by Arianne Christian Tapao
Donned in her traditionally embroidered violet attire, Gertrudes Layal had already watched countless people pass by on her third night in “Kampuhan sa UP Diliman.” Some stayed for a while and listened to her story, resting on pebbled soil which the 42-year-old B’laan tribe Bai (female leader) has only been familiar with recently.
She was in Quezon City, miles away from home. Her spouse Bibot had recently been included in the military’s hit list, she said, but he was left behind in Davao del Sur along with their two children. Besides, he still had a farm to till and mouths to feed.
Layal journeyed to Manila to fight for their land and their children, so they would all remain where they are when she finally gets home.
Traveling has become typical for the Lumad; armed forces have been driving the natives out of their ancestral domain since the 1980s. The six-day “Manilakbayan ng Mindanao 2015,” however, is different.
Like the others, Layal came to tell the story of why she’s here.
“We join [Manilakbayan] because the problem threatens our ancestral domain,” she said.
In time for the National Indigenous People’s Month, Layal and other 759 Lumad members reached UP Diliman grounds on Oct. 26, signaling the start of their month-long stay in Metro Manila to call on the government to stop human rights violations in Mindanao.
This is the third and biggest Manilakbayan that the Kalumaran, umbrella term for all indigenous peoples in Mindanao, has organized.
The first was in 2012 with only 35 delegates. It reached 350 in 2014 and today, the numbers doubled with the participation of 18 Mindanaoan tribes under five regional organizations and groups comprised of peasant, worker, women and youth sectors.
Organized in January 2006, the Kalumaran is composed of Kalumbay in Northern Mindanao, Pasaka in Southern Mindanao, Kasalo in CARAGA, Pasaka in Southern Mindanao, SGS in Western Mindanao and Kaluhhamin in SOCSKSARGEN, which the B’laan is part of.
Their four-day voyage to Manila began on Oct. 21.
Higaonon leader Jomorito “Datu Imbanwag” Goaynon, under the Kalumbay which he heads, said the delegates who congregated in Surigao del Norte used 11 travel buses aboard two huge barges in their journey. They moved at nightfall.
But it wasn’t smooth-sailing as they hoped, said Goaynon, who is also Manilakbayan 2015’s spokesperson and first nominee of Sulong Katribu partylist.
Despite postponing the originally planned Oct. 18 voyage to let recent typhoon Lando leave the Philippines, he said problems on food storage and sleep came along with constant fear that the journey—first to Leyte—would be stopped short by authorities.
As they reached San Ricardo port and traveled across Leyte to Samar where they would ride barges once more to Bicol region, he said two of their buses were blocked by police who asked them for a travel permit.
“We don’t know why because this is a road after all,” Goaynon said. “It also happened in Samar. Some of them [the police] even took pictures.”
Goaynon was not as startled as the others, though. At 38, he is facing two false charges; one, human trafficking after members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) suspected him of using Lumad and besmirching the military’s reputation.
“It is innate in a tribal datu to help Lumad with their problems, that’s why I’m here,” Goaynon said.
The military also accused him of allegedly murdering his 42-year-old nephew Jolito Delamance, who was a member of a paramilitary group.
Although the New People’s Army (NPA) issued an official statement to the media after one of its members owned up to killing Delamance, the AFP continued pressing charges against Goaynon.
“That’s what really happens. The Lumad are recruited to be part of the paramilitary group and if you don’t join, [the military] will tag you as NPA,” he said. “They’ll kill you.”
The AFP, however, has repeatedly denied organizing paramilitary groups.
Goaynon said some members of the NPA have been stripped off their own land and deprived of their families, which caused them to lose hope in the government.
The effort of the military to drive the natives out of their ancestral domain was to let big international mining companies utilize the Lumad’s ancestral land and drain Mindanao of its natural resources, Goaynon said.
Under the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 and Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997, the Lumad in mining areas are entitled to 1 percent of gross earnings of the mining operations in their respective areas.
Goaynon said when Taganito Mining Corporation started operating in 1987 and entered Surigao del Norte, a deal was made such that they pay royalty share to the tribal leaders.
When the mining company didn’t carry the end of their bargain, the Lumad were naturally angry and burned a factory. At this time, the military already arrived to protect the mining corporations. While a 2010 Mindanews.com report said Taganito has already been paying its share, Goaynon said the military hasn’t left since.
In 2013, for instance, the Adnawa Mining Resources suspended operations after 150 Mamanwa tribe members put up a barricade against it for not paying a P30-million royalty.
Aside from these mining corporations, agricultural plantations already occupy 500,000 hectares of Mindanao, owning 12 percent of the region.
At the dominance of these plantations, the Lumad members launched Network Resisting Expansion of Agricultural Plantations in Mindanao (REAP Network in Mindanao) on Wednesday to resist their expansions.
With agricultural plantations expanding, small-scale farmers like Layal are in danger of being robbed off their land. Environmental deterioration also remains a threat to the area, affecting Lumad and peasant communities.
And that’s why they came to the city, Goaynon said: to hold the companies and military accountable.
“We still believe that they [the government] will heed us,” he said.
That Wednesday morning after a Lumad relay run and before the REAP Network Launch, hundreds of delegates went to Commission on Human Rights (CHR).
The Philippine Star reported the Lumad community refused to settle for a dialogue, instead staging protests demanding for the results of the investigation on HR violations, which the CHR still cannot produce.
Goaynon said they held another rally on Thursday morning, this time calling out to the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP).
Upon their arrival, the Lumad demanded to talk to the NCIP, but the only response they acquired was a security guard drawing a gun and employees saying the head of their commission was absent that day.
Interest groups, academic communities and members of the Church filled the role of helping them.
As early as stepping foot on Bicol region, folks hailing from different communities welcomed them and gave them food.
When they reached UP Los Baños on Oct. 24, they were surprised at the number of people accommodating them, despite being five hours behind schedule. Several sponsors also gave huge donations that provided them stock food and water.
Upon their arrival in Manila, the Baclaran church gave them a home for the night until finally, they came to UP Diliman where they were welcomed and provided makeshift restrooms and temporary homes out of tarpaulins and wood.
These communities, which were mostly comprised of UP students, became audience for Kampuhan sa Diliman’s two solidarity nights and a cultural festival that showcased ethnic dances and musical ensembles, featuring artistic groups and Lumad performers.
Goaynon said they aim for the country to see and understand what is happening in Mindanao, to let people know it is neither the Lumad nor the NPA who are troublemakers in this issue.
But Layal, who is a mother of two, aims for something simpler.
“I hope to see our children enter college,” she said.
In the meantime, Layal, Goaynon and the other Lumad members continue talking to students, militant groups and individuals who choose to listen to what they have to say, at least for a while.
Come Monday morning, Layal and the others marched towards the UP Oblation, their final pit stop in UP Diliman.
For the next hours, they would be busy settling themselves in Liwasang Bonifacio to open yet another set of programs that would advance their calls. Goaynon said Liwasang Bonifacio, where they would be staying until Nov. 23, proved a problem in last year’s Manilakbayan since resources like restrooms were limited.
In the coming weeks, the Lumad are aiming for a dialogue with other agencies such as the Department of Justice while at the same time thinking about their lives and their security, as Liwasang Bonifacio, unlike UP, is now open to the police and the military.
The routine surely gets tiring.
But Goaynon said he has already lost his nephew, and should their plights remain unheeded, Layal may lose her children’s future as well.
“We’re fighting a fight of all Filipinos,” Goaynon said, “so we’re not losing hope that we can still have real democracy and true freedom for the Lumad.”