University of the Philippines, Diliman

Duterte’s Socialism to Rescue Lumad’s Plight? by Michelle Sto. Tomas @ University of the Philippines, Diliman

The never ending cry for justice of the indigenous tribes in Mindanao, Philippines prompted the current government through a summit held February 2018.

Just days after the summit, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the Lumads (indigenous tribes from Mindanao) that if they are able to kill one member of NPA (New People’s Army), he will pay them PhP 20,000 each.

This remark from the president was reported to be arriving from the recent killing of another Lumad tribal leader Dakula Guillermo Tiambong just days after the Indigenous Peoples’ Summit in Davao City. Datu Tiambong, an advocate for peace and development, was believed to be shot dead by the NPA. (Read more

This statement by the President again garnered different views and opinions from different sectors. A member of the IPs expressed the ignorance of the president with their struggle. (Read more There have been rising killings of IP leaders even before the administration. Perhaps because the current president is from Mindanao, the first one to be exact, the Lumads hope that the administration would hear their fight for justice – not only from the killings itself, but initially from fighting over their lands, and their youth schools. As a communication major, the dialogue initiative might be of help to the IPs, but is asking them to kill too, would indeed bring them justice over their killed brothers? The current administration might be trying to show high consideration and sensitivity to the IPs, but isn’t it that current policies only hypes cultural divide? How do we fight democratic erosion in a culturally diverse country?

“Saying something is ‘politically correct’ is often a way of dismissing the voices of the oppressed.” 
– DaShanne Stokes

We first understand, that prior the Spanish colonization, IPs in the Philippines already had their concept and tradition of land ownership. The strong attachment of IPs to their lands lead to tribal wars. (Read more: On their own initiative, these IPs had created “social and political structures” to standardize relations within and outside their tribes. Nevertheless, the IPs did not experience any dichotomy until the Spanish colonization, when the IPs where regarded as minority. It was during this regime that IPs’ land ownership was denied. This was further implemented during the American colonization when laws about lands as public domains were passed. It was also during this time that the state was able to secure lands for mining purposes (Mining Law of 1905), which until now is being grieved by IPs in the Philippines.

The postcolonial period sustained Western policies. Any land in the Philippines that were considered as natural resources belonged to the State (1935 and 1987 Philippine Constitution). Not only did the IPs in Mindanao suffered from these “politically correct” standards. The IPs in the Cordilleras lost ownership over their lands when Presidential Decree 705 was passed. Most IPs were located to mountainous areas within the 18% slope rule.

The Philippine government was not naïve not to consider the rich culture of its indigenous people. The IPs’ contribution to national development were mentioned in the 1987 Constitution. However, the suffrage of the IPs in land ownership remained. Mandating something that is “politically correct” does not follow that it is what is right for people concerned, specifically to the regarded minority such as the IPs. If the current president is really into cultural relativism, and cultural relativism indicates that cultures must be judged according to its own standards, then he might want to include a revision of the constitution that is of preferential treatment to the indigenous tribes and their relationship with their lands, not only recognizing their participation to national development.

“But we are all that way: when we know a thing we have only scorn for other people who don’t happen to know it.”
– Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc

The killings of Lumad tribal leaders continuous to increase. In 2015, Emerico Samarte of the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (Alcadev) and two other community leaders and advocates against Lumad killings were said assassinated by a paramilitary group named Magahat. In early 2017, a 27-year old tribal leader who had strong conviction against nickel mining was shot dead. It was reported that from October 2017 to January 2018, six Lumads have been killed.

The military says suspected killings were done by members of the NPA and communist party. President Duterte on the other hand, says most members of the NPA are the Lumads. For the Lumads, this statement by the president only triggered further conflict among their tribes. But the Lumads don’t want civil wars and conflict. They want to live peacefully within their ancestral domains. They feel like they are being victimized by the conflict between the military and the NPA.

“In Boston, they ask How much does he know? In New York, How much is he worth? In Philadelphia, Who were his parents? And when an alien observer turns the telescope upon us-advertisedly in our own special interest–a natural apprehension moves us to ask, ‘What is the diameter of his reflector?’”
– “What Paul Bourget Thinks of Us,” 189

This is my dangerous idea: that the ethnocentrism between the IPs and non-IPs will further with the administration’s current lense toward the Lumads’ plight.

Preservation vs. Modernization

Despite the administration’s transparency that it is for the preservation of the Lumads’ ancestral lands, it recently defended its move to develop these lands by investors. The president said this is to protect the IPs from the communist rebels, but it created confusion over the IPs if this is in favour of them. What are the conditions and consequences of this move? The presence of investors would only allow them to rule over the IPs and their lands. It also generates fear among the IPs that the number of the military will further create chaos and conflict with the NPA.  Are we not taking away the IPs identity by taking away their lands? Does this idea not only put the lives of the Lumads in danger? Of course we will allow them to voice out their opinions and plight against this idea, and then after a week or so, we will hear news of assassination of advocates for human rights and land ownership. We don’t want an increase in Lumad killing toll.

As I personally see it, the first Mindanaoan president is hoped by the IPs to rescue them from their plight. I am sure the president is aware about his win in Mindanao during the 2016 elections (see Figure: Presidential Result per Province). He, therefore, has to be accountable to this vote by providing policies that are of support to those who voted for him. Yes, democratic erosion can be happening because of the continuous regard to the IPs as minorities in this country: killings of tribal leaders, shutting down of youth schools, no hold with their ancestral domains – all of these are true, but the umbrella of it all is the president’s accountability to his voters, specially the Mindanaoans where 61% of the IPs in the country is at.



Photos: Eastern Mindanao Command (IPs); GMA News Online (Presidental result per province)

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