A SOJOURNER’S VIEW: Knowing more about Nuing

NUING, Jose Abad Santos, Davao Occidental — Nuing who?  And why the need to know more about Nuing?

Nuing is a barangay in the municipality of Jose Abad Santos (JAS)  in the newly created province of Davao Occidental.  According to the NSO figures of 2010, this barangay’s population was 2,912.  It could easily be more than 4,000 today.

The barangay’s name comes from the name of the river that traverses its landscape.  When asked why the river was named Nuing, no one in the village today could answer the question for they know not the origin of the name. Basta, it has always been known as Nuing.

KAMOGKOG. Wild flower known in Manobo as "kamogkog" which is also an herbal plant in full bloom along the road, with Mt. Golo in the background. MindaNews photo by Karl Gaspar
KAMOGKOG. Wild flower known in Manobo as “kamogkog” which is also an herbal plant in full bloom along the road, with Mt. Golo in the background. MindaNews photo by Karl Gaspar

But the name Nuing has shifted into another meaning in this part of Davao. It refers to the Nuing Mission Station (NMS) of the Diocese of Digos. This mission station is part of the parish of what was known before as Caburan (this name now refers to the poblacion of JAS). There are 11 barangays covered by the NMS including those in the uplands reaching the Saddle Peak (also known as Mt. Golo) to the west and Mt. Balocol to the east. These barangays are at the boundary between Davao Occidental and Sarangani Province.  Most of the names remain Lumad including Kitayo, Balangonan, Bukid, Camalian, Butulan, Kitumbod (renamed San Isidro), Nuing, Kiapo, Sugal, Molmol and Patulang.

Constitutive elements of JAS

JAS has 26 barangays, the centers of which are located predominantly along the coast facing the Celebes Sea.  Across the coasts of JAS’ barangays in the southwest are  the islands of Sarangani and Balut which are also part of Davao Occidental.  In 2010, JAS’ population was 69,631. With heavy migration in the past few years, this figure could now reach 80,000.

A town founded in 1948, JAS is presently an area most vulnerable to encroachment of agri-business plantations and mining which could dislocate the Lumad communities.

Of the total popultion, 80% are Sarangani Manobo but there are also B’laans and Sangils. There have been inter-marriages among the three ethno-linguistic groups.  The migrant-settlers’ population constitutes just over 10%. The people populate the accessible areas spread across over 600 square kms. or the equivalent of 73,443 hectares.  JAS used to be part of Malita and was originally named Trinidad.  It was later named Jose Abad Santos to honor the former Supreme Court Chief Justice who died a martyr during WW II.

Despite all the funds that have been allocated to connect all these barangays to Caburan, there is still no infrastructure connecting almost half of the barangays of JAS to its poblacion.  There is an all-weather road from Digos City to Caburan.  However, between Barangay Carahayan and Tabayon towards the southwest of JAS, there is a five-kilometer stretch where the road disappears rendering this national highway impossible to cross even by habal-habals during the wet season.

To transact business with government agencies in Caburan, the citizens of more than half of the 26 barangays have to travel through Sarangani Province and parts of Davao del Sur.

Why the need to know more about Nuing

The lack of road between Caburan poblacion and the barangays to JAS’ southwest  made the Local Church decide to carve out a mission station covering 11 barangays in the southwest part of JAS with Nuing as its center. Which is why there is today the NMS. This mission station was meant primarily to serve the Lumad communities in this part of JAS. Data from government sources are inadequate in terms of identifying what percentage of the population are Lumad.  As a way of approximating the percentage, I checked the data of the student population of Ignacia Guillermo Memorial Elementary School in Nuing. Of the total pupil population of 759 for this school-year, 652 are Lumad and 107 are children of migrant-settlers. Thus, 85% of the student population are Lumad (primarily Sarangani Manobo with a few B’laan and Sangil).

A Manobo family in Barangay Molmol. MindaNews photo by Karl Gaspar
A Manobo family in Barangay Molmol. MindaNews photo by Karl Gaspar

The Canadian PME Fathers were the ones who set up the NMS in the late 1970s.  Since then a few diocesan clergy and the OFM Capuchin have administered the NMS. Since October 2014, the Davao Redemptorist Mission Community has taken over NMS’ administration.  In the last eight years, there has been a program funded by a church agency in Europe to assist in the development needs of the people especially in the areas of agriculture, fishing, health and community organizing.

At the height of the drought that hit this area in the late 1990s, Assisi Foundation assisted the Manobo via the Tabang Mindanao program (with input in water development system, agricultural development and the like).  They also set up a partnership with the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP) for conducting the needed research and documentation towards coming up with the required documents so that the Manobo could apply for the Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT).

Eventually, the CADT was approved by the NCIP six years ago, covering 2,450 hectares spread across the barangay of Molmol (with some areas in the adjacent barangay of Kiapo).  Around a thousand Manobo households live  and do agricultural activities within this area covered by the CADT.

Problems related to land

Owing to various gaps in the documentation, even as the CADT has been approved, the NCIP has not rewarded the document of the title to the Manobos.  Datu Amado Istoon, who is named as the Datu Claimant of this CADT, representing the thousand households has done his best to follow up on the promise of the NCIP to hand over the title to him. But as of mid-February 2015, the title has not yet been awarded.

