to tribal leaders before conducting an operation.
This was affirmed by Datu Sibogan, who said he conducts lectures to the military troops while they are conducting operations within the lumads’ ancestral domain to ensure that their rights will not be violated.
Another datu’s plight
Datu Doloman Dausay, also of Talaingod, maintained that they left their community because they no longer feel safe with the presence of the military.
He was firm in saying that the human rights abuses allegedly committed by the military and the Alamara were real and forced them to leave their homes and livelihood.
Datu Doloman, who is spokesperson of the Salugpongan Ta Tanu Igkanugon Community Learning Center (STTICLC), lamented how Datu Sibogan and the 68th Infantry Battalion blocked those attending the 11th Founding Anniversary and Bwalawan Festival at Sitio Daligdigon, Barangay Palma Gil on Monday.
He said they built schools because they wanted lumad children to be educated even if they are not receiving any support from some of the lumads and the military, whom he said even branded the schools as that of the communist.
Salugpongan has six campuses in Davao del Norte, three in Davao Oriental, 14 in Compostela Valley, and one in Davao City with a total of 1,800 students.
Last September 28, A total of 116 people, 44 of them students from Salugpongan Ta Tanu Igkanugon Community Learning Center, were allegedly barred by the 68IB and the Talaingod Tribal Municipal Council from going to the school for a four-day celebration that will end today.
The school is located at remote Sitio Km. 30, Barangay Dagohoy in Talaingod.
Datu Sibogan said he sought the 68IB’s help to prevent some of the contingents from coming because they failed to coordinate with the Municipal Tribal Council of Talaingod.
He claimed that it is necessary that they should seek permission prior to conducting an activity so that they will be protected if there is an ongoing pangayaw, or tribal war.
The contingent pushed through with the celebration as they took a different route going to the school.
Datu Sibogan envisioned to have a community that is ideal to all lumads, one that has better access roads that will transport the harvest of the IPs to the markets. This, he said, is what he wants for the government to do for them.
He also wanted to sign an agreement with the NPA so the latter would stay out of their community and spare his brothers and sisters.