EGALITARIAN | At the end of the Indigenous Peoples Summit

THE IP SUMMIT which was initiated by the Office of the Cabinet Secretary ended with a very beautiful spectacle. MinDA Chairman, Sec. Datu Abul Khayr Alonto expressed deep joy for seeing the Lumads converging together to discuss concerns that affect them as a community.

At the latter part of the program, the Cabinet Secretary himself, Sec. Leoncio Evasco evoked a deep-searing emotion on the plight of the Lumads and their natural humble and somber manner which was mistaken as cowardice by the colonizers.

So the story goes like this.

The Lumads, for all that they want, is to live a peaceful life with all other groups and all other religions. When the Muslims came through Abubakar, who founded the first Sultanate of Sulu, there were already inhabitants of the land. Some of them were converted to Islam faith; some continued their beliefs. But none that wars and divisions occurred between and among them.

The Lumads continue to toil their lands, receive the bounty of the land, and praise their god. The god, or bathala, from whom they always take the inspiration to be kind because it is the will of their god. So they protect their land, they take from nature what they can consume. They won’t do more than what they can consume. The forest was their home; the lakes were their source of food, the sky abounds them with serenity, the ocean made them healthy out from the fish they can take.

This only until the Spanish colonizers, along with the cross on the one hand and the sword on the other that the Lumads need to move to the mountains. Not that they love the mountains more than any places, but they love peace more than ever. The Spaniards conquered them by making them converts, people of the pueblos who have to drop everything whenever the bell rings. And those who won’t give up their faith, a sword is ready to wound them.

So the Lumads need to move further to the mountains, separated from their brother moros.  Some tribal groups have to cut their ties with the centers so that they can live peacefully within their secured territory. It was a secured territory not by weapons or defense systems, but because of distance and the natural encasement brought by nature.

Secretary Evasco’s story is similar to the aspirations of the Moros for their land. In the course of time, their lands and territories were undermined by the colonizers, and their successors converted these lands for their commercial values.

Even now, their struggle continues because of the lack of recognition of their right to self-determination. Here, Secretary Alonto sounded in a very clear voice the need for all the Lumads to be united for development. The strategic development framework of MinDA bears special weight for the welfare of the Lumads.

Fast forward today. The mainstream society believes that the Lumads choose to live at the hinterlands, far from the modernities that this generation can offer. But no. They have their lands, their ancestral land, and their ancestral domains. The modern society even failed to understand their sensitivities, their customs, and their physique. I was saddened by one speaker who was trying to win the attention of the more than a thousand crowd.

The guest from Luzon was saying that she is almost like an IP because although she does not speak the language, she can speak Portuguese and Bahasa. She is also small and dark-skinned, so is almost like an IP.

My inner self-was rumbling. People do not need to eat the food of the Lumads to understand them; there is no need for anyone to be dark in complexion to feel their needs and aspirations.

There is only the need to understand them, plain and simple. It doesn’t take rocket science to understand that the Lumads need efficient services of the government. There is no need to develop a stochastic model to prove the need for caring  individuals, the need for a tolerant society.

In all of the climate change debates that the world talks about, the IPs are already in the middle of it. They are the first to suffer when there is a typhoon; their houses are made of light materials. Their domiciles are usually located at the mountainsides, places vulnerable to disasters. They suffer the most when there is heavy rain or very hot days; they depend on farming and fishing for their everyday living.

On the last day, I was teary-eyed to see the Lumads went to stage to get their Certificate of Ancestral Domain Titles. Now they are a community legally recognized and protected. It was a wonderful sight for me. A thought crosses my mind; they can now, and their future generations truly exercise ownership, rights to develop and use their lands and resources and deny anyone to gain entry to their places.

Posted in Opinion