BOOK REVIEW: Anthropology, Theology and Struggling with the Lumads

TITLE: Panagkutay: Anthropology & Theology Interfacing in

Mindanao Uplands (The Lumad Homeland)
Author: Karl M. Gaspar, CSsR
Publisher: Institute of Spirituality in Asia, 2017

(This review by Eizel Paz Hilario was read for her by an MA Anthropology student during the book launch of “Panagkutay” at the Ateneo de Davao University on August 4, 2017)

I want to thank you Karl, for writing this book for two things.

First, thank you, for bringing me back to the missions, and bringing me back to Molmol through this book.  I remember going there in 2005, travelling from Davao at dawn, and arriving at the mission station at 8 in the evening, to conduct a training on research and writing for some of their youth leaders. This training, funded by the Assisi Development Foundation was part of the community’s story of applying for a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) that you talked about extensively in this book.  The outputs of the workshop and their succeeding research activities were used for the writing of their proofs of ancestral domains.

Teaching the lumad write their proofs was our — meaning you, Giovanni Soledad, and I — response to the issue of lack of researchers who would help Indigenous Peoples prepare their requirements for applying for ancestral domain titles in areas where there were no anthropologists.  Giovanni and I are among the younger anthropologists you inspired to take on the struggle of Indigenous Peoples’ rights as part of our faith action.

It turns out that the problem in Molmol’s struggle for their CADT application did not end there.  After the proofs were made and the requirements submitted, the process remained long, tedious, and frustrating. It’s not only Molmol that has not been awarded with their ancestral domain title, but also our former mission station in Kulaman, Sultan Kudarat, among others.   This, I learned, is because of a Joint Administrative Order signed by the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources), NCIP (National Commission on Indigenous Peoples), and DAR (Department of Agrarian reform) which mandates all the concerned government agencies to project and verify overlapping claims before a CADT could be issued and registered.

The preparation of this administrative order highlighted one issue of working on asserting Indigenous Peoples’ rights in cases where there are conflicting policies and competing agencies — the NCIP gets subsumed by agencies with greater recognized power and authority as well as capacity.  In my present work, I learned that NCIP has become wary of policy harmonization.  They are asserting the language of “interfacing” when talking with other government agencies; meaning, the indigenous perspective should be recognized and respected, instead of being subsumed in prevailing system.

In my view, one of the best highlights of your journeying with the Lumad in this struggle as both an anthropologist and a theologian is captured in a picture on page nine. The picture, taken in December 2015 by Ronron Anta, an Obu Manobo, showed you during a meeting in Molmol, which you captioned, “overwhelmed”. I would have preferred the Visayan term nalibog — which, by the way, is UGAT Founding President Pons Bennagen’s favorite term these days.

In my view, nalibog captures more meaningfully the spirit behind that picture: the complexities of engaging in Lumad work. Your explanation of the historical and theological background of the Catholic Church’s engagement with the lumad helped me understand the response of the Church to Lumad issues. It also provides one with ideas on how to break free from the kalibugan by interfacing anthropology and theology without making rosy promises, as the last chapter brings us to where the book began — the stark and complex reality of the Lumad situation.

When I saw this picture, I got worried about how many more religious and diocesan priests we could recruit into the IP Ministry. As you lamented in the book, the numbers have been dwindling since the 1980s.

I remember the retreat of the Mindanao-wide IPA Ministry workers that you facilitated in 2005. When the lay listed all the problems and issues of how the ministry was run, one diocesan priest answered arrogantly, instead of turning to oneself reflexively, “why would I engage in Lumad work if I can get Php 20,000 monthly if I stay in the parish?” If the the religious and the clergy would see you — one of the Church’s poster boys in working with the Lumads — looking so overwhelmed and desolate, why would they choose the former over the latter?

Second, thank you, Karl, for bringing us back to one of the worst but also best times of anthropology and the Church — the Martial Rule of President Ferdinand Marcos. Your description of “how a group of anthropologists who abandoned their value-free objectivist and non-prescriptive positivist position when they saw the need to shift in their formulations leading to praxis” influenced theologians and church workers engaged in IP Ministry (Gaspar 2017: 93) brings us back to the early years of the Ugnayang Pang-Aghamtao- Anthropological Association of the Philippines (UGAT). In his article, “Bakit UGAT“, Pons Bennagen (2011: 7) writes, and I quote:

