FIELDWORK REFLECTION: Are Surigao’s Lumads the Philippines’ Rohingyas?

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LINGIG, Surigao del Sur (MindaNews / 01 December) — The parallelism is striking. Roningya people live in the Northern Rakhine state of Burma but are considered ‘homeless and stateless’ as they are not acknowledged by the Burmese government despite their claim that they had been living in that area prior to the declaration of Myanmar’s independence.

Surigao del Sur’s Lumads are literally homeless right now after being displaced since last Sunday, November 26,  due to military operations. But they are stateless too, in the sense that they have been alienated from their own land since colonization.

Aid workers from the NGO ACCORD which is working for the resiliency and development for young Manobo kids, and the Social Action Center of the Diocese of Tandag went to check and assess situation of the Lumad evacuees who are temporarily settled at sitio Simowao in Barangay Diatagon, Lianga, Surigao del Sur on November 28, 2017 but were barred entry. Photo by Fr. Raymond Montero Ambray

Moved to the hinterlands to avoid ‘reductio’ to create ‘pueblo’ of the colonizers, they experienced the first displacement. They believed that they owned the land yet they were never really given by the government the full potential to till it. Big economic investments like logging (and now, mining) are always being favored than the interests of these people.

On the other hand, the ‘statelessness’ of the Rohingya people is brought upon also by British colonization. Believed to have orignated from Bengali (India), they have been uprooted to work for their colonizers.

Rohingya people are also religious Muslim minorities living in the predominantly Buddhist state. Buddhist Burmese government who supposedly espoused non-violence is being accused right now of genocide even if they have Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace laureate for a leader.

Burmese government troops had been accused of rapes, murders and massacres of civilians (and burning of their homes) in an organized and systematic way, a manner considered by many to be an ethnic cleansing.

Similarly, the Lumads of (Lianga) Surigao suffered the same state of sad affairs. Although cases of rapes had been a record of the past already that we can only speak figuratively of a recent rape now, murders and massacres prevail at present.

The infamous Lianga massacre, the killing of Lumad leaders and the beloved school director of a Lumad school, has remained a grim reminder of a genocidal intent against hese hapless people. The present food and medicine blockade of the internally displaced persons (IDPs around 1,177 individuals or 257 families) now in Sitio Simowao, Brgy. Diatagon, Lianga by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (75 IBPA) is another example.

It is simply heartbreaking to hear from the IDPs themselves how they become the main target now from simply being victims before of the ongoing civil war. What an easy way to kill them by giving only each family one kilo of rice and one pack of noodles per day.

Rohingya people too became the target of Burmese government even as only few Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARKA) wage war against them.

Rejected by Burmese government of citizenship, deported by India for being aliens and refused (or forcefully accepted) by Bangladesh, Rohingya people have no one to turn to.

The Lumads of Lianga, Surigao del Sur are facing a blank wall, too, as they cry for help. They have been accused as terrorist NPA (New People’s Army) yet they are the ones terrorized.  The branding of their Lumad school as communists may ring true only if it means that students selflessly give their knowledge back to their community in terms of culture, agriculture, ethnomedicine, etc. They may have nothing to turn to but they can thrive if given autonomy to till their land.

The parallelism may continue but I pray not. Because between Philippines and Burma, there also essential differences. We boasted already of a century-old democracy though it has yet to deliver to the margins. Our government security forces are supposedly professionals in uniform serving the interest of the people than a few. Our leader ran on a platform for change and compassion. We are a Christian nation that is supposed to live up the gospel’s basic tenet to ‘love God and neighbor.’

But when somebody from among the IDPs would text me for help even for a basic medicine for cough, colds and diarrhea, I feel simply at a loss knowing that even as I can purchase them, the medicine will never really reach them.

Sometimes, thinking of the parallelism between my Lumad friends (IDPs now) and the Rohingya refugees, I feel there is not much of a difference. (Raymond Montero Ambray is an MA Anthropology student at the Ateneo de Davao University, working on his thesis on Lumad Social Movement. He is assistant parish priest in Lingig, Surigao del Sur. This piece was posted on his FB page on 1 December 2017. MindaNews was granted permission to share this)


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