TALAINGOD, Davao del Norte – Lumad Manobo datus here have stayed resilient, 23 years later after their founding, with a dialogue Wednesday with no less than their usual nemesis: army soldiers who have vilified and accused them of rebels.
Council members of the Salugpongan Ta Tanu Igkanogon (unity in defense of ancestral land) told soldiers belonging to the 60th Infantry Battalion in a dialog held at the day care center in Sitio Tibucag, Barangay Dagohoy that lasted for less than an hour, that government troops must go back to their barracks in the spirit of the government’s unilateral ceasefire with the National Democratic Front.
Salugpungan’s Committee head for Education Datu Benito Bay-ao said that the mere presence of the military continues to traumatize the people in their community.
“Unta dili gyud punduhan ang yutang kabilin. Dili gyud magkampo sa eskwelahan. Duna na’y mahadlok sa inyong mga sanina pa lamang” (There should be no military camps in the ancestral domain. Please don’t camp near our schools.They cower at the mere sight of your uniforms), Bay-ao told soldiers during the dialogue.
Datu Tungig Mansimuy-at, committee head for health stressed that the paramilitary group Alamara must be disarmed. Mansimuy-at reiterated their belief that Alamara is operating under the orders of the Armed Forces.
“Ang Alamara mao ang ginakahadlukan namong mga Lumad. Ang Alamara man gud, nga mga parente ra sad namo, dili muagi ug prinsipyo bisag si kinsa pwede patyon. Labi na kami nga mga datu. Dapat maundang na ang pagpasangil nga kami mga datu daw mi sa NPA. Sa tinuod kung tan-awon nato, kami ang tighusay, kami ang tigsulbad kung naay problema sa matag komunidad (The Alamara strikes fear in our hearts. Even though some of them are our relatives, they do not have principles and they kill anybody indiscriminately. The accusations that we Datus are members of the New Peoples Army must stop. We datus settle disputes, we are the ones who solve the problems of our communities),” Mansimuy-at said.
Constant threats and attacks from the group prompted the mass evacuations of the Ata-Manobo to Davao City since 2014. Early this year, 15-year old Alibando Tingkas was shot dead by alleged members of the paramilitary group in Sitio Laslasakan, Talaingod. In previous statements, the army denied its connections with the paramilitary group.
A self-confessed former member of the Alamara who is now supporting the aims of Salugpongan, Datu Dacudao Lagari, said there was no longer any reason for the presence of the military in the area because the council had already formulated its own laws.
“Unsa pa man gyud ang tumong nga naa pay sama sa inyo na magdumala. Sa ato pa, nawalaan ug katungod ang baranggay captain na magdumala tandi sa among mga purok leader. Kanang among pagserbisyo diri sa bukid, ok naman. Nganong naa pa may mag assist nga pareho sa inyoha” (What is your purpose for coming here? The way I see it, the baranggay captain has lost his right to govern alongside our purok leaders. Our governance here in our community is already running. Why do you still have to assist us?), Lagari said.
Salugpongan teacher and chairperson of the group Association of Community Educators in Mindanao, Ramel Miguel also shared his own experiences of harassment. Miguel said that the army is behind the vilification of teachers.”Ang nakaparat man gud sa Armed Forces of the Philippines ba walay research. Kana bitawng kinaiya nga ignorante , ignorant of the law. Kami, nagiskwela lang kay para walay mangilad sa amoa, unya ang mangilad ra man diay sa amo kay katong mga ‘we are here to serve (What is bad is that the Armed Forces of the Philippines do not do research first. You are ignorant of the law. We got ourselves educated so that nobody will take advantage of us. But in practice, those who say that they are here to serve are actually the ones who are fooling us),” Miguel said.
Earlier this year, two teachers from the Salugpongan Ta Tanu Igkanugon Community Learning Center reported harassment from suspected military agents.
Marialou Lambo, coordinator of STTICLCI said she noticed the two unidentified men at the bus terminal in Tagum city.
“When I rode the bus, they followed me all the way until I dropped off in Maa, Davao City. Then I went to Calinan and they were still tailing me all the way to Sitio Kahusayan while they were on board a motorcycle,” Lambo said.
STTICLCI Executive Director Ronie Garcia said they saw suspicious men in the Davao Regional Hospital in Barangay Apokon, Tagum City where they were attending to his sick grandfather morning of July 24.
During the dialog, Cpl. Rico Ganza of the 60th Infantry Battalion said the presence of the army in the area is for the purpose of bringing social services in the area, not to conduct operations.
“Naa mi diri aron muhatod mi sa among serbisyo publiko isip nagtrabaho sa gobyerno aron masecure ang Sitio Tibucag. naa mi diri kay kami ang ahensya sa gobyerno nga pwede ninyo mapamalihugan unsa inyong ipaabot sa atong gobyerno. Tungod sa kalayo sa atong lugar ug kalisod sa atong sitwasyon, maglisod ug abot ang nagkadaiyang ahensya sa gobyerno diri” (We are here only to deliver public service as government workers in order to secure Sitio Tibucag. We are here to serve as the government agency that you can run to if you need something from the government. Because of proximity problems and the difficulty of getting here is the reason why government agencies are not able to reach you), Ganza said.
Ganza stressed, however, that he was merely a corporal who had just been transferred to the area and could not answer for the alleged crimes that his fellow soldiers committed to the Lumad. Ganza promised that he would relay the concerns of the Lumad to his superiors.
The Salugpongan Ta Tanu Igkanogon was organized by the datus in 1993 to oppose the operation of the big logging company C. Alcantara & Sons in Talaingod. Founded by Datu Guibang Apoga, the datus of Salugpongan waged a pangayao (tribal war) against the company, killing and injuring security guards. Their struggle led to the delineation of 19,000 hectares of their ancestral lands, protected from the commercial logging. Datu Guibang has gone fugitive since then but continues to wield significant influence and leadership over their tribes, while the datus of Salugpongan persevered in their right to self-determination and respect for their ancestral domain.
On Nov. 23, Friday, the leaders of the Salugpongan celebrated the 23rd anniversary of their organization in Sitio Tibucag in Talaingod, Davao Del Norte. In a press release, the group said that organization remains united, and will not cower in their defense of their ancestral domain and communities.
“The Oplan bayanihan of the butcher AFP has failed because of our militant action, struggle, and organized evacuation as a form of protest. The Salugpongan has successfully defended its communities and schools,” the group said.(davaotoday.com)