Why Duterte is playing salesman for Lumad's ancestral lands


Could the reason why the Manobo Lumads from Talaingod and Kapalong, whose communities have endlessly been militarized, could not return to their communities be because of the government's scheme to relocate them and bring in investors to their ancestral lands?

During an Indigenous Peoples' Summit held at the Eastern Mindanao Command's gym in Panacan, Davao City on February 1, 2018, the president stated that the Lumads should leave their ancestral domains as he will broker investors, particularly in oil palm or mining, to invest in these lands.

"Basta magsugod ta ‘ron, ugma naa ko’y ihatag ninyo. Prepara inyong kaugalingon for relocation (We’ll start now, and tomorrow I will give something to you. Prepare yourselves for relocation)," came his cryptic warning.

The Manobo leaders, particularly in Kapalong, have heard of rumors that oil palm expansion is targeting their communities, reportedly channeled through municipal officials and Lumad paramilitary leaders. They have long been suspicious that the harassments their communities experienced were due to this plan.

On the February 1 forum, these stories have been confirmed. During that event, the president looked at a map and pointed out ancestral lands allegedly with the presence of the guerrilla New People's Army. He noted these places would be given for investments.

He identified the Manobo, Ata, Matigsalug in the "Apo Talomo Mountain," the Manobo and Higaonon in Andap Valley in Surigao del Sur, and Manobo in Agusan del Sur.  The president proposed to the Lumad leaders to agree on a partnership with mining firms. In the same breath, he offered agriculture projects to B’laans in Sarangani.

Dealing with tribal dealers

But for the Manobos in Talaingod and Kapalong, as well as the Lumad leaders in other regions, the president's offer is nothing short of selling out their ancestral lands.

They also pointed out that the Lumad "leaders" the president engaged in the forum were self-styled indigenous leaders known for collaborating with the military and investors.

The Pasaka Federation of Lumads in Southern Mindanao identified two leaders in a photo posted by the Presidential Communications social media account. One is Joel Unad, chair of the Mindanao Indigenous Peoples' Council for Peace and Development (MIPCPD), and Roel Ali, leader of the Supreme Tribal Council for Peace and Development (STCPD).

Pasaka chairperson Kerlan Fanagel called Unad and Ali representatives of "tribal dealers", "who possess ancestral domain titles that they will sell to foreign companies, and who recruit for the paramilitary groups to harass their fellow Lumads who are against their plans."  

In the book Modern Warlordism in Mindanao, Unad is described as an Ubo-Manobo from Marilog who holds a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title covering 8,000 hectares in the Davao City's areas in Marilog and Calinan districts.  Unad has traveled around Southern Mindanao with the Eastern Mindanao Command cajoling Lumads to support government and military programs of 'peace and development'. 

Unad also pushed for Lumad "self-defense" in their territories, a euphemism for paramilitary recruitment guided by the Armed Forces counter-insurgency doctrine with specific thrusts on IP recruitment to the military and other state-backed forces.

Other Lumads followed suit resulting to the formation of the Alamara in Davao del Norte, and other similar paramilitary groups hunting down legitimate IP leaders and their communities.  Even schools ran and supported by religious groups such as the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines – both in Southern Mindanao and Northern Mindanao – are not spared by such attacks, like the Salugpongan schools in Talaingod and the MISFI Academy in Kapalong.

By siding with leaders like Unad, Fanagel said Duterte has cast aside pretensions of siding with the Lumads. 

"His ties with these fake leaders, along with his threats to bomb our schools, cast a shadow of destruction to the Lumad communities and even to all Mindanao," Fanagel said.

Duterte's turnaround

The President's position is a turnaround from his previous position as Mayor where he sided with the Lumads against the Armed Forces.

When the Talaingod Manobos evacuated to Davao's UCCP Haran in 2014, Duterte mediated for the military to leave the Lumad territories.  Duterte provided rice and transportation to bring the Lumads home.  The Manobos, however continued to face more threats, which spread to Kapalong, and more Lumads evacuated to UCCP Haran in 2015.

When Duterte won the presidency in 2016, he promised to bring the Lumads home.  During his first State of the Nation Address, the president even invited Fanagel along with other activists for an audience at Batasan and assured them that he will fulfill his promise.

The start of his presidency also promised a respite from the decades long armed conflict between the government forces and the Communist-led New People’s Army, also directly impacting Indigenous Peoples’ communities. The president declared a ceasefire as part of his buildup of good will with the National Democratic Front for the peace talks. The Talaingod Lumads returned home, except for the Kapalong Manobos who faced a defiant Alamara leader Laris Mansaloon who demanded money and peace offerings.

But in 2017, more Lumads sought refuge in Haran as the military and paramilitary violated its ceasefire. Teachers and leaders were intimidated.  But Duterte failed to rein in the military and instead blamed the NPA for ceasefire violations.

When Lumad students and teachers went back to Manila for Duterte's second SONA, hoping for an audience with him, what they got was a grim warning.

"Leave, I will bomb your schools, for you are operating illegally!"

