TUKANALIPAO, Mamasapano, Maguindanao (MindaNews / 25 January) — Relatives of 14 slain members of the Special Action Force (SAF) from the Cordillera held a ritual under a multicolored umbrella tent in the midst of a cornfield here Monday morning, the first anniversary of the Mamasapano Tragedy, to call on their spirits to “come home.”
“We came here as part of the ritual called ‘arayab’ where we call on the spirits of our dead sons to come home,” Engr. Andy Ngao-i, chair of the Council of Elders for Indigenous Peoples’ Education in the Cordillera, later explained to MindaNews.
A 32-member delegation composed of relatives, Council of Elders and members of support groups left Manila at dawn Monday, on a C-130 cargo aircraft of the Philippine Air Force, landed in Awang, Maguindanao and from there proceeded to the cornfield here in a convoy escorted by military and police.
The group arrived at the new bridge of Tukanalipao at around 9:25 a.m. with ritual leader Vicente Gomowang and reached the ritual site by the langka (jackfruit) tree some three minutes later.
Ritual leader Vicente Gomowang leads relatives and friends of the 14 slain members of the Special Action Force from Cordillera, during a ritual in Tukanalipao, Mamasapano, Maguindanao on Monday morning, January 25, 2016, the first anniversary of the Mamasapano Tragedy that left 66 persons dead — 44 from the SAF, 17 from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and five civilians. MindaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO
They performed the ritual by themselves for about ten minutes, as the crowd of soldiers and policemen, representatives from the International Monitoring Team, and the ceasefire committees of the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Mamasapano Mayor Benzar Ampatuan and the media watched from a distance of about a hundred meters.
Ngao-i said the ritual here is only a part of the entire ritual that would culminate in Baguio on Tuesday. He explained that they had to leave the area quickly as it is the belief among Igorots that the souls called upon would be joining them on their way back to the Cordillera.
Ngao-i said the Council of Elders for Indigenous Peoples’ Education in the Cordillera initiated the move to come here for the ritual that he said should have been done shortly after January 25, 2015, when the 14 sons of the Cordillera, along with 30 other SAF commandos, 17 members of the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces and five civilians were killed.
He said transport problems prevented them from coming much earlier. An attempt to come here in December was also called off because air fare had become prohibitive, he said.
The ritual site in Barangay Tukanalipao, Mamasapano, Maguindanao on the first anniversary of the Mamasapano Tragedy that left 66 persons dead. MindaNews photo by Carolyn O. Arguillas
Towards the end of the ritual, the crowd watching from a distance saw Gomowang, garbed in the traditional Igorot attire, moving away from the group and raising the slaughtered black chicken as he moved in a circle. At around this time, a flock of white birds (egrets) flew towards the umbrella tent, far outnumbering the few black birds (uwak or crow) passing the area.
Ngao-i explained Gumuwang was calling on the spirits of the Cordillera sons to tell them to come home because “hindi ninyo lupa ito (this is not your land). You belong to the Cordilleras.”
A member of the Council of Elders later told MindaNews that the entire ritual would be completed in Baguio on Tuesday, where they would be able to slaughter a pig, something they could not do here in deference to the Muslims.
Nago-i said government offered to fly them in and back to Manila on a C-130 aircraft and prepared security arrangements for them.
From Tukanalipao, some members of the Council of Elders met with officials of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) led by Sammy Al Mansour, chief of staff of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces at the Almaseer Hotel near the airport in Awang, Maguindanao.
At the end of the meeting, reporters were allowed in for a photo opportunity but the Council of Elders and the MILF said announcements will be made later.
They had lunch together before the Council of Elders left for the airport for their flight back to Manila. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)