A SOJOURNER’S VIEWS: A Tale of Two Events

ILIGAN CITY (MindaNews/03 May) – In 1859 – a hundred and fifty-three three years ago – Charles Dicken’s classic novel, A TALE OF TWO CITIES, enthralled the reading public with these lines that he wrote: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

Dickens might as well write about our own age, which is our “present period”. The juxtaposition of two events involving Indigenous Peoples in Mindanao but which have implications for all Mindanawons and not just the Lumad – one that is unfolding and another which will take place soon – is, indeed, most interesting and could only provide us with a Dickensian contrast.

First, the “darkness” side which provides some kind of a “winter of despair” for those who will suffer the adverse consequences of an act of alleged “foolishness”. Its prime location is in Tampakan, South Cotabato, site of the flagship mining project of the foreign-based Sagittarius Mines Inc.(SMI) and aggressively supported by the Philippine Chamber of Mines. Those who are already familiar with the unfavorable ecological and social consequences of the operations of this mining firm know that the impact will be felt by the citizenry living in a considerable number of municipalities of the provinces of Sultan Kudarat, South Cotabato and Davao del Sur.

The ones who are already suffering most are the Lumads, specifically the B’laans as the mining operations and further explorations are and will be taking place within their ancestral homeland. Given the divide-and-rule tactics employed by the mining firm and its supporters from among the State institutions, the B’laans have been split into two camps – those for and against mining. (MindaNews continue to provide the readers with updates on the events that have unfolded in Tampakan.)

A recent event in the area attracted attention to the powder keg which is Tampakan these days. This was the multi-sectoral fact-finding solidarity mission that took place in the last week of April involving the personnel from the Philippine Human Rights Center, the CBCP-NASSA, Koalisyon ng Katutubong Samahan ng Pilipinas, Task Force Detainees of the Philippines, Radyo Veritas, the Commission on Human Rights and the Social Action Center of Marbel and Digos. During this mission, the group encountered difficulties in reaching some of isolated barangays that they wanted to visit owing to blockades set up by the company and the military.

In a press statement released on 28 April, the fact-finding mission identified the major problems faced by the people affected in the areas where troubles have erupted: the intensifying conflict among the B’laans which demands immediate resolution otherwise there could be bloodshed, the increased military presence in the area which have led to human rights violations, the confusion and anxiety faced by the B’laans who are pressured to relocate to another place as part of the preparatory activities for the mining operations, the non-compensation for damages to their crops destroyed by the bulldozers of the mining firm and the lack of consultation with the people before decisions are made by the firm that affect them.

Speaking on behalf of those affected by these problems, the mission recommended the following: total pull-out of the seven military detachment in the communities, enforce a definite moratorium on all SMI activities in the area, recognize and respect the customary laws of the B’laan on conflict resolution, undertake a meaningful free-prior-informed-consent practice (FPIC) in mining-affected areas and ensure transparency and accountability of tribal chieftains, SMI and local government unit in dealing with the members of their communities.

However, the stakes of SMI in Tampakan have risen to such a level that to yield to these demands would compromise their huge investments in the area and their projected astronomical income. With the full backing of the Chamber of Mines, some key people within the Aquino administration, Pres. Aquino’s own lack of political will to decide on the issue of mining to favor the interests of the marginalized poor (read: the B’laans) and the environment and the military’s own agenda in terms of this issue, SMI will aggressively push its own agenda to fully get the mining operations going, come hell or high water.

However, the resistance will further escalate even as the B’laans will not be able to get their act together. A tribal people with a bagani (warrior) tradition, there will be those among them who will fight their perceived enemies. And as the foot soldiers of the New People’s Army lurk in the various nooks of this landscape, there will be war and the civilians – as usual –  will be caught in-between. Meanwhile civil society elements who have opposed SMI in the last decade will also continue to find ways to legally resist the mining firm.

Meanwhile, people’s resistance against mining – fully supported by civil society agents including Bishops like Bishop Nereo Odchimar – have also become very visible across Mindanao from the east (Surigao del Sur) to the center (Bukidnon) and to the west (the Zamboanga peninsula). The fight against mining is expected to persist even as the pro-mining advocates will also strengthen their ranks. As it stands now, there are LGUs against LGUS, churches against churches, workers against workers, Lumads against Lumads, ordinary citizens against each other. No other issue has divided Mindanawons in the way that mining has done. Indeed, we are in an “epoch of incredulity!”

Is there also a “season of light” somewhere in Mindanao which brings about a “spring of hope” and an “age of wisdom”? For the Moro people, there is the recent agreement signed in Kuala Lumpur with the promise that things could advance even further towards conflict resolution, then on to the dream of peace.(IInsallah!) But for the Lumad, what is there to hope for?

Perhaps, an event that will take place on 10-14 May, 2012 at the PAMULAAN, inside the University in Southeastern Philippines (USEP) in Mintal, Davao City will provide a ray of hope for the Lumad communities. The event is the third gathering of the Local Educators Advancement Program (LEAP) with the theme “Weaving Indigenous Knowledge into Current Education Systems”. The Assisi Development Foundation and its partners, in collaboration with State agencies such as the DepEd, NCIP and NCCA, are behind the convening of LEAP III.

The rationale of this event states: More than ever, the IPs now realize the significance of education that could empower them to claim, exercise and protect their rights in accordance with their culture and tradition. Unfortunately however, not only are the IPs deprived of education, but also that the education made available to some of them, alienates them from their own identity and culture… (T)he signing of the National IP Education Framework on August 8, 2011 is a real breakthrough in the effort to pursue the IP dream of an appropriate and relevant education. As it signifies the aspiration and increasing involvement of the IPs, it also marks the growing commitment of the Department of Education to set up an educational system that is truly inclusive and respectful of the diversity of learners and that will hopefully, prioritize the most needy and vulnerable.”

Under Bro. Armi Luistro, the DepEd Secretary, there seems to be a strong push for the public school system – within the K-12 scheme – to find ways to adopt the National IP Education policy framework. If DepEd could get its act together and collaborate strongly with the agents of civil society who were first to pioneer alternative learning systems among Lumad communities throughout the country, there could arise a Lumad Education program that will respond favorably to the needs of the Lumad children and eventually redound to the benefit of their communities. One major priority is to integrate indigenous knowledge systems and practices into the very curriculum of the first years under the K-12 scheme. This demands of DepEd to provide the necessary financial assistance and to train the teachers in a new model of teaching children which might need to integrate the theories of Freire, Steiner and others who will make sure that the program subscribes to the “rights-based approach which gives primary important to the principles of participation, inclusion, and empowerment”.

Right now we encounter this tale of two events. On one hand, there is the landscape of violence and turbulence, of dislocation and manipulation, of an elite and its State supporters versus the disenfranchised who have everything to lose if pushed away from their homeland. On the other hand, there is the landscape of education and liberation, advancement and empowerment, of civil society and a State institution collaborating for the sake of the neediest among our children in Mindanao.

A land of contrasts, Mindanao truly is. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar of Davao City, is author of several books, including “To be poor and obscure,” “Mystic Wanderers in the Land of Perpetual Departures,” “The Masses are Messiah: Contemplating the Filipino Soul,” and the recently-launched“Manobo Dreams in Arakan.” He writes two columns for MindaNews, one in English [A Sojourner’s Views] and the other in Binisaya [Panaw-Lantaw].)