“Last I heard from the NCIP office in Davao del Sur, I was told that there are still a few more documents required including a plan for reforestation within the CADT area,” Datu Istoon said when asked as to why the delay in the awarding of the CADT.

Meanwhile, all sorts of problems have arisen that has created demoralization, anxiety and disappointment among the Manobo of Molmol.  Conflicts between and among members of the indigenous community have also surfaced, as well as in their dealings with migrant-settlers who have penetrated the area hoping to be able to acquire a piece of land.  These problems include the following:

  1. How they have been forced to lease their land (and coconut) to those with the money who could pay the price of the prenda who are usually better-off migrant-settlers, barangay official and businessmen. The ongoing interest however is quite usurious: for every peso loaned by the Manobos, they have to pay back P2. One-half of the 2,540 hectares could already have been covered by prenda.  For the moment, there seems to be no way that the Manobos could eventually pay back so that they can reclaim their land or coconuts.

Melchor Malinawon, the Chairman of the Lumad association in Molmol who lives in Kasunugan reported that their family’s five-hectare land planted to coconut trees was leased in the amount of P120,000.  To reclaim the land, he has to pay P240,000.  Partial payments are made when he has his share of the sale of copra. “However” Malinawon claims, “since we incur further debts owing to emergency needs, it will take forever for us to reclaim our land”.  This narrative is repeated many times in the uplands owing to the prenda system.

  1. Long before the CADT was approved, a number of them have been paying tax declaration, considering that this area was once inalienable and indisposable.  Even as the CADT has been approved, they still need to pay the tax declaration and they wonder why this is so.
  2. There are those listed among the thousand households who have entered into transactions that could be misconstrued as their way of selling their land. In the survey for the CADT, this reality has not been factored in.
  3. Among the relatives (including those who have inter-married with lowlanders), there are now all kinds of claims and counter-claims as to who are the rightful owners of the piece of land, even as these are also covered by CADT.
  4. The land is rich and fertile; but much of the land is planted mainly to coconut, corn and upland rice. However, since Molmol has no roads connecting the barangay to the center, they are not able to market their goods to their advantage. Thus, much land is idle and income from agricultural production is quite low.  Consequently, poverty persists.

Another CADT is being processed by the NCIP in JAS  which will cover 50,000 hectares traversing 19 barangays including  Mangile, Buguis, Culaman, Caburan Small and Big,  Marabatuan, Meybio, Carahayan, Malalan, Butulan, Patulang, Sugal, Nuing, Butuan, Camalian, Bukid, Balangonan, Kitayo and San Isidro/Kitumbod.  There is also a possibility that some clans may seek their own Certificate for Ancestral Land Title or CALT. The  NCIP has began consultations on this application, but there is still so much work that needs to be done before a title could be approved and issued.   Unfortunately within this area, some of the Lumads have also started to lease their land to outsiders; the current rate at P30,000 per hectare.  In most cases, the Lumads are not able to redeem their land, so there is fear that the 50,000 hectares have now been reduced to less than 30,000.  This process is continuing until today.

While there are possibilities that the Lumad in JAS would be able to secure their rights to their remaining ancestral domain in JAS, there is also the very great possibility of their losing control over these like what is happening in other Lumad communities who have both succumbed to the pressure of expanding agri-business plantations and mining operations.

At present JAS is surrounded by areas in the Davao-Cotabato regions that have now been inundated with incursions of plantations (bananas and sugarcane in Davao del Sur and oil palm in SOCCSKSARGEN) and mining (Davao and SOCCSKSARGEN region).

JAS itself has great potentials in agriculture for its rich land (both coastlands and uplands) as well as the mineral resources underneath its mountain ranges.  If and when the infrastructure will become much better with the full operation of the newly-created Davao Occidental  – and there is strong likelihood that this would happen like those in the adjacent towns of Sarangani Province – its accessibility would hasten the entry of more investments.

One fears though that the ancestral domain of the Manobo in Jose Abad Santos which can be regained will be reduced to a much smaller area.  At present the sense of unity among the Lumad is quite weak; they have very few strong leaders who can strengthen their ranks together and have the skill and ability to navigate the complex procedure of securing titles to their remaining ancestral domain. The civil society organizations operating in this town are also limited and have little clout in assisting the Manobo.  And the NCIP is disadvantaged with limited staff, resources and equipment.

Meanwhile, incursion into Jose Abad Santos from the outside – owing to optimistic business prospects – has intensified.  A concerned advocate for Lumad rights entering this area today asks the question:  will Jose Abad Santos go the way of the majority of  Lumad communities across  Mindanao that have not been able to regain control over their ancestral domain or will  they be included in the list of Lumad communities that have successfully regained their ancestral territory?

[Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar of Davao City, Academic Dean of the  Redemptorists’ St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute (SATMI), and author  of several books, including the recently launched “Desperately Seeking God’s                                Saving Action: Yolanda Survivors’ Hope Beyond Heartbreaking Lamentations,”   writes two columns for MindaNews, one in English (A Sojourner’s Views) and the             other in Binisaya (Panaw-Lantaw)].