TALAINGOD, DAVAO DEL NORTE – The Ata-Manobo Lumads repeated history as they fled from heavily militarized villages on foot and upon reaching access roads, boarded trucks to seek refuge in Davao City. Along the way, a mother gave birth, while a 12-day old infant died.

Some 500 Ata-Manobos arrived at the UCCP (United Church of Christ in the Philippines) Bishop’s house in  Davao City Thursday morning, after they fled from their homes in April 1.

The arrival in the same religious institution was reminiscent of a similar influx of some 500 Ata-Manobos 20 years ago, in August when they evacuated from their villages following heavy military operations linked with a logging project expansion. (See sidebar.) Deaths and births occurred as they trekked for 12 days, boarded vehicles and arrived in the city.

Fast forward to 2014, as if in déjà vu, a mother gave birth, while a 12-day old baby named Biboy Manayab died in the midst of the long trek coming from Barangay Nasilaban at 6 am Wednesday.  The parents saw Biboy was already turning pale when the group reached Sitio Igang in Barangay Santo Nino by 10:30 evening. Paramedics from a support group tried emergency cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), but the infant died. His parents Brando and Bahindilin Manayab said the infant was already suffering from cough and fever before the trek.

One of the leaders of the community under the Salugpungan Ta’ Tanu Igkanugon (Unite to defend the land), Benito Bay-ao said they decided to leave their villages and seek sanctuary in Davao with the help of support groups.

But the exodus was halted when police halted the group in Opao, Brgy. Palma Gil.

The group had to pitch tents in the road to spend the night while waiting for dialogue with local officials to allow them to seek protection in Davao City.

They said they evacuated from the area after finding no support from the local government. “Ang barangay ug munisipyo wala gani makatabang sa rat infestation, Pablo ug Crising. Walay kasegurohan sa among panginabuhi ug seguridad (Barangay and municipal leaders did not help us on problems of rat infestation, typhoons Pablo and Crising. There is no certainty that they can also help us with our current problems in loss of livelihood and security),” Bay-ao said.

Salugpungan said there are 309 families or around 1,350 people who have fled from Talaingod after military operations led by the Philippine Army’s 68th Infantry Battalion, 60th IB and 4th Special Forces took over their villages.

The group’s spokesperson Datu Duloman Dawsay said since their arrival last March, the military accused them of abetting the New People’s Army and tagging their farms and schools as owned by the NPA. Mass interrogation, intimidation and aerial bombing have occurred, according to the leaders. (with reports from Mart D. Sambalud/davaotoday.com)


REWIND: Pangayao vs Alsons IFMA

On Nov. 30, 1993, Datu Guibang gathered the tribal leaders at dusk to perform the rites of a pangayao (tribal war), where the datus made the sacred vow to unite and defend their land. They then formed the Salugpungan Ta Tanu Igkanugon (Unity in Defense of Ancestral Land).

The Salugpungan initiated dialogues with Libayao, demanding that they be distinguished from the Lumads who supported Alsons’s IFMA. They also delineated a boundary that would separate the land of those who opposed the IFMA from those who were in favor of it.

But Libayao and other pro IFMA tribal leaders rejected the Salugpungan’s move. Libayao insisted that Talaingod should stand as one municipality and told Salugpungan leaders that the group had no legal authority to bar Alsons’ IFMA.

Alsons started accusing Salugpungan leaders of instigating anti-government activities. Soon, attacks against Lumad communities in Talaingod began.

In February 1994, three truckloads of soldiers from the Philippine Army’s 64th Infantry Battalion swooped down on anti-IFMA villages, purportedly to rid the area of the communist New People’s Army (NPA).

Many Lumads fled their communities as troops burned down houses, looted harvests and slaughtered livestock. The military also set up a detachment in one of the Lumad villages.

In August 1994, more than 500 Ata-Manobos fled to the town centers of Davao del Norte as a result of the military operations. They found temporary sanctuaries in church grounds and facilities, while Datu Guibang and the Salugpungan leaders remained in the hinterland to defend their ground.

Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte called a dialog between the Salugpungan leaders and the pro-IFMA leaders led by Libayao. As a result, the two conflicting parties signed a Memorandum of Agreement, where the two parties agreed to exclude the Salugpungan areas from IFMA operations. They also agreed to call for an appropriate government agency to survey and map the Salugpungan territory. They also agreed that Alsons and the military should pull out.

But a month after the signing of the agreement, Alsons, using its heavy equipment, continued encroaching into the area claimed by the Salugpungan. The soldiers were also back.

Outraged, Datu Guibang sent word that the Salugpungan datus would soon start their pangayao but the Alsons guards only laughed at them, making fun of their traditional weapons.

This angered the datus. After their third warning went unheeded, they engaged Alsons’ guards in a battle near the border of their territory, using only their spears and arrows.

The encounter killed and wounded some of the Alsons guards. IFMA was abruptly aborted and a warrant of arrest was issued against Datu Guibang and 25 Salugpungan leaders.

As a result, Datu Guibang retreated deep into the forests of Talaingod. But this did not stop the Salugpungan communities from looking up to him as their leader.

Meanwhile, Mayor Jose Libayao increasingly enjoyed the backing of the military. (from davaotoday.com archives)

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