DAVAO CITY, Philippines — It was in 1994 when Datu Tungig Mansumuy-at started to witness how its leader Datu Guibang Apoga, showed his strength of character to lead the Manobo tribe in the hinterlands of Talaingod to fight back in defense of Pantaron Range, the tribe’s frontier homeland.
Back three years earlier, in 1991, the company Alcantara and Sons (Alsons) cultivated a tree plantation in what the tribe has claimed to be its ancestral territory in Talaingod after the government approved its Integrated Forest Management Agreement (IFMA).
During the early 90’s, Alsons’ coverage of operation has a total land area of 19,000 to 45,000 hectares, an area that mostly covered the entire Talaingod.
Datu Guibang, as the over-all tribal chieftain, organized and led other tribal leaders to launch a pangayao (tribal war), against the IFMA. A pangayao is a sacred vow among the tribes in Mindanao to unite and defend their land. The unity also resulted to the formation of Salugpongan Ta Tanu Igkanugon (Unity in Defense of Ancestral Land) which became the tribe’s entity to initiate series of dialogues with government officials demanding the eviction of Alsons and the military who accused them as members of the New Peoples Army.
“Datu Guibang is our leader. A strong leader who united us against our enemy. As a young Datu, I oftentimes look back to how we fiercely opposed those who want to occupy our ancestral land,” said Datu Tungig who is one of the council members of Salugpongan and led his people who evacuated in their community since 2014.
The rich Pantaron Mountain Range accounts for 12.4 percent of the entire Mindanao forest cover in the provinces of Bukidnon, Davao del Norte, Misamis Oriental, Agusan del Norte, and Agusan del Sur. Its 1.8 million hectares is one of the largest remaining virgin forests in the Philippines which is a source of water of major rivers and their tributaries in Mindanao.
The area of Talaingod alone covers 6,000 hectares of the Pantaron forest that contains “valuable dipterocarp forests with some of its hardwood species including Lamotan, Red Lawaan, Iron Wood, and Kamagong, among others” according to Clemente Bautista of Kalikasan Peoples Network for the Environment.
Datu Tungig said their organization was established simply to protect their territory against logging and mining companies.
When a big number of military troops were deployed in the Pantaron Range after their opposition, thousands of Ata-Manobo fled to Davao City to seek refuge in the church grounds and facilities of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, while Datu Guibang and the Salugpongan leaders remained in the hinterland to defend their ground.
The young Datu said that Datu Guibang and other council members were “always ready to sacrifice their lives to save their community and the Pantaron Range”. This is what the leaders vowed to their people in defense of their land against the government and corporations who displaced them and destroy their forest.
“Datu Guibang is a true leader. And with the entire council of Salugpongan, we defend our people and our land” said Datu Tungig.
On June 9, 2018, a reported surrender of legendary tribal leader Datu Guibang was announced by the military, turning over his M16 rifle to Brigadier General Ernesto C Torres Jr, Commander of the 1003rd Brigade during a ceremony in Davao del Norte. The military now said that the surrender of the old Datu is a sign of progress in its effort to combat terrorism in the area of Talaingod.
But Datu Tungig and the whole tribal council of Salugpongan denounced the what is called a “military instigated” surrender of their ailing Datu in Sitio Nasilaban, Barangay Palma Gil, Talaingod town, Davao del Norte.
According to Datu Tungig who grew up witnessing the leadership of Datu Guibang, that they “don’t see it as a defeat of our cry for justice. Our struggle will continue and will never end up in Datu Guibang. We are united under Salugpongan and are willing to fight for our people even without Datu Guibang.”
Currently, hundreds of Manobo are still in the evacuation center in UCCP’s Haran Compound in Davao City and in a small area of land donated by Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association, Inc. (Marbai) in Tagum City. These Lumad faced harassment even in evacuation center after reports of an attempt to “rescue” them by the military to go back to Talaingod as Datu Guibang were also held by government troops.
“We will not go back just because they had Datu Guibang. This is not an assurance of our safety. What we want is that they should pull out their troops to our community and stop attacking us as well as our schools,” said Datu Tungig.
The young Datu also said that “Datu Guibang’s resistance be our guide but the Manobo tribe is our strength. Our reason to fight.” (davaotoday.com)