Tiny hands & wooden guns

Photo by Summer Bastian

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by Shara Lein May Cayetano and Maira Feona Imperial
Photos by Summer Bastian

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A Lumad community member holds up a picture of Lumad leader Genasque Enriquez, who has a trumped-up case filed against him and was arrested in 2014.

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Unlike most kids his age, 15-year old Toto (name changed to protect privacy) has an unconventional dream: he wants to be a rapper someday. A difficult skill to master, the art of chanting rhymes in time to a beat takes vocal presence, speed and clarity all at once. But for Toto, a Lumad from Lianga, Surigao del Sur, it is meaning that matters most. “Di ba yung pagkanta ay isa ring pamamaraan para maipahayag yung problema sa bansa? (Isn’t singing a way of expressing the nation’s problems?),” he said.

Yesterday, Toto’s dream came true—albeit in the most unconventional way, still. Along with his teachers from the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV), Toto performed “Iisang Hangad,” a song about freedom they collectively composed. ALCADEV is a government-owned but privately-run school which provides secondary education to indigenous youth in the CARAGA region.

Toto is only one of about 670 students displaced from their homes in Surigao del Sur, where paramilitary violence has forced many to eat.

On Sept. 1, paramilitary group Magahat-Bagani stormed into the ALCADEV compound and surrounding homes, searching for members of the New People’s Army (NPA). According to Gary Payac, an ALCADEV volunteer teacher, residents and fellow teachers were forced to leave their homes and told not to run. If they did, the paramilitary threatened that they would be “damaged.”

That night, ALCADEV school director Emerito Samarca was stabbed to death in one of the school’s classrooms. Dionel Campos, chair of Maluhutayong Pakigbisog Alang Sumusunod (MAPASU), a Lumad organization protesting mining operations, land conversions and plantations, and his cousin Aurelio Sinzo were also killed.

Doon mismo sa harap ng bahay namin pinatay si Dionel, (Dionel was killed right in front of our house),” Toto said.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_raw_html]

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Volunteer teacher Gary Payac shows the ALCADEV compound, the area paramilitary forces stormed into and where the community has been forced to flee.

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]At least 50 families from the barangay were forced to walk up to 16 kilometers to safety, bringing with them the bodies of the dead.

The military, who was stationed less than 30 meters away from the school when the incident happened, did not do anything to prevent the Magahat, according to witnesses.

Lilian Laurezo, former teacher at ALCADEV and campaigner of Save our Schools Network CARAGA, said forced evacuation is nothing new to the Lumad. It occurs almost every two years, as a result of increased militarization in the area.

The region is rich in natural resources, making it attractive to foreign extraction companies. But to the Lumad, who consider land their life, extraction companies and foreign-owned plantations have been destructive, not only to the environment but to their way of living as well.

Bagama’t ito ay mga produktong agrikultural, mariin itong tinutuligsa dahil ang tanging oryentasyon nya ay suplayan ang mga nandito sa Kamaynilaan at ang ibang bansa. Hindi yung mga pangangailangan at seguridad sa pagkain ng mga nasa lokalidad ng CARAGA (Although these are agricultural products, they are firmly protested against because their only orientation is to supply Manila and other countries, not the food security of those in CARAGA localities),” Laurezo said.

The military, she added, act in the interest of foreign companies, and the clash takes a heavy toll on the Lumad.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”16px”][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1444049776155{margin-top: 16px !important;margin-right: 360px !important;margin-bottom: 16px !important;margin-left: 360px !important;}”]

“Bakit nila papatayin ang magandang kinabukasan ng mga Lumad?
Tao rin kami.

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Former ALCADEV teacher and Save Our Schools Network CARAGA campaigner Lilian Laurezo explains how frequent Lumad communities have to be forced to evacuate, and how the military is acting in cooperation with foreign companies.

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Caught in the crossfire, it is the Lumad youth that suffer the most.

Seeing how armed groups have taken over their schools and playgrounds, students fear going back to the humble learning halls where they first built dreams and friendships. Along with losing their loved ones, the children are on the brink of losing their confidence, their trust in the world they know, their trust in the future.

Isa pong dahilan na mapahinto yung aming paaralan, imbis na magsikap po kami sa buhay, nahinto po dahil sa kanila. Makikita namin yung pagdarahas sa aming mga lider, mga pagpatay, pagpaslang, kahit sa ganitong edad ko pa lang (We should be striving in life, but our school has been stopped because of them (the paramilitary). We see violence against our leaders at such a young age),” Toto said.

