COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/09 June) — Mindanao’s first Cardinal, Orlando Quevedo of the Archdiocese of Cotabato, has apologized to the Lumads (indigenous peoples) for their under-representation at the International Conference of Cotabato on June 6 and 7.
Responding to a point raised about the under-representation of Lumads in the conference, Quevedo at the end of Session 4 on “Education and Culture of Peace: the Future of Mindanao” mid-afternoon of June 7, expressed his apologies to the Lumads and other sectors not represented in the Conference.
“My apologies for the lacunae. There are some things missing in this conference,” he said, noting that there is no session on media as peace builders and Lumads were, indeed, under-represented.
“We really did not think too much about the numbers,” Quevedo admitted, adding, “I thought Froilyn would say so much about the Lumads because she is the Commissioner representing the Lumad.”
Quevedo was referring to Froilyn Mendoza, head of the Teduray Lambangian Women’s Organziation (TLWOI) and one of two Lumad (IP) representatives residing within the proposed Bangsamoro area, in the 15-member Bangsamoro Transition Commission that drafted the Bangsamoro Basic Law.
Mendoza was the lone Lumad presenter among 28 in five sessions Saturday of the Conference whose theme was “Peace is Living Together: Religions and Cultures in Dialogue for Peace and Reconciliation in Mindanao.”
“Sorry… We forgot about the Lumads,” the Cardinal told the participants at the Tanghalang Michael Clark at the Notre Dame University.
IPRA in BBL
Quevedo proceeded by sharing with the participants a vital information that the Lumads and the Moro in the Bangsamoro Transition Commission had actually reached a consensus when they were crafting the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) and that the rights of the Lumads guaranteed under the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) were included in the draft BBL that was submitted on April 22 to Malacanang. Malacanang is still reviewing the draft whose contents have not been made public.
In a MindaNews interview in January, days after Pope Francis named him Cardinal, Quevedo urged the peace panels of the government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to look at the issues raised by the Lumads. “I think the IPs will not be happy with some of the things (in the agreement), the power-sharing the ancestral domain. And I would like to see the two groups – MILF and the government – look at the issues of IPs because now they are getting a little bit vocal of their rights to their ancestral domain which IPRA recognizes.”
Fr. Eliseo Mercado, Jr., of the Institute of Autonomy and Governance, said the consensus point reached between the Moro and Lumad is to “put in the Bangsamoro Basic Law the rights under IPRA, without mentioning the word IPRA.”
At the closing rites late Saturday afternoon, Quevedo again apologized for the “many lacunae” in the conference. “Something we forgot, for instance youth in peacebuilding, media, the IPs,” he said.
He said he only had one excuse: “we have had such a short time from conceiving this conference to its birth –not by months but barely two weeks.”
The conference was organized by the Archdiocese of Cotabato and NGO members of the International Contact Group accompanying the Bangsmaoro peace process – the Community of Sant’ Egidio and Muhammadiyah — with the assistance of the Notre Dame University, Embassy of Italy and European Union.
The Cardinal also apologized for the inconveniences in the organization, accommodation and for the power outage that Cotabato Light informed them was supposed to be for 15 minutes only but took about three hours on Saturday morning.
“We learn from such inconveniences and inadequacies. If this is to be replicated somewhere, there has to be better thinking, better organizing , more time and more time for interventions, and longer days,” the Cardinal acknowledged. “We have so many topics in one full hectic day. Di pwede yan (That shouldn’t be),” he said.
Indeed, several presenters and participants complained about the limited time for presentations and interventions, many saying the conference should have been for two full days — Friday and Saturday – instead of opening at 5 p.m. Friday and ending Saturday evening.
The Conference had five sessions: “Peace Process on the Bangsamoro: Significant Experiences” which had as presenters government peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and Mohagher Iqbal and four commentators; “Witnesses of Dialogue in Mindanao: Religious Experiences and NGOs Practices,” which had eight presenters, including the Lumads’ Froilyn Mendoza; “Local Political Realities and Challenges in Peacebuilding in Mindanao” which had four presenters; the Education and Culture session which had six presenters; and “Economic Development and Peace Building in Mindanao” which had five presenters.
