Soyez Realistes (Be Realistic)

UNFAIR. Datu Gunding, leader of a community of Manobos in Sitio Katindo, Brgy. Malibatuan in Arakan, North Cotabato, laments the unfair trade practices that beset Lumad farmers. He said that after four months worth of labor in the fields, even a bountiful harvest of corn only yields him roughly P1,000 after the additional costs of shelling and trucking. (Paulo C. Rizal/davaotoday.com)

The massacre of eight Dulangan Manobo Lumad and the possible disappearance of six and the arrest of two others last 3 December in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato is the most heinous attack against an indigenous community carried out by state forces in the post-EDSA era. But it certainly isn’t the first: in 2015 three community leaders were killed before terrorized residents in Lianga, Surigao del Sur, and in 2012 an anti-mining activist and her two young sons were shot in their home in Tampakan, also in South Cotabato.

Their stories are the same: prominent community-folk who stood up against corporate interests were murdered by state elements. In all three “counter-insurgency” was used as an excuse. In Lake Sebu, in particular, the Armed Forces of the Philippines has been working double-time in selling the story that Datu Victor Danyan, his sons, relatives and village-mates were all New People’s Army rebels. This, despite the testimony of the victims’ families, environmental and IP rights advocates, and a media worker that they were absolutely not.

Why were they killed? Again, according to the people who knew Datu Victor, it was because he staunchly opposed the stealing of their lands by large corporations. Datu Victor and the Dulangan Manobo’s ancestral domain had been shrinking with the increasing encroachment of business and plantation interests connected to the Consunji family. The latter are reported to own tens of thousands of hectares for logging, plantations for cash-crops like coffee, and coal-mining interests across the provinces of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, and Maguindanao.

At the time of their deaths, according to the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), Datu Victor and his kinsmen had been engaged in what peasant activists call “land occupation”, or land-oc for short. Lumad subsistence farmers had taken over (or more properly, reclaimed) almost 200 hectares of Consunji land and planted it with the crops they needed to survive every day. They were successful in this for almost half a year before the people who led the land-oc were gunned down.

The move to occupy lands that are deemed unproductive for those who need it most is nothing new. The urban poor group Kadamay took over idle government housing in Bulacan. A couple of years ago Klata-Bagobo leader Danny Diarog took me and two colleagues around land that they were trying to wrest away from controversial religious leader Apollo Quiboloy’s “prayer mountain” in the outskirts of Davao City. At that time they were able to stake their claim on a substantial piece of land, and Datu Danny and several heads of families from the local Lumad community were enthusiastically discussing how best to communally use the land to sustain their people. Their happiness was short-lived – several months later an unknown gunman attacked Datu Danny and a companion, killing the latter and leaving Datu Danny critically wounded. It is a similar pattern to the deaths of Datu Victor and his fellows.

It is the peasant sector that has had a long experience with land occupation campaigns, a more recent of example of which is the “Bungkalan” campaign in Hacienda Luisita. Anthropologist Sabino Padilla documented the transformations of a small Bicol community that underwent “agrarian revolution” from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s, which included outright confiscation of lands from large landholdings to be distributed to landless tillers. And during the Second World War (according to historian Benedict Kerkvliet), as rich Nueva Ecija hacienderos fled to Manila during the Japanese occupation, peasants paradoxically saw an improvement in their economic lot without landlord meddling and with increased control over their palay harvests.

Even without a comprehensive history of land occupations (and other strategies), we can cite broad observations (such as Padilla’s and Kervliet’s) of their immediate general benefit to very poor peasants, and the fact that they served as experimental platforms in self-governance and mutual cooperation.

I invite anyone interested to read these books and to join various activities organized by peasant and Lumad groups to glean more insights. At the moment I just wish to call attention to the parallel tracks followed by the struggles of the two sectors. Oppressed peoples have much to learn from each other, and as Marx and Engles said, they all really have nothing to lose but their chains.

The struggle of IPs for self-determination and of poor peasants for their own land to till are part and parcel of the same struggle for land as life. Strictly separating the two actually does each of them a disservice in classic divide and conquer style. As Padilla noted, despite the localized economic gains of the agrarian revolution, it was still hampered by bigger factors such as continued compradorism and free trade pricing of agricultural products elsewhere. Which is why the national democratic forces emphasized political education and campaigning as inseparable from fighting for economic gains.

But indigenous peoples and peasants are not the only two sectors that may have a stake in this issue. The family name Consunji may be familiar even to those who live in Metro Manila far from Mindanao. They own DMCI (David M. Consunji Inc.) Homes, the same company that built the controversial Torre de Manila residential tower in Manila. This building is better known as the Rizal Monument photo bomber; though built several hundred meters away, the height and position of the building made it stick out in the line of sight of the monument’s visitors. At certain angles it would even seem that the building was overwhelming the national landmark.

Many netizens and heritage advocates quickly criticized DMCI for the trespass of the Rizal Monument’s symbolic importance. Monuments serve as the spatial representation of the reverence with which we must hold our national heroes. They are supposed to be venues for the fervent remembering of the sacrifices of the founders of this nation. I agreed with the critics that the Torre de Manila looming behind Rizal is a rude visual interruption of that space for commemoration. However, these were all for naught when early this year the Supreme Court lifted the temporary restraining order halting the building’s construction, and it seems that there are no longer any legal challenges to its continuation.

Yes, I know that it is one thing to violate building codes and cultural sensibilities, and quite another to take lives. But they both fall under the logic of large corporations of placing profits first over people, either dead or alive, and if alive, they can be killed. In both cases we see too the deployment of state apparatus (such as the courts and the armed forces) to protect not the interests of the poorest and most vulnerable but the richest and most powerful. I hope that the citizens who were indignant at the desecration of one of our most prominent national symbols in the name of a luxury residential building be even more outraged that those who followed Rizal’s footsteps in untiringly defending our national patrimony are, also like Rizal, unjustly killed in the name of maintaining the political and economic status quo.

When we look at the bigger picture we can see these intersections of various concerns, and the indispensability of raising a united resistance. Indeed, this is much more crucial today with the extension of Martial Law in Mindanao and its de facto implementation in other parts of the country. In the same way that Martial Law merely promoted the interests of a handful of oligarchs, in the same way that it claimed the lives of heroes like Macliing Dulag and Victor Danyan, so too have we learned that it can also be toppled by a concerned and conscious people who fearlessly choose to come together. (davaotoday.com)

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