ANGAY-ANGAY LANG: The Minoritization of the Indigenous Communities of Mindanaw and Sulu (7)

7th of 16 parts

(Done in 1992 at Iligan City, published initially as two versions. First as the abbreviated edition published by The Minority Rights Group, London entitled The Lumad and Moro of Mindanaw, July 1993. The Philippine edition carrying the full draft was printed by AFRIM in Davao City, 1994. This was later updated in 2003, summarized in an epilogue. This is the third revision, now with an expanded epilogue.)

Part VII Contradiction Between Government Development Projects and Indigenous Interests

As a result of the government’s attempt to reduce the country’s dependence on imported oil, both administrations from President Marcos to Aquino have undertaken energy development projects tapping both water and geothermal resources.

Famous among these projects, made so by determined indigenous opposition to them, were the Chico Dam project in the Cordillera, the Agus Hydroelectric projects along the Agus River in Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte, the Pulangi River projects and the Lake Sebu dam project, all of which are located in the heart of the territories of indigenous cultural communities.

And now, there is the Mt. Apo geothermal project.

Consequences Upon the Lumad and the Moro of the State System of Landownership and Land Use

It is important to note here that no Lumad ethno-linguistic group has ever reached the level of a centralized socio-political system such as that attained by the Moro people. At the turn of the century, their communities were mostly clan-size, and they were mostly dependent on swidden farms, hunting and gathering for their livelihood, and not much has changed since.

This would therefore explain the high vulnerability of the Lumad communities to external intrusion. The net effect of successful external intrusions was that individual communities ceased to be masters in their own ancestral lands and of their own lives; they had lost their self-determination. How do they feel about this? Let us hear from them and from the people who have worked with them or have done extensive studies about them.

Recorded in the “Santa Cruz Mission Report” of l973 were these accounts by a Magindanawon and a Bla-an (South Cotabato).

The Magindanawon said: “I want to tell you what I am feeling. Many years ago, the Christians came here to our place. They made many promises and encouraged us to join them, to unite and cooperate with them. They paid money to the Datu and they claimed our land. I hope you can understand. Our lands are all sold or mortgaged to the Christians. Now we do not have any land on which to work.”

The Bla-an added: “I want to tell you about our people as they were before the settlers came. We are the largest number of people then. We lived in the wide plains of Allah and Koronadal Valleys. It is true that we were not educated but then we were happy; we made our own lives, we lived in our own way.

“Then the settlers came, our lives became unhappy. We ran to the mountains because we were afraid of settlers. Even today, the Bla-an people are scared of the government officials. Our lands were taken away because of our ignorance. Now we are suffering. We have been forced to live in the Roxas and General Santos mountain ranges.

“Now we have only a few hectares of flat land to grow our food. And even with this little land, the government is running after us and they tell us that land is not ours. It is the government’s. They say the lands belong to the forestry. They will put us to jail. Truly we do not think that we are part of the government.”

The Senate Committee on National Minorities reported in l963: “Among the provinces visited, the most pressing land problems were reported in the provinces of Davao, Cotabato, Bukidnon and the island of Basilan.

“Natives in these provinces complained that they were being driven away by “influential persons and big companies” who have been awarded rights to lands which have long been occupied and improved by the members of the cultural minorities.”

A Teduray from Nangi, Upi (now North Upi), Maguindanao, had a similar story to tell: “Years ago, our ancestors inhabited the land now called Awang, a few kilometers away from Cotabato City. Settlers came waving in front of them a piece of paper called land title. They (our ancestors) did not understand it. Like most of us now, they were illiterate. But they did not want trouble and the mountains were still vast and unoccupied.

“And so, they fled up, bringing their families along and leaving precious and sacred roots behind… We have nowhere else to go now. The time has come for us to stop running and assert our land right to the legacy of our ancestors. If they want land titles, we will apply for it. Since we are illiterate, God knows how we will do it. That is why we are trying our best to learn many things around us. By then, we will no longer be deceived and lowland Christians can be stopped from further encroaching on our land.”

Dr. Stuart Schlegel who took down this account made additional observations: “The Teduray’s accommodation of the increasing number of lowlanders from elsewhere, the settlers’ acquisition of the ancestral lands, as well as the entry of logging corporations in the area were the beginning of the loss of Teduray lands, and eventually, the loss of their livelihood. When the settlers came, they only cultivated a parcel of Teduray land. Today, the Teduray can only cultivate a small portion of the settlers’ lands.

“Since most of the farm lands are now owned by the settlers, the landless Teduray hire themselves as tenants of the lands…”

Dr. E. Arsenio Manuel who did extensive work on the people he called Manuvu’ shared his equally revealing observations: “Just at the time that the Manuvu’ people were achieving tribal consciousness and unity (late 50’s), other forces were at work that were going to shape their destiny. These outside forces can be identified as coming from three sources: the government, private organizations and individuals.

“The pressure from the City Government of Davao to bring people under its wings is much felt in its tax collecting activities, and threats from the police. Private organizations, mainly logging companies, ranchers, and religious groups are penetrating deep into the interior since after the l950’s.

“With the construction of loggers’ roads, the opening up of central Mindanaw to settlement has come to pass. Christian land-seekers and adventurers have come from three directions: from the north on the Bukidnon side, from the west on the Cotabato side, and from the south on the Davao and Cotabato side….”