At present, about 2,800 individuals from the towns of Lianga, Tago, San Miguel and Marihatag in Surigao del Sur, as well as upland areas in Tandag City are housed in the Tandag City Sports Complex.

Kung magtagal na di makauwi ang mga evacuees, kung kinakailangan maglunsad ng pagkaklase sa evacuation centers, aangkop tayo sa pangangailangan (If evacuees couldn’t go home soon and if we have to conduct classes in evacuation centers, we will provide their needs),” Laurezo said.

Due to limited space and logistics, residents were merged with the first batch of evacuees from the Lumad communities of Diatagon who fled their homes after the murder of MAPASU council member Henry Alameda.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_raw_html]

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Imelda Bilandres from the MAPASU organization called on students and the media to use their skills to expose the truth. She is also worried about the children affected heavily by the killings.

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]In the meantime, teachers are doing adjustments to hold informal classes, even in the absence of lesson plans, in order to regain a “sense of normalcy and routine” for the Lumad children.

[Basta] makalma sila na kahit andito tayo sa lugar na hindi natin tahanan, kahit wala tayo dun sa sanktwaryo ng eskwelahan, sa pagsasama-sama, mayroong sense of security na maibigay sa mga bata para maramdaman nila yung normal na karapatan nila bilang bata na maglaro, maglibang, mapaunlad (As long as the children can be calm in a place that is not our home, even if we are not in the sanctuary of the school, we can give them a sense of security so they would still get their right to play and develop),” Laurezo said.

Having grown up in a militarized zone, students have more or less gained an understanding of the situation. Cultural presentations conceptualized by the students themselves are very “reflective” of their everyday experiences, Laurezo said.

For instance, in one of their dramatic performances, the students dressed up as military men carrying improvised guns made of wood.

While some of the audiences earlier pointed out that upon seeing the photos of the event, they may be mistaken as training ground for members of the NPA, Laurezo said these concepts are purely interpretations of the students first-hand experiences.

‘Yun ay nagmula sa kanilang kamulatan dahil sa kanilang karanasan (That came from their awareness brought about by experience),” Laurezo said. “‘Yun ang nakikita nila sa kanilang komunidad at sila mismo, firsthand ay nakaranas ng nakakita o maharass ng armado (That is what they see in their community, and they see firsthand those who are harassed by armed groups).”

According to Laurezo, these cultural performances are an avenue for the children to release their emotions and convey to the audiences their own understanding of these events.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_raw_html]

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A member of the audience present at the dialogue listens diligently. The dialogue was set up by the Office of the Student Regent, KASAMA sa UP, the UP Diliman Student Council, Blogwatch, and Anakbayan.

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]On the 7th of September 2015, President Aquino said the government is not targeting the Lumads or indigenous peoples in Mindanao.

“There is no campaign to kill anybody in this country. There is a campaign to go after the culprits of these crimes regardless of who they are,” Aquino said in a Philippine Daily Inquirer report.

For now, Laurezo said Lumad supporters are doing their best to initiate a fact-finding mission and a dialogue to settle what had happened.

She said there is intervention from local government units, however, what they need is beyond palliative response.

Instead of focusing on responding to the needs of evacuees, she said the government must target the root causes of mass evacuations which has been a long-term problem in Southern Mindanao.

Laurezo said the total number of displaced families is yet to be finalized after everyone has settled in the evacuation center. On Tuesday, jeepneys full of passengers arrived at the center, she said.

In the meantime, Toto will find a way to sing of his people’s sufferings, no matter how unconventional it may be. The only question left is whether those who need to listen will.

Bakit nila papatayin ang magandang kinabukasan ng mga Lumad? Katulad rin kami ng mga military, tao rin kami, may pangarap sa buhay (Why will they kill the bright future of the Lumad? We are just like the military—we are also humans who have dreams in life),” he said.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_raw_html]

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[/vc_raw_html][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1444051641455{margin-right: 120px !important;margin-left: 120px !important;}”]Note: This article has been published in the 11 September 2015 print edition of Tinig ng Plaridel. It has been republished here in slightly altered form.

If you wish to help the Lumad communities, post a message of support on any social media outlet using the hashtag #StopLumadKillings.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Author: TNP

The Official Student Publication of the UP College of Mass Communication.