The president's words were like bombs striking the Lumad students, teachers and other IP support groups and individuals. The statement marked the turnaround of the President's handling of the Lumad issues. With Martial Law in Mindanao, Lumad communities and schools are not spared from attacks. 

Playing the salesman

Duterte now plays the role of salesman, defying local laws and international conventions that protect the rights of the Indigenous Peoples over their ancestral domain.

Of primary interest to Duterte is oil palm investments.  Mindanews reported that in 2014, another Malaysian investor was eyeing to operate a plantation of 4,000 hectares in Davao City's Paquibato District, where the soil is fertile and good for oil palm.  The news report carried a photo of Duterte and Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol with a Malaysian investor. 

Piñol, incidentally, was former governor of North Cotabato, who transformed his province to an oil palm capital. 

Paquibato has a strong presence of the New People's Army, which has criticized the expansion of agri-business. Similarly, Lumad and farmer organizations have been against the oil palm plantations as they affect the livelihood of farmers and destroy the environment.

There are already 40,000 hectares of oil palm in Mindanao, according to research from the Network Resisting Expansion of Agricultural Plantations in Mindanao. But a foreign company, Bali Oil Palm, is continuing to eye 45,000 hectares in Bukidnon and Misamis Oriental.

Duterte insists on pushing on with these investments all over Southern Mindanao, despite acknowledging the problems of in-fighting among Lumads. Duterte said he will "personally select" investors to avoid conflict between the Lumads, and to curb corruption.

The president went further to blame the Lumads of their plight, imposing his perception of how resources should be used. "You were given your ancestral domain, but the problem is you did not use it," he said.

Aside from oil palm, he is offering for the Lumads to enter into mining investments. There are 15 major mining investments in Mindanao, some of which were stopped due to grassroots campaigns or the previous intervention of former environment secretary Gina Lopez.

"It's impossible not to mine. But if you don't want to, we can talk." He said if the Lumads will not go into mining, he will provide them subsidy for agriculture production. However, Duterte said that if conflict arise – and conflict will surely arise given that the interests of the parties are the same, to access the resources – he would ask the Lumads to leave, and live in settlements similar to that in Marawi, which was heavily destroyed from military bombings.

The group Kusog sa Katawhang Lumad sa Mindanao or Kalumaran (Mindanao Alliance of Lumads) hits Duterte as an "avowed spokesperson of oligarchs and foreign capitalists, encouraging further plunder of the environment and natural resources instead of telling the Lumad to protect their ancestral lands from the hands of big landlords and foreign investors."

“This would mean a total sell-out of the remaining ancestral lands and mineral resources that have long been defended by the Lumad against foreign multinational corporations,” said Duphing Ogan, Kalumaran's Secretary General.

Development or death?

The Talaingod Manobos also see the death of their farms and communities if investors come.

“If this (investment) happens, we cannot cultivate our lands anymore. We cannot grow local crops on our ancestral domain. They will only force us to evacuate and use the military who will not think twice to kill us if we stop their project,” said Datu Kaylo Bontulan, Talaingod chieftain and leader of their group Salugpongan Ta Tanu Igkanugon (Unity to Defend Ancestral Domain).

The Talaingod Manobos know what this kind of development brings. In the 1990s, they saw what the logging company Alsons' logging project did, consequently polluting their forests and rivers. On top of that had been the military harassing them every time they voice out their complaints. They mounted a resistance to drive Alsons away.

They also resisted an entry of a hydro-dam project in the past decade, opting to cultivate their lands through farming, and building schools through the help of RMP and other religious groups to help preserve their culture.

In the past two decades, nearly 500,000 hectares in Mindanao have been swamped with large-scale mining investments, agri-business and energy projects.  Now they are pushing towards the ancestral lands which are the final places still rich in resources, offering cash, projects. Along with this, the military are deployed as security.

Together with Duterte's recent warnings and pronouncements, militarization in Lumad areas has reportedly intensified.  There are now 65 battalions from the Philippine Army deployed all over Mindanao, reportedly to secure investments, according to Kalumaran.

Ogan said this will result to more attacks and human rights violations in Lumad and farmer areas in Mindanao, especially with the extension of Martial Law.

"It's actually a war against the Lumads," said Pasaka's Fanagel.

Kalumaran and Pasaka said no words of coaxing or threats from Duterte can make them abandon their ancestral lands and their culture.  They hope the public would come to support their calls to protect their rights.

"Genuine development for Lumad communities will only happen if our right to self-determination is respected,” said Fanagel.###


 [The writer, MIILS Associate Tyrone Velez, writes a column for SunStar.Davao and the Davaotoday.com.]



Arguillas, Carolyn (2018, February 3) Mindanews.  Duterte to “choose investors” to develop Lumad lands for oil palm, mining


IBON Foundation (2015, May) 15 Biggest Mining Operations in Mindanao. http://ibon.org/2015/11/15-biggest-mining-operations-in-mindanao/

Union of Peoples' Lawyers in Mindanao (2015) Modern Warlordism in Mindanao

Kusog sa Katawhang Lumad (Kalumaran) (February 2, 2018) Statement

PASAKA Federation of Lumads in Southern Mindanao (February 5, 2018) Statement