by Nacho Domingo
“Ang pagkaalam ng ating mga kasamahan, ang tunggalian ay dahil sa giyera. Hindi pa nila alam na ang kaguluhan ay dahil sa pagkawalang respeto at pagkawalang lupa ng mga Pilipino,” said Kalumbay Regional Lumad Organization of Northern Mindanao Chairperson Datu Jomorito Goaynon, who condemned private companies for violations against the rights of Philippine national minorities.
Together with seven other speakers, Goaynon discussed the struggle of minority groups in protecting their rights to ancestral domains as well as their calls for the end of forced displacement and indigenous peoples (IP) killings in their communities in “Lakbayan Para sa Kapayapaan,” a forum held at the Department of Agriculture, Oct. 18.
While a government-implemented unilateral ceasefire between private military groups and minority groups is to be discussed Oct. 27, several members of these minority groups highlighted pressing issues such as Lumad killings, the exploitation of natural resources, and displacement from ancestral lands.
Such is the situation in Cordillera where, according to Cordillera Peoples Alliance Vice Chairperson Fernando Mangili, land grabbing takes the form of “development projects.”
“Sa Cordillera, ang kabuuang lupa dito ay 1.6 milyong hektarya. Pero ngayon, 600,000 ay naangkin ng mga pribadong korporasyong pagmimina,” he said, adding that this is one of the biggest problems their tribe faces.
The Cordillera region in northern Luzon—once rich with natural resources—is now home to over 100 mini hydro and geothermal dams. In the subsequent years, private companies are supposedly planning to build 103 more within the area.
Besides the construction of dams, militarization and killings have also taken their toll on the Cordillera people.
Mangili explained how the government, in spite of its peace talks and proposed ceasefire, has not been effective in protecting the rights of the Cordillera people.
He substantiated this claim by stating how the 54th and 77th infantry battalions remain on the boundary of the Cagayan valley and the Cordillera area.
“Pag andiyan ang militar, maraming problema,” he said. “Nangyari lang patayan.”
Moreover, despite efforts from the government, the presence of armed forces and their combat operations among the Cordillera people has not decreased since President Rodrigo Duterte took office.
“Ang iniisip nila, ang rehiyong Cordillera ay walang tao. Maraming minorya, katutubo at magsasaka na nandiya-diyan. Marami na po ang pang-aabuso ng armed forces na kasama sa combat operations,” Mangili said.
Likewise, the assertive presence of military groups is also a significant problem with the Moros, according to Suara Bangsamoro National President Amirah Lidasan who explained that the militarization of their area resulted in the forced displacement of farmers and Moros from their lands.
Due to the warfront caused by the presence of groups such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Moro National Liberation Front, the Moros have been forced to leave their ancestral land in Mindanao, reiterated Mangili.
The activities of mining companies mining companies such as mineral extraction in the Moro areas has also led to the exploitation and deterioration of the minority groups’ natural resources.
“May karapatan kami sa aming ancestral domain,” said Lidasan. “Paano sasagutin [ng lokal na pamahalaan] ang mga historical injustice? Yung mga napa-displace na Moro at ang lupa na napalipat at napunta sa ibang mga Kristiyano?”
In spite of all this, Lumad representative Maryane Angilay maintained that Philippine minority groups must band together and continue their collective action to instill genuine socio-economic and cultural reforms in the country, which they believe to be instrumental in ending the violations of their rights to land and life.
“Yung gusto nating pagbabago, nasa kamay natin,” Angilay said.
“Kaya tuloy-tuloy pa rin ang laban, mga kasama para maipatupad ang usapang kapayapaan at para makamit ang matagal nang pinangarap na social-economic reform at cultural reform.”
Although they believe the government is not giving its full support to and the battle is nowhere near finished, the members of the various national minority groups continue to soldier on in hopes of protecting their rights.
“Para sa lahat ng mga pambansang minorya at mga magsasaka, ang solusyon sa mga problema natin ay hindi ang peace talk, hindi ang pag-uusap, kung hindi ang patuloy na pakikibaka natin,” said Goaynon.
Members of national minorities such as the Lumad, Cordillera, and Moro, as well as a Native American representative from North Dakota, USA, attended the forum, which is part of a series of talks tackling the issue of land grabbing in indigenous communities.