DAVAO CITY, Philippines – “We are not terrorists, we are indigenous people.”
This was the cry of the Lumad evacuees made during a dialogue with members of the Franciscan congregations in the Philippines (FDP) last July 5-9 in Barangay San Isidro, Tagum City.
The Franciscan brothers also conducted a medical mission at the evacuation site.
“It is heart breaking to see the suffering of our lumad brothers and sisters because of the militarization in their ancestral domain. Furthermore, the various incidents of red tagging contradict their identities as peace loving people. They are just but victims of the immense power and capacity of those people who wants to dominate their ancestral domain,” said Bro. Mark Zarate one of the participants of the FDP.
Some 300 Manobo Lumad from Talaingod and Kapalong towns in Davao del Norte sought refuge in Tagum City due to intensified military operations in the area.
According to Datu Tungig Mansumuy-at, they experienced threat and harassment by soldiers who accused them of being New People’s Army (NPA) supporters.
Mansumuy-at said they have been at the evacuation site for almost a year.
They longed to go home but Datu Tungig said they fear that soldiers will go after them.
“The military troops are still in the area and they continue to threaten to kill us,” Mansumuy-at said.
He added, “(W)e decided to go down and leave our land for safety. We also want our plight to be heard by the government and the public.”
Mansumuy-at said the Manobos in Talaingod had long been fighting to defend their ancestral land.
In 1994, the entry of the logging company Alcantara and Sons Inc., in Talaingod sparked resistance from the Manobo communities.
He said many of their fellow Manobos were killed for defending their land.
“Alsons was interested with the resource-rich Pantaron range,” he said.
He also lamented, “we are being tagged as NPA members and our schools are tagged as NPA schools.”
He said “The land is ours. And yet, we cannot go back to our land because we are being treated as enemies of the state. We only want to live in peace.”
The Lumad leader added that the peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines should continue.
He said the peace negotiation is the best venue to talk about ending the armed conflict in the country and how to address its causes.
He hoped President Rodrigo Duterte will work to resume the peace talks and order the pull-out of military troops from Lumad communities.
Mansumuy-at said they were appalled when President Duterte, in a press briefing after his State of the Nation Address (SONA) last year, declared that he will order the military to bomb Lumad schools for “its subversive teachings.”
“We just want our children to continue their studies to learn how to write and read. We want the future of our children different from us. But what the government is doing is to refuse us the education,” he said. (davaotoday.com)