I gave this speech just last Saturday (March 5, 2016) at the UP Diliman Film Institute during the world premiere of the music video “Salupongan”, directed by the renowned Carlos Siguion-Reyna. The director himself graced the event, along with UP Diliman Chancellor Michael Tan, Bai Bibiaon Bigkay, the celebrated Manobo leader, and many of the students and teachers who had, not many months ago, joined the lumads during their 2015 Manilakbayan in Diliman and other parts of the nation.
Political causes rely as much on campaign savvy as it does on sound analyses, and it is now more than ever that we need imaginative astuteness as the Aquino government has apparently just chosen to wait it out, until the public forgets, or the other side weakens and gives up. I therefore didn’t want to repeat what we already know about the lumad and their situation, but rather offer a reframing of what we have accomplished, and all that remains to be done.
It is time to hold the Aquino government responsible of higher-order accountabilities, to elevate the discussion beyond “subject-ive” or blatant forms of violence against persons and nature, but to hit the heart of the matter – that is, the active stifling of people’s hope and resistance.
It is a great honor for me to be invited here at the premiere of the music video of Salupongan and to come back to my original campus of Diliman. I was asked to share about the current situation of our lumad brothers and sisters, a topic that is, obviously, quite broad.
So I was turning that subject over in my head to think of a novel way to approach it. I mean, I can tell you about the history of the struggle of these people, perhaps beginning with Datu Guibang Apoga’s pangayaw against the Alson’s logging company in 1993, which precipitated the first Pantaron Manobo bakwit to Davao City the following year. I can tell you about their next massive bakwit to Davao City twenty years later, just last 2014, where I and my students spent the summer at their evacuation site in Haran. That, despite their victory under Guibang’s leadership all those years ago, new interests have cropped up to replace Alson’s, and that military personnel were once again sent to protect not the lumads, but those narrow interests.
I can tell you how the bakwit has continued more or less uninterrupted since then, and sadly, how this has spread beyond the Davao region towards the north after that September day when we all woke up to the news of the shocking murders of Emerito Samarca, Dionel Campos, and Bello Sinzo in Lianga, Surigao del Sur.
I can tell you of the hundreds that still remain at those evacuation centers, and how, in an ironic turn of recent events,and on the day before we commemorated the fall of a terroristic dictatorship, a terroristic act was perpetrated against these evacuees as arsonists sought to burn down parts of the Haran compound that the lumad call their sanctuary.
I can give you the timeline, the numbers, the statistics, but we all already know the timeline, the numbers, and the statistics. We can talk about development aggression, we can talk about the indigenous peoples’ right to education, we can talk about all those concepts that have formed our analyses thus far. The Philippine Daily Inquirer has, just today, eloquently talked about the deafening silence of the Aquino administration in the face of all of these.
But if there is, conceptually, a place where we must find ourselves in at this moment, it must go beyond development aggression, or the preservation of culture, or simply leaving the lumad alone.
For this, we must add two concepts for us to consider, the first being the concept of the People’s Resistance. If we see the lumad not as hapless, child-like people who need to be saved, or are unwittingly caught in the crossfire, if we see them as the active agents of their actions, who learn from their own history and make their own decisions, if we recognize that militarization occurs not only in places where there are rich natural sources for multinational exploitation, then everything begins to fall into place.
This long and brutal State campaign is a campaign against a people who would vigorously exercise their right to genuine self-determination. It is a campaign against a people who would dare to forge their own paths of resistance in response to their systematic marginalization.
I’ll give you one example. Why are now just hearing about a DepEd-DSWD-NCIP program to build schools in towns like Lianga and Talaingod after years of being ignored? These are the same towns that sought to build their own schools, out of their own initiative, without the help of the State. We know that these are the same schools that have been harassed, withheld permits, and violated, just when they are getting stronger. And now the State wants to come in as if these areas are a blank slate, and amidst the battering they are receiving from all the military personnel that are being poured herein.
The second concept that I would like to couple with the People’s Resistance is that these sites of resistance are also Sites of Hope for building better lives for ordinary people. Resistance is nothing if not the assertion for a better existence: and in the areas of Pantaron, and in all other areas presently figuring in the news as sites of militarization and insurgency, we should never miss the point that these very areas are also emerging as exemplar sites of hope for the forging of better villages, a better nation, and a better world.
We must recognize that the lumad, in building and operating their own schools, in defending their ancestral domain with or without a CADT (which is just another piece of paper from the State), are offering the strongest People’s Resistance and Hope against a government that has neglected and belittled them for years. And the government responds by waging wars where the People’s Resistance is staunchest, where the people’s consciousness of their problems and the roots of those problems is most advanced, where the people’s hope most flourishes.
We invite everyone, or challenge everyone, to heighten our own consciousness as much as our lumad brothers and sisters have done. And this entails framing the situation in the most progressive reading possible – that of the justness of the People’s Resistance, and their unfailing Hope.