DAVAO CITY, Philippines – During its 81st year anniversary, the city government feted a seminarian turned activist-now anthropologist-Lumad advocate as among the seven individuals known as Datu Bago awardees for their unique contribution to Dabawenyo cultural heritage.
Redemptorist Brother Carlito Gaspar or Bro. Karl carried many hats: distinguished anthropologist, professor, prolific Mindanao author, peace advocate, church worker and a political detainee during the Marcos regime.
He said he did not vote then Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte when the latter took a shot at the presidential elections in 2016. These and more tidbits, Bro. Karl tells Davao Today in a recent interview. Here are excerpts:
Davao Today: What have been your inspiration in your life’s work?
Bro. Karl: Ever since in college, I was beginning to be very interested in the life of indigenous peoples — the Bagobo Tagabawa, Bagobo Klata, the Ibu Manobo, and so on and so forth. I saw their rich culture and tradition, the rich elements of their culture in terms of their rituals, their dances, their architecture. Now as a Redemptorist brother, I have exposure to many indigenous communities in the mountains not only in Davao but around Mindanao. If we speak about the poorest, the marginalized, most disadvantaged community in Mindanao today – they are the indigenous peoples because you know the Lumad do not merit too much attention from the government, from the church, and other institutions. They are always pushed to the periphery. They are so far away from the city with very little attention given to them so I have been very much affected by that to see the poverty, illiteracy and especially when you know that their land is being taken away from them because a lot of corporations that are very interested in taking over their lands.
In 1997, there was a law that was called the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act or the IPRA and when it was passed, I was doing my doctoral studies in UP at that time, I made sure that my dissertation would be to look into this – to understand why the law got approved immediately eventually in Congress and what are the implications of that law, how do you make sure that you implement the law. So that has been my inspiration both in terms of having gone into studies and actually being exposed to their realities.
Davao Today: What is your stand on the indigenous people being bakwits (refugees) under the Duterte administration?
Bro. Karl: Unfortunately, indigenous peoples are becoming more and more victims of military operations and militarization. And there are two reasons for that: one reason is that there are big businesses and corporations that are interested to take over their land. Why? Because some of these lands still have forests which can bring about the industry of logging. Another important area is that some of their ancestral domains still have minerals. A part of Compostela Valley all the way to Agusan – there’s still a lot of explorations for mineral resources such as gold and copper. Now, when you have that kind of phenomenon, there is a reaction. There is resistance. The moment they resist, either they stage rallies, they ask for a dialogue with the military, the local government. And they’re harassed. And when they’re harassed, naturally, they don’t feel safe. And when they don’t feel safe, like many other communities under threat, they will evacuate. That leads to a lot of dislocation so this is the reason why around us here, there are communities forced to go in the city. And then, what adds more to it is that the military starts suspecting that they (IPs) are being used by the rebels in the mountains and the soldiers conduct military operations.
Davao Today: What can you say about the rampant cultural appropriation imposed by the media to the indigenous people?
Bro. Karl: You know, in a society such as ours, especially not just mass media but social media, there are a lot of journalists, writers, and bloggers who take it upon themselves to interpret what is the authentic and what is truly indigenous. So naturally there are those who would appropriate cultural elements, artefacts of indigenous people in the process, not respecting the authenticity, the accuracy and the integrity of many of the cultural elements which is sad. It shouldn’t be done. IPRA is very clear regarding respect in the indigenous people’s rights. For example, if you are a student, you are a journalist, a researcher, you cannot just enter an indigenous community and then do interviews or take photograph or acquire artefacts without their permission. It’s clear. If you do that, you’re in violation of the law and cases can be filed against you. That’s why today, students, for example in anthropology, before you enter the area for a study to make, you want to interview the datu or babaylan, you have to ask permission and usually the permission is given by the chieftain or the tribal council but this is the problem.
Davao Today: Among the 20 books you have written, what is your most favorite that can somehow sum up the totality of Mindanao?
Bro. Karl: Perhaps, the first one. It got published in the year 2000, Lumad in the Face of Globalization. That would have been my first major work dealing with Lumad. All of the three chapters are my research papers when I was doing my doctoral study in UP and there were papers that were written with a lot of effort. Globalization was starting already to have an impact on indigenous peoples. In fact, this book has become sort of a classic. Students professors have also written books and articles and research papers will go back to this because it has a lot of data on that particular period. What I spoke of – the incursion of national corporations and business are taking over their ancestral domain, the struggles of indigenous peoples for self-determination.
Davao Today: How has your perspective changed from being a former political detainee?
Bro. Karl: It changed already even before I was arrested. You know my mind set and perspective were already geared towards committing my life to the advancement of people’s rights and to be at the service of those who are victimized by authoritarian regimes. As you know some political prisoners change because of the sufferings and risks. They just change overnight. Either they will surrender easily, confess, or even work in the government and not be engaged anymore out of fear. In my case, of course I got scared, but it only made me even more committed… Until now, I continue to be involved and engaged.
