SOMEONE ELSE’S WINDOWS: Limits of tradition 2

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/22 March) – Lumads or indigenous peoples have their own ways of settling conflicts among themselves. And though these methods or processes don’t jibe with the prevailing legal system this is no reason to look down on them as inferior. For the Lumads, such modes of conflict resolution have served as effective means of maintaining social order and relations.

Depending on the nature and level of offense that gives rise to a conflict, the indigenous system prescribes corresponding sanctions or actions for each party to comply as sacred obligations not only to  the community but also to the spirits invoked in the whole process. Any intention to deviate from the terms of settlement exacted through culturally-defined standards carries with it the pain of stigma that would hang like a scarlet letter on one’s neck.

Studies conducted by anthropologists and other social scientists have shown that these practices have survived and continued to be observed in pockets of Lumad communities in Mindanao. Even Lumads who are already familiar with the formal legal system but find it too cumbersome – not to say expensive – would opt to settle conflicts among themselves the traditional way.

A shaman said that their culture even allows crimes like murder and rape to be settled without the parties going to the police and courts.

This is the method being proposed to resolve the murder of barangay chair Jimmy Liguyon of Dao, San Fernando town in Bukidnon reportedly by Aldy “Butsoy” Salusad, a former New People’s Army rebel who now heads a paramilitary group called the New Indigenous People’s Army Reform (Nipar). Since both the victim and the culprit are Lumads, theoretically, it would not be hard to find a closure to the incident using cultural standards.

That would have been ideal and realistic in a different setting in the distant past, when a person would take the life of another human being mainly out of passion – i.e. in defense of one’s life, family and honor – and not for ulterior political or economic motives.

Unfortunately, things have turned for the worse in Dao. As local officials themselves have admitted, violence in the area has been sparked by the greed of some people who want to control the gold mining operations there. Salusad and his ragtag band of followers are just among the many characters in this brewing rivalry.

That they have resorted to murder and terrorizing local people who refuse to bow to their will suggests that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to oblige them to submit to cultural norms. It’s even harder to believe that the police and military would eventually have the will to seriously go after them since they are considered valuable to counterinsurgency.

So what we have in Dao is a conflict fueled by a deadly combination of economic interests and a campaign to eliminate security threats in the countryside by exploiting latent or actual divisions among the local people, the Lumads in particular.

The most the Lumads can do is weep for their dead and lost traditions. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at