“Sa Ikalawang Kumperensya nag-umpisa ang pag-imbita hindi lamang sa mga antropolohista at iba pang siyentista kundi pati yaong galing sa pamahalaan at sa mga pamayanan na may kinalaman sa tema ng kumperensya.  Sa kumperensyang ito rin nagkaroon ang UGAT ng dagdag na kahulugan bilang “daluyan ng buhay”. Sa pangunahing talumpati ni Bishop Francisco Claver, SJ (may PhD sa antropolohiya na noon ay babad bilang obispo sa Bukidnon, Mindanao). Tinanong niya kung ang UGAT ba ay nangangahulugan ng root o vein. Ayon sa kaniya, mas gusto niya ang vein na may kahulugang daluyan ng dugo.  Sa tingin niya, mas angkop ito sa konteksto ng aktibong pagtutol sa mapanikil na diktadura ni Marcos. “Root” man o vein, ang ugat ay daluyan ng buhay.  Ugat ng halaman, ugat ng hayop, ugat ng tao.  Sa kaniyang talumpati pinalalim niya ang kahulugan ng praktis ng antropolohiya: “When [anthropological] ideas are tested in action, they quickly assume a life of their own and evolve into variant versions of themselves, providing new insights, generating new dynamics, and there is no lack of fresh ideas” (Claver 1979:6).

While you said in your book that theologians look up to anthropologists as they interface theological discourses of inculturation with liberation, I understand that theologians, in conversation with anthropologists, also helped deepen the meaning of practice of the discipline in the country. At the time and space when the Church was the only institution that could stand up against the Marcos dictatorship, anthropologists and Church workers worked together in fighting for rights and justice for all, including indigenous peoples not only in Mindanao, but also the entire country threatened by development aggression and human rights violations.

This year, UGAT is sponsoring a timely conference, “The Struggle for Rights”.  I underscore TIMELY because the conference is done in the context of

  • 12,000 extrajudicially killed since Duterte became President, including 4084 in his war on drugs (as of March 25, 2017 according to Vera Files);
  • 471,411 displaced (DSWD figures as of July 11, 2017) in the government’s pursuit of terrorists in Marawi, with people practically begging the government to let them see their homes and properties, even for a few hours;
  • rape jokes cracked to “boost the morale” of military and police deployed in the Marawi seige;
  • the President’s open threats to bomb lumad schools during his State of the Nation Address;
  • threats to abolish the Commission on Human Rights and the misinformation and disinformation of the general public by the State on human rights that the Constitution guaranteed to recognize, respect, develop, and promote.

All of these are within the context of President Duterte’s Martial Law ALL over Mindanao, sanctioned by a majority of Congress, the Supreme Court and the public.

I underscore TIMELY again, because if social media posts are used as an indication, this conference is being held at the time when advocates for human rights could not even post without the dangers of being trolled and threatened online.

I underscore TIMELY once again, because there is still little mention about the role of President Duterte’s Martial Law in development aggression, resource extraction, militarization, displacement and dispossession and the Lumad’s struggle for ancestral domains and rights to self-determination — issues that anthropologists and the Church passionately engaged in  President Marcos’ Martial Law. A few months before the present Martial Law was declared, for example, Dulangan Manobo women leaders from Kulaman, Sultan Kudarat had been asking for help because they were threatened again by the Consunji IFMA guards from their ancestral domains.

Will this UGAT conference rekindle, to echo one chapter of your book, a “dangerous memory”?  I hope so, Karl,  I hope so. And I hope people buy this book to help them see the connections — the panagkutay — and inspire them to collective action so that anthropology and theology becomes more relevant and meaningful to our country and  peoples’ lives today.


Eizel Paz Hilario is a Mindanawon indigenous peoples’ rights worker who first met Karl Gaspar during the UGAT – Anthropological Association Annual Conference in La Trinidad, Benguet in 1997.  Since then, she has been deeply influenced by him in her engagements, including taking up anthropology and writing a thesis on “development” using a framework informed by Escobar (Karl’s dream framework for his PhD dissertation) and the robust scholarship of Filipino scholars who wrote about “development” when it was dangerous to do so (Karl champions the need to rigorously study the theoretical contributions of local scholars).  Eizel joined Karl in the IP Ministry as a volunteer anthropologist when the Redemptorist Itinerant Mission Team was assigned in Kulaman Valley Sultan Kudarat.  They were also former colleagues at the Ateneo de Davao University Department of Anthropology and the Ateneo Institute of Anthropology.  

UGAT’s National Conference this year  aims to gather academics, activists, development  workers,  media  practitioners,  policy makers,  legislators, government  officials,  educators,  health practitioners,   and   other  actors to discuss various topics such as: roots of rights; indigenous or Philippine understandings of rights and obligations; reflections on religions and rights; indigenous  rights; human rights; women’s rights; gender rights, Moro  rights;  governance and self-determination;  rights  of  the  displaced  or  dislocated; farmers’ rights;  property rights; environmental  rights;  consumer  rights; rights of  the  disabled;  media  rights; children’s  rights;  language  rights;  rights to the past;  intellectual and privacy rights; and non-human rights.  The conference will be on November 9-11 at Capitol University, Cagayan de Oro City.