Davao Today: What can you say about the current administration?
Bro Karl: I did not vote for him. I know him because we were classmates in high school. I wouldn’t claim that we were close as classmates but I know him and he knows me. When he won, I was hoping that you know things would change. I was a bit optimistic regarding how he could function as president and truly proud that we have somebody from Davao, from Mindanao who finally made it as the President of the Republic of the Philippines. But having said that, today after more than a year already of him being a president, I think I have sort of felt really disappointed because he could really have done much more and he could have avoided making decisions, for example EJK (extrajudicial killing). I was very disappointed when he allowed the burial of Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani. Many of us (former Marcos detainees) were unhappy when he made that decision.
Right now, I’m still hoping. He still has another four and a half years, that he will remember his promises especially in the area of dealing with corruption, peace negotiation so that there can be peace in the country, a much more independent foreign policy not just with the United States but with China. I’m still hoping that he would but apparently there’s less and less reasons to be hopeful. Last time we met was more than two years ago at the wedding of the son of a mutual friend. And I saw him, he saw me, we said hello. And he told me at that time he was sick. And then he asked me could I please pray for him and I promised I would and I continue to pray for him.
Davao Today: What was it like, during your student days?
Bro. Karl: When I was in first, second, third year, like many other typical students, I was just interested in getting good grades, being a good student, having good friends, having a good time, going to dances, picnics, getting involved in extra-curricular activities, doing artwork, writing, things like that – so typical. But when we entered into 4th year that was ’66, ’67 a lot of things were happening in the world, and in the Philippines. That was the time of the Vietnam War and that was the time when all over the world, students were beginning to go on demonstration on the streets. I was on the student government of the Ateneo and I was a student leader and quite a number of leaders in the campus were beginning to look outside the campus and get a sense of what was happening in the world. In fact, if you’re going to read a history of student activism in Davao City, the first public street demonstration would have been us (Ateneans). We marched from Ateneo in Claro Recto, down to Claro Recto St., to where the statue of Bonifacio’s, where Museo Dabawenyo is. That was where the Davao City Water District Office was and we demonstrated at it because at that time, we were suffering from lack of water in the city. That was a very local issue but it made us aware that as students we have to be concerned about what was happening in the city. Then after that, everything followed because we became very concerned with Vietnam, with what was happening to Vietnam.
Davao Today: Compared to today?
Bro. Karl: Ah, wala na. In the age of Duterte, the glory days of activism in Davao is dead. I mean look at the students. Where are the students? Then, the students where you know the whole martial law here in Davao from even the beginning, from ’70 to ’73 not so much but starting ’74 up to ’86, Davao was one of the centers of protests. We were very dynamic. It was very easy to get thousands of people marching in the streets. Sorry, that’s gone. Davao City is now ground zero for Duterte. Just like when Marcos was president, even until now the Ilocanos, most of the Ilocanos are Marcos loyalists. Now, most of Dabawenyos are Duterte loyalists. There are still groups that are trying their best but small crowd, but they can never really get a big crowd here. But who knows, in time. Because even during Marcos’, it took a while, ’72 to ’86, 14 years to get the people to become aware and then to protest. 95% of Dabawenyos are still fans of Duterte. I can understand that, I am a sociologist, I’m an anthropologist. I can easily understand why. I may not agree but I can understand.
Davao Today: What can you say regarding the Lumad killing in Duterte’s regime?
Bro. Karl: If you read newspapers now, there are all kinds of tactics the government is willing to do. Would they really believe? Of course, they (the government) tag them (indigenous people) not just as NPA members but supporters of NPA. What should we do as citizens? Should we tolerate it? Should we allow it? Well, if we believe in human rights, we shouldn’t and we should raise our voices. So, it’s happening. Just like during the time of Marcos (regime), I’m really afraid that many innocent lives will be lost today because the state seems to be really intent in crushing them.
Davao Today: What is the impact of Martial law in Mindanao to the Lumad?
Bro. Karl: All you have to do is to listen to all the reports. There are reports — although not all reports can make it to social media and mass media but if you have contacts and sources and you were able to find a way to get the data — if you ask those who are not benefiting from it, those who are being arrested, being harassed, victims of militarization which are being dislocated, of course (Martial Law is) not (helpful). Martial Law allows it. There’s no more check and balance in media now. Just yesterday a son of a datu who pointed out that there are many things happening in Tigatto concerning the Lumad yet nothing appeared in the media.
Davao Today: What would you say to the youth of today?
Bro. Karl: I may have said that young people seem to be not interested in the issues of the times. That is not meant to be a judgment, it’s just an observation. But that does not mean I have lost hope. There will be young people who will take up the challenge of the times. I believe that there will be young people who will actually see the light and eventually be critical to what is happening and will also do what they might be able to do, just like when we were young. So, I challenge you. Take advantage of your knowledge in technology and use that as a resource to advance the interest of your nation. Be more critically aware of what is happening around you. And in any way that you may be able to contribute in nation building, explore it, and do it. (davaotoday.com)