Sparks of solidarity: Rekindling the fight of national minorities

by Paula Angeline Calayan

On a normal day, the University of the Philippines (UP) would have been filled with the humdrum of its many jeepneys and students, with the rain incapable of sweeping away the joys of simply being in the campus.

Underneath the humdrum of its normal routine, however, rests the Iskolar ng Bayan’s awareness of social injustices and the initiative to battle them.On Friday, red colored the streets of UP as members of the national minorities proudly marched, their voices loud enough for everyone to hear. The rain itself made way for their powerful calls for self-determination and peace.

At least 3,500 members of different cultural groups gather in the university for Kampuhan 2016, a two-week protest caravan of national minorities hailing from different parts of the country, to put forward their struggle against injustices.

 It was Roger Cariño’s first time to join the journey to Metro Manila. However, this makes him no stranger to the plight of his tribe.

Having organized protest actions on the streets of Abra, his home province, Cariño has been asserting the rights of the Igorot tribe against large-scale logging companies corrupting their lands.

During the 1970’s, the Tingguians, the group of indigenous peoples inhabiting the hills of Abra, fought against  logging company Cellophil Resources Corp. (CRC). Owned by former President Ferdinand Marcos’ close friend Hermano Disini, its mining and logging operations brought devastation to 200, 000 hectares of ancestral land.

It destroyed the Igorot’s natural resources, causing the depletion of their forest and the loss of their pasturelands for the water buffalos. Refusing this treatment, they fought for their land, declining offers to sell their properties and instead, surrounding them with fences to keep the company away.

Conversely, this developed the Cordillera Mass Movement, wherein Tingguians fiercely resisted CRC. Through the collective efforts of the community, the operation was seized to stop; barricading their lands for mining companies’ incapability to enter.

“May security silang sundalo kaya ayaw na namin sanang maulit ulit yung ganun,” Cariño said.

Cariño knows that their tribe’s situation is no different today with large mining companies still making claims on their lands for capitalist ventures.

“Maraming masisira—ang kalikasan at yung lupain maagaw sa amin kapag pumasok yung mga dam, logging, concession, mining companies,” Cariño said.

Nevertheless, the flames ignited by those who fought in the 70s continue to burn with Cariño and his fellow Igorots bringing the fight to Manila, wishing to bring the pressing issues in their hometown closer to the country’s capital city and the government.

Aside from addressing the issue of plundering of land, Cariño wishes for President Rodrigo Duterte to act upon the present conditions of indigenous peoples, especially those residing in far-flung areas. He also wants the government to help them in times of need, especially during disasters where relief goods are scarce.

The situation of 62-year-old Erlinda Sibal and her granddaughters is no different from Cariño and his tribe.

Sibal’s family has been receiving monthly relief goods from Pampanga Governor Lilia Pineda. Pineda, she shares, has always aided in the needs of the Aetas.

In Sibal’s heart, she knows that these goods only assure survival for the next few days and the future of her family is yet to remain secure.

“Isa lang oras yun, kinabukasan wala na,” she said.

Besides the lack of aid in disaster response, Sibal and the Aetas of Mabalacat have also experienced threats from companies who wish to plunder their ancestral lands. However, like her ancestors, Sibal is determined to fight for what is rightfully theirs.

“Yung iba gusto nila kunin pero kami lumalaban kami,” Sibal said. “Ano, kukunin lupa namin, saan kami magtatanim? Saan yung mga bata? Saan kami kukuha ng pang-araw araw namin? [sic]”

According to her, the government has been asking for land titles claiming ownership on their ancestral land.Sibal said these titles were non-existent, adding that her parents never even held one.

In resolute response to the demands of the state, Sibal demands the government to grant her the title they are looking for.

Long has the UP community awaited for the arrival of the national minorities, joining them in challenging the current administration of President Duterte amid outcries of militarization, plunder of ancestral lands, right to education, and Lumad killings.

Before their arrival in the university, organizations and student councils have been encouraging students to volunteer for camp-building, media coverage and even participation in educational discussions.

For College of Mass Communication Student Council (CMCSC) Chairperson Almira Abril, the CMCSC sent letters to professors to adjoin Lakbayan with their discussions.

“Ang mga bitbit na isyu ng ating mga pambansang minorya ay hindi dapat natin inihihiwalay sa iba’t iba pang isyu na ating kinakaharap kahit na sa loob pa man yan ng pamantasan,” she said.

According to her, the UP community has been receiving the national minorities with open arms, leaving them with smiles and grateful receptions.

“Sila ay nagpapasalamat at syempre dahil andito na rin sila ay mas gusto nila itake yung pagkakataon na makapagpaliwanag sa mga estudyante,” Abril said.

“Yun naman yung pangunahing dahilan bakit sila andito, para paingayin pa lalo ang kanilang mga isyu lalo na tungkol sa patuloy na militarisasyon at pag-agaw ng kanilang mga lupang ninuno,” she added.

This has given them a chance to express their concerns to the students of UP Diliman. As Iskolar ng Bayan, this would inspire students to voice out their own struggles as well as learn from them.

Deeply involved in the preparations for Kampuhan were the Save Our Schools Network and Stop Lumad Killings Network (SLKN).

SLKN Head and University Student Council (USC) Councilor Ben Te consulted academic employees, students, and faculty, among others.

SLKN is an immediate network for a collective action of faculty, organizations, fraternities, sororities, and student councils supporting the Lakbayan.

“Mahalagang mapatampok na may pagkakataon talaga na magkaisa ang mga estudyante at pambansang minorya dahil lahat tayo ay nakakaranas ng mga neoliberal na atake sa karapatan at pasismo ng estado,” Te said.

Though successful with the course of Lakbayan from the loud and positive welcome of the students to the building of camps, he encourages more organizations to help through donations.

“Kitang kita na handa ang mga estudyante na puntahan ang mga Lakbayani upang matuto mula sa kanila at para rin mapakita ang ating pakikiisa sa kanilang laban para sa karapatan sa sariling pagpapasya at makatarungang kapayapaan,” Te said.

Beyond the massive effort already exerted by the UP community, Abril and Te agree that the plight of members of national minorities like Cariño and Sibal are those which every Iskolar ng Bayan must recognize and take on.

“Pero at the same time, katulad ng sinasabi ng ating mga bisita, na sana sa mga susunod na pagkakataon ay tayo naman ang makapunta sa kanilang mga lugar, at doon mismo ay makita natin ang kalagayan nila,” Abril said.

 

Author: TNP

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