‘We won’t become pawns of politicians’ – Bukidnon Lumad representatives

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/02 May)– Tribal leaders chosen to represent the Lumads or indigenous peoples of Bukidnon in local legislative bodies as provided under the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (Ipra) won’t allow themselves to be used by politicians, a Manobo chieftain said Monday.

'WE WON'T BE USED.' Datu Magadaleno “Mayda” Pandian, representative to the Bukidnon Sangguniang Panlalawigan (3rd from right) during the oath-taking ceremony of now resigned senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, on July 16, 2007 in Malaybalay City. Except for San Fernando town, all towns and cities of Bukidnon have chosen their Lumad representatives to local legislative bodies. MindaNews file photo by H. Marcos C. MordenoDatu Magadaleno “Mayda” Pandian said that while their work as Lumad representatives is not easy they will stand their ground against politicians who may want to use them.

Pandian, a Manobo and the municipal tribal chieftain of Maramag town, is the Lumads’ representative to the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, the first to hold such position. He was selected on March 2 during a meeting with fellow Lumad representatives to city and municipal councils.

“We will not be used. We also know what is right from wrong. We look at this as a partnership. We will support them if what they are doing is right and oppose what we think is wrong,” he said.

He was reacting to allegations that the Lumads have been used as pawns by politicians and other parties especially on the issue of mining.

Some local officials argued that mining should be pursued in the province saying it is the only means of livelihood accessible for the Lumads.

“I don’t agree. Before there was no mining and the Lumads were not hungry. It is only now,” Pandian said.

But he admitted that many Lumad leaders and communities were already “injected with the concept of money” and had offered their ancestral domains to mining ventures. He cited the case of San Fernando town where the issue of mining has created conflicts.

“They must understand the advantages and disadvantages of their option,” he said, adding he was open to mining as long as it is small-scale and not destructive.

“But if it’s destructive just like the situation in Diwalwal (Mt. Diwata, Monkayo, Compostela Valley), it must be opposed,” he said.

Pandian said the Lumads by nature are pro-environment and that they should keep it in mind when they decide.

He did not say what other livelihood options are available to Lumads, but he cited infrastructure like roads and schools as well as education as among their needs. He said he will consult his fellow representatives on the projects that they needed.

Pandian also said one of their biggest problems is finding funds for the costly process of applying for a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title or CADT. He said they will ask assistance from the local government.

He lamented the lack of voice from the Lumads in the local government in the past because their leaders who ran in elections lost.

Section 16 of Ipra provides for mandatory representation of indigenous peoples in policymaking bodies and other local legislative councils.

Of Bukidnon’s 20 towns and two cities, only San Fernando has not selected its Lumad representative.

Pandian and the other Lumad representatives took their oath of office Tuesday before Gov. Alex Calingasan at the Provincial Planning and Development Office, where a tagulambong ritual was also held to empower the representatives through customary processes.

Ma. Shirlene Sario, provincial officer of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) assured during the oath-taking that the Lumad representatives were selected “not by the LGU, the NCIP, not by the governor or the mayor, but by the people.”

She said the representatives may start reporting to their legislative councils starting this month.

She said Bukidnon became the first province to have complied with the mandatory representation of the indigenous peoples in all levels of local government.

Calingasan, who traced his ethnic roots as a Higaonon to Northern Bukidnon, said his administration will continue to initiate projects for the Lumads.

He said the provincial government’s scholarship program for the Lumads has reduced the average grade requirement from 86 to 75.

He said that the Lumads deserve special attention since they have lesser access to quality education. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)