LA PAZ, Agusan del Sur (MindaNews/29 June) — Some 200 Manobo tribesmen from different areas in Mindanao gathered here Thursday to grace the tribal installation of a female supreme leader of the tribe — a first in this part of Mindanao.
Bae Merlyn “Hawodon Cugbahan” Tagleong Coguit, daughter of the legendary Tagleong, was officially installed as the supreme chieftain of the tribe. Her husband, Francisco O. Hernandez, was conferred the title “Datu Pedro Bunanat” during the installation ceremony witnessed by government officials and prominent personalities in the private sector.
Prior to the installation, Council of Elders, Datus and Bagani or warriors convened and discussed matters pertaining to the conferment of the title to Bae Merlyn— the fifth among 17 children of the late Datu Tagleong.
Datu Painter “Mampaagi” Coguit, the brother of Merlyn who translated on behalf of the tribal leaders, said they were convinced to select Bae Merlyn as their supreme datu because she possesses all the characteristics to lead the tribe.
Based on customs and tradition, only the eldest son of Datu Tagleong should carry his title provided that he possesses all the characteristics and traits befitting a tribe chieftain.
The tribe’s elders said exceptions can be made when the apparent heir is seen lacking such traits.
They said none of Tagleong’s sons has these virtues, but that these characteristics are in Bae Merlyn, hence she became the unprecedented choice.
After the tribal installation, Bae Merlyn told journalists she was looking forward for change that will benefit all members of her tribe.
She said almost all of her tribe members are still in the mountains, making a living by planting crops and other high-value agricultural products. Lacking education and other opportunities, however, most Manobos are still living below the poverty line, she said.
The new supreme datu is the head clamant of their Certificate of Ancestral Domain Claim, which has a total land area of 51,000 hectares.
Bae Merlyn said investors have already visited their area and poured multi-million investments in the agricultural sector.
She also credited her husband, who is not a Lumad, for helping the Manobos craft their own economic plan with the goal of self-sufficiency for all tribe members.
The new chieftain said he hopes to help improve the quality life of life among the Manobos by giving them education, providing them access to basic health services and ensuring that their children have food on the table.
Bae Merlyn lamented that since the 1950s, their areas have been exploited by both small and big-time loggers, bringing destruction to their ancestral home.
“It’s now high time to change the way people living here think about life, so that they will no longer beg for a loaf of bread and money in the lowlands,” Bae Merlyn said. (Roel N. Catoto/MindaNews)