Military bows to Lumad call for ritual on Kitanglad bombings

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/01 June) —  The  Army’s 403rd Infantry Brigade has committed to attend and provide materials for the June 3 ritual of the Bukidnon Daraghuyan tribe to appease the spirit-stewards disturbed by the April 21 bombings on their ancestral domain.

The tribe’s claimed ancestral domain is within the Mt. Kitanglad Range Natural Park, a protected area and heritage site of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The ritual, scheduled on June 3 at the Cultural Heritage Center of the tribe in upland Dalwangan village, is intended to reconcile with the spirit-stewards of their ancestral domain after the bombing violated their culture and their ancestral territory.

Col. Romeo Gapuz, brigade commander, stopped short of apologizing for the bombing which he had earlier explained was necessary to save his men who were allegedly outnumbered by the New People’s Army (NPA).

But he vowed that the military will do what is right and will attend the ritual. He also said he has “ever since respected the rights of the IPs.”

Gapuz agreed to help the tribe find ritual chickens, pieces of red and white cloth with specific measurements, coins, local wine and a pig whose color Tarino, the tribe’s shaman, specified.

Ma. Easterluna Canoy of the Kitanglad Integrated NGOs, a non-governmental organization supporting the tribe, told MindaNews that the tribe considers the ritual a reconciliation move and that for the tribe, it is a form of apology.

Aside from local officials, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process was also invited.

Canoy said they also wrote the National Democratic Front to inform them of the tribe’s decision.

The park is claimed by the Bukidnon, Higaonon, and the Talaandig tribes as their ancestral domain.

On May 28, Gapuz met with Bae Inatlawan Adelina Tarino and provincial government and environment officials at the conference hall of the Governor’s Office for a dialogue facilitated by the provincial government.

The dialogue was in response to Tarino’s May 7 letter-complaint to Gov. Alex Calingasan and the Protected Area Management Board that the military allegedly did not seek free and prior informed consent (FPIC) from the tribe when they dropped bombs on suspected rebel positions in Dalwangan, particularly in Sinukat, Dinanghaga, and a portion of the Sawaga River near the tribe’s heritage center at the foot of Mt. Kitanglad Range.

The bombing, Tarino said, destroyed portions of their ancestral domain, including a portion of the headwaters of the Sawaga River and a portion of Mt. Dulangdulang.

She said they would have advised the military against bombing the area.

Gapuz explained that the troops needed air strike reinforcement on April 21because they were outnumbered by the NPA.

Tarino welcomed the outcome of the dialogue and expressed hope that it will be the beginning of mutual respect. She also said the military should cease bombing their ancestral domain and must obtain an FPIC when they enter their area.

She said they were happy the military met up with them.  “If they notice something in our area, they should come to us, we can talk about it,” Tarino had earlier said.

Gapuz told MindaNews after the dialogue that they will respect the rights of the tribe (Indigenous Peoples or Lumads) and the protected areas.

He also suggested that markers or billboards be set up in the areas where the soldiers are not supposed to enter.

Tarino said the bombing carried out by the military was “a violation of our culture and an affront to our ancestral territory.”

”Our forests, rivers and other bodies of water, farms, animals, and plants are crying because of the conflict and the bombing,” she said.

Tarino had asked the military to apologize and attend a ritual to reconcile with their ancestors and the spirit guardians of their ancestral domain.

“If they were only firing guns, it could have been less frightening and damaging. But they dropped bombs, it destroyed the environment, it wasted the territory,” she said.

Felix Mirasol, Bukidnon chief of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources told MindaNews in a text message that his office was unable to verify the report because “the area is critical.”

Tarino said the firing scared people away from their homes. Many of those who were doing pahina or community work at the time of the attack were forced to flee, she added.

She said the spirits of the mountains communicated to the tribe about their sadness when they were disturbed by the bombing.

The Bukidnon-Daraghuyan tribe held two rituals in the area to appease the spirits: the kaliga, a thanksgiving ritual, from April 25 to 27 on the anniversary of the construction of the tribe’s Tulugan Heritage Center, and the panungdan, a ritual of offering.

Mt. Kitanglad Range became a full-fledged protected area in November 2000 under the category of natural park, through Republic Act 8978 and was declared an ASEAN Heritage Site in 2009.

Aside from being a protected area, the mountain range is home to the Bukidnon, Higaonon, and Talaandig tribes.

The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples approved the Bukidnon-Daraghuyan Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title covering 4,203 hectares, in March 2010. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)