Zeroing in on the effects of government laws, Dr. Manuel continues: “Actual abridgement of customary practices has come from another direction, the national laws. The cutting of trees so necessary in making a clearing is against forestry laws, the enforcement of which is performed by forest rangers or guards. Logging companies, to protect their interests have taken the initiative of employing guards who are deputized to enforce the forest laws. So enforcement of the same runs counter to native practices so basic to the economy system of the Manuvu’. The datus are helpless in this respect.”

Many  Christian land-seekers who usually followed the path  of the loggers purchased tribal lands for a pittance. The datus, even if they were able to control the membership of barrio councils in their areas, could do nothing to annul such sales which normally were contrary to tribal laws.

Tribal land is not the only casualty in the displacement process. Even native ways, laws and institutions tend to be replaced by new ones.

The Moro fared only slightly better than the Lumad in that they were able to retain more territory in their hands by comparison. But as the figures will indicate, they, too, despite longer experience in centralized leadership, lost substantial territory.

To sum up, where once the Lumad exercised control over a substantial territorial area encompassed in the present day’s l7 provinces, now they only constitute, according to the l980 census, the majority in only seven municipalities. And where once the Moros had jurisdictional control over an area covered in the present day’s 15 provinces and seven cities, now they are left with only five provinces and 13 municipalities.

Present Status and Gains of the Lumad Struggle

Among the Lumad, much work has been done to influence recent legislations that would benefit them and the cultural communities as a whole. The process has also strengthened people’s organizations.

For the first time in Philippine constitutional history, the l973 Constitution of the Philippines carried  a sympathetic acknowledgment of the unique character of the tribal peoples of the country in a single provision, as follows: “The State shall consider the customs, traditions, beliefs, and interests of national cultural communities in the formulation and implementation of state policies.”

But this provision, however, was more of a concession rather than a genuine recognition of their fundamental group rights. As a matter of fact, a Presidential Decree (no. 410) was issued in l974 purportedly to protect the ancestral lands, yet no implementation took place because no Letter of Implementation was ever issued.

The nation-wide protests against the dictatorship of the Marcos regime affected the Lumad. The reverberations of the bitter Cordillera fight against the Chico dam project was felt in Mindanaw. The T’boli, for instance, had to contend with the Lake Sebu dam project. The Manobos of Bukidnon had to bear the terrible prospects of one day seeing the water overflowing the banks of the Pulangi river into their fields as a result of the Pulangi river dam project in the heart of Bukidnon.

Thus, when President Marcos was thrown out of power and President Corazon Aquino was installed, a Constitutional Commission was created to draft a new democratic Constitution. The various Lumad organizations took active part in the public consultations held during the drafting of the Charter. Lumad-Mindanaw was an active member of the AdHoc Coordinating Body for the Campaign on the Inclusion of National Minority Peoples Rights in the Constitution. When it was established in 1986, it was made up of 78 local and regional Lumad organizations.

It was mainly through their joint initiative, as well as other groups advocating indigenous people’s rights, supported by sympathetic advocates in the Constitutional Commission that the l987 Constitution  incorporated vital provisions directly addressed to the Bangsamoro and tribal communities all over the country.

Two significant sections may be cited here as examples of legal provisions that are considerably closer to that sought by the Lumads representing a radical departure from the aforecited provisions of the Constitution of l973. Article XII, Section 5 of the 1987 Constitution states: “The State, subject to the provisions of this Constitution and national development policies and programs, shall protect the rights of indigenous cultural communities to their ancestral lands to ensure their economic, social and cultural well-being.

“The Congress may provide for the applicability of customary laws governing property rights or relations in determining the ownership and extent of ancestral domain”.

The other provision is Article XIV Education, Science and Technology, Arts, Culture and Sports), Section l7, as follows: “The State shall recognize, respect, and protect the rights of indigenous cultural communities to preserve and develop their cultures, traditions, and institutions. It shall consider these rights in the formulation of national plans and policies.”

For the Teduray group which alone was included in the autonomous region in Muslim Mindanaw, the gains are to be found, for the moment, in the provisions of the Organic Act. For example, the Organic Act for Muslim Mindanaw carries one full article on Ancestral Domain. At the same time, Tribal customary laws shall at last be codified and become part of the law of the land.

The names “Lumad” and “Bangsamoro” have at last been accepted in the legal dictionary of the country. Along with this, an exemption from agrarian reform was granted by the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law of l988 (Chapter II, Sec. 9) “to ancestral lands of each indigenous cultural community”.

These gains must, however, be placed within realistic perspective. It is true that they represent a substantial advance from the provision of the 1973 Constitution. But whether or not they can deliver what the indigenous people really want is another matter.

Within the same Charter may be found, for example, a provision that can easily nullify the intention of the state recognition of ancestral lands. Section 2, Article XII (National Economy and Patrimony), clearly states that “all lands of the public domain, waters, minerals, coal, petroleum, and other mineral oils, all forces of potential energy, fisheries, forests or timber, wildlife, flora and fauna, and other natural resources are owned by the State. With the exception of agricultural lands, all other natural resources shall not be alienated.”

This nullifying effect has been concretely illustrated in the definition of ancestral domain and ancestral lands in the Organic Act for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanaw (Sec. 1, Article XI) where the beautifully packaged definition of ancestral domain in the first part of the paragraph is neatly cut down in the latter part of the same paragraph, just as soon as the State asserts its possessory right.

Tomorrow:The Journey Towards Moro Self-Determination

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