Mendoza gave a Powerpoint presentation on “Witnesses of Dialogue in Mindanao: IP Experiences” but like other presenters, had to cut short her presentation due to the eight-minute limit.
Before Quevedo’s apology, Fr. Albert Alejo of the Ateneo de Zamboanga, one of the presenters at the Education and Culture of Peace session pointed out that in several textbooks they have studied, Mindanawons are usually “under-represented, misrepresented or not represented at all,” Moros are portrayed as “a people with history but always a history of conflict” while Lumads are “portrayed as a people with culture but no history.”
“They (Lumads) have culture but they don’t seem to change, according to their representations (in the textbooks) which is very bad, that’s why we can’t accept them in terms of movements, in terms of advocacies. Right now, in this conference, the Lumads are hardly represented,” Alejo said.
Sister Mary Fe Gerodias of the Notre Dame-RVM College of Cotabato, said at the open forum that followed that Lumads were “not well represented” in the Conference.
“Why are the Lumads’ or the IPs’ concerns, rights and aspirations not taken seriously as it were in this International Conference of Cotabato? Were they heard? Were their concerns heard? Were their rights integrated, incorporated in the agreement on Bangsamoro?” she asked.
She said she noticed that “all the sharings and inputs” had been centered on the Muslims and although she has “nothing against that,” having grown up with Muslims and sharing in their struggles and aspirations, she would like to know why the Lumads were under-represented.
Quevedo responded to the issues raised by Alejo and Sister Fe with an apology to the Lumads.
Mendoza could not be reached for comment on the Cardinal’s apology as she left for London to attend a conference.
Reacting to Quevedo’s apology, Alejo told MindaNews: “I really appreciate his humility and his all-embracing approach to the search for peace in Mindanao. I sincerely hope that he can convince both the governemtn and the MILF to clearly indicate and effectively implement IPRA in the Bangsamoro. IPRA is itself a peace agreement! But ARMM failed to implement it. Implementing it in the new Bangsamoro will be a proof that, indeed, Bangsamoro is better than ARMM.”
“Cardinal Quevedo’s appeal to render justice to the IPs is a prophetic and spirit-filled reminder that the peace we envision is broader and deeper than any signed,” said Alejo.
Not within radar
Aveen Acuna-Gulo, program manager of IPDev, a program that aims to empower IPs in the ARMM, told MindaNews that the under-representation of the IPs in the conference is “an indication that truly IP issues re not yet within the radar of mainstream society which includes the Archdiocese which is the organizer (but this) should not be taken against them.”
“For those who are aware of IP issues, this is where assertion comes in. If you are not invited, invite yourself. It will help them be aware,” Gulo said.
“Values are caught, not taught. In any given situation, what is in the immediate consciousness of the person always surfaces through action. According to Deepak Chopra, a person will always do his best according to his level of consciousness. Thus, the more we will make people conscious that there are IPs and that they too have issues, the more people, the general public which includes NDU and the archdiocese, will do their level best.”
Lumad population in ARMM
Amina Rasul, President of the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy, explained that when she talked about history in her presentation, “I really spoke about the minority groups, not just the Bangsamoro.”
“But the reality is we are all here today because of the agreement on the Bangsamoro so I guess it’s natural that there is an emphasis on the Bangsamoro which according to the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) includes all the residents in the area,” she said.
According to an IPDev 2013 survey among the 80 barangays of 12 towns “with sizeable IP population in mainland ARMM,” the total Lumad population in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is 117,189, with the Tedurays numbering 110,559, followed by the Lambangian with 3,139, the Dulangan Manobo with 2,904, Higaonon with 161 and 17 other ethnic affiliations with less than a hundred each. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)