Dam, burial site issues divide lumads and academics

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/16 Nov) – The Pulangi V hydro electric project and the claim of a sacred burial site of the Manobo ancestors have divided the lumads in southern Bukidnon and North Cotabato and academics in the anthropological community.

Supporters of and oppositors to the dam project held separate press conferences here Monday to promote their advocacies for and against the Pulangi V hydroelectric project and for and against the declaration of the Apo Mamalu burial site.

Opponents of the project have found an antidote to the project by asking the National Museum of the Philippines to declare sitio Mikasili in Barangay Tangkulan in Damulog, Bukidnon as a historical site. The move irked project proponents, saying it was “baseless and unnecessarily disrupting the mediation process to reconcile the rift that developed in the lumad community as a result of the proposed dam project.”

A respected anthropologist and archeologist, Dr. Erlinda Burton, joined the press conference of those opposed to the declaration as historical site the alleged burial ground of Apo Mamalu in sitio Mikasili, Tangkulan, Damulog town.

Apo Mamalu and his brother Apo Tabunaway are believed to be forefathers of the Mindanao lumads.

“I’m not here to side with the dam project, but I am speaking out because I think it is premature to declare it as historical site because of the absence of scientific evidence to prove the claim,” Burton said.

Burton is the curator of the Museo de Oro in Xavier University.

During the general assembly of the Mindanao Association of Museums at the Bukidnon State University last Nov. 11, Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, who was the guest speaker, announced that the Apo Mamalu burial site will be declared as historical site, making it a prized cultural heritage treasure of the country.

“In issues like this, archaeological evidence is needed, and so far we have none,” Burton stressed.

Roldan Babelon, of Natabuk or Cultural Solidarity of Indigenous Peoples in Bukidnon, however, said that it is against the beliefs of the lumads to excavate burial sites.

Elders of the Manobo tribe, however, said that an exception can be made “just to protect Manobo culture and resolve the issue. “It is true that it is against our culture to excavate the burial site, but there are ways to get the permission of our ancestors, like performing a ritual, just we could resolve the issue,” said Datu Pendulanon (a.k.a. Rogelio Lahunay), tribal chieftain of Kibawe town in Bukidnon.

An angry tribal chieftain of the municipality of Damulog also in Bukidnon lambasted a non-government organization for allegedly disrespecting the Manobo tribe and damaging their culture. Datu Feliciano Angaan, said: “They don’t have respect for us. Last Sunday, they, along with the personnel of the National Musuem, went to the burial site to do a ritual without even bothering to ask our permission.”

Datu Angaan said that Natabuk leader Wilmar Ampuan is being manipulated by outsiders to sow dissention in the tribal community. He said that Ampuan is even a fake “datu,” a self-proclaimed leader who cannot even win in the Tangkulan barangay election. Ampuan ran for barangay chairman for Tangkulan and settled fourth.

Ampuan did not reply to text messages sent to him to get his side.

Karl Ceasar Rebuta, project development officer of the Legal Rights and Natural Resource Center, which is supporting Natabuk, said they want to declare the Apo Mamalu burial site a historical site so that it will not be disturbed by projects, referring to the Pulangi V hydroelectric project.

Dr. Antonio Montalvan, of the Capitol University Museum of Three Cultures, signed the petition before the National Museum to declare the site a heritage site.

Burton told MindaNews that she had already told the National Museum she will contest the application.

Tribal leaders led by the 90-year-old Apo Caid Lansawan, Datu Angaan, Datu Pendulanon, Datu Cuyan (municipal tribal chieftain of Kitaotao, Bukidnon) and several other lumad elders have signed a petition to be submitted to the National Museum opposing the declaration of the Apo Mamalu burial site.

A press statement from the Pulangi V Project Management Office said that they are cautioning Sen. Zubiri from making “hasty” statements supporting claims that Apo Mamalu is one of the fathers of the Manobo, Mindanao’s biggest indigenous people’s tribe.

Saying that the senator may have been a victim of bum steer from “outsiders” who do not want the lumads to be integrated in the holistic development Mindanao, a group of lumad leaders say that they would seek an audience with Zubiri, who happens to hail from Bukidnon.

Lansawan, a reputed tribal leader in the Arakan Valley, said in a statement: “Traditional oral chants brought down from our ancestors by our Baylans and Timuays made no mention of that Mikasili is a sacred Manobo burial ground. I have not known or participated in a ritual in Mikasili to honor any of our Manobo ancestors.”

Lansawan is a former school teacher who founded elementary schools in southern Bukidnon and North Cotabato. He was “pension ado” of the Philippine Commonwealth Government and sent to study education in the Philippine Normal College in Manila in the 1930s.

Datu Feliciano Angaan, municipal tribal chieftain of Damulog, echoed Lansawan’s views. Angaan said that the claim that Apo Mamalu was buried in Mikasili has no basis. He said it was not mentioned in the oral traditions of the Manobo tribe.

“In short, their declaration is not in line with the truth and it is a dangerous external intervention to the Manobo culture, especially on the subject of the ancestry of the Manobo tribe,” Angaan added.

They have maintained that their ancestors were not buried as they ruptured to heaven and became immortal. They also assert that it was only when there was opposition to the Pulangi V project that the Apo Mamalu burial site story was invented.

Rebuta said that he heard the tale of the Apo Mamalu burial site from a certain Datu Dalawraw in 2000 who said before he died that Mikasili is the burial site of Apo Mamalu. Rebuta said that Dalawraw died at the age of 125 years old.

The Manobo elders however laughed off this claim. They said that Dalawraw was not a chieftain nor did he reach the age of 125. Budz Saliling, a Manobo from Damulog, said that he personally knew Dalawraw and that he died in his 70s. “Their story is all lies,” Saliling said.

Burton said that Rebuta is not an authority in anthropology or history.

An indigenous people’s forum on Manobo history at the Central Mindanao University (CMU) held last May tackled the issue of Apo Mamalu’s burial site.

It was attended by over a hundred lumad leaders and scholars from the CMU, Xavier University and Mindanao State University. Discussions resulted in a different historical narrative than what is claimed by Natabuk and LRC.

According to the lumad leaders, it was not Apo Mamalu who ventured north of the Pulangi River, but his brother Apo Tabunaway. Apo Mamalu, according to them, stayed in the mouth of Pulangi River (Rio Grande de Mindanao) in Cotabato to be with his sister Bae Putri who married the first Muslim scholar to reach mainland Mindanao, Shariff Kabunsuan. Apo Mamalu, according to this narrative, converted to Islam and Apo Tabunawan went upstream (north) of the Pulangi as he refused to convert to Islam.

Butch Baz, Manager of the Pulangi V Project Management Office (PMO), said the campaign to declare the Apo Mamalu burial site to be declared as cultural heritage site is not contributing to the efforts to reconcile the rift caused by the issue among the lumad communities.

He added that the Pulangi V project has respected all the processes to resolve the issue and has conducted more than 200 consultations with the affected communities.

Meanwhile, the Diocese of Malaybalay, which has jurisdiction over the Roman Catholic church of Bukidnon, is trying to form a mediation group that would reconcile the lumads who have been divided by the issue.

Fr. Dan Paciente, director of the Social Action Center of the diocese, told MindaNews that they have a forum on the issue on Thursday (Nov. 18) in Kibawe with the hope of helping resolve the rift among the lumad community.

“Our priests are thoroughly studying the issue and would like to facilitate the reconciliation of the lumads,” Paciente said.

Montalvan has neither returned calls nor answered email queries on the matter as of press time. (BenCyrus G. Ellorin / MindaNews)