Lest the Lumads be Forgotten


Let us focus for a moment on a drama currently in the shadows.

What is to become of the Lumads under the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law?

Meet the Lumads

According to Mindanao historian and former GRP peace negotiator Rudy B. Rodil, the Lumads are indigenous peoples who comprise about 35 tribes and sub-tribes scattered throughout Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago. They are the majority in only eleven towns — one in Agusan del Sur, four in Bukidnon, two in Davao del Sur, two in Maguindanao, one in Sarangani, and one in Zamboanga del Sur. [1] Some of them have converted to Islam but a majority are Christians (many are Episcopalians), while a fraction have retained their traditional beliefs. A 2011 report by the International Crisis Group says “there are approximately eighteen major non-Muslim indigenous ethnic groups in Mindanao for a total population of roughly nine million. Within the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), Lumads account for only 2% of the population (around 60,000) compared to Muslims who constitute 90% (roughly 2.5 million). Most Lumad communities are in remote areas, where poverty is high, education low, and government services poor or non-existent.” [2]

The Lumads share a common ancestry with the Moros, since both groups trace their roots to the legendary brothers Mamalu (forebear of the Lumads) and Tabuwanay (forebear of the Maguindanao Moros). After Tabuwanay converted to Islam, the brothers vowed to respect each other’s territories, a pact that has been commemorated by generations of Moros and Lumads in the sawit, a ritual exchange of gifts celebrating their preserved kinship.

Like the Moros, the Lumads were never conquered by Spain. However, also like the Moros, the Lumads suffered the unfortunate bundling of their independent territories with the rest of the archipelago when it was sold by Spain to America via the dubious Treaty of Paris in 1898. Since the turn of the 19th century, both the Moros and the Lumads have had to contend with the steady occupation of their ancestral domains by migrants, mostly Christians, who settled in Mindanao upon the encouragement of the American colonial government. And again like the Moros they have seen their lands, to which they attach a spiritual, historico-cultural and socio-economic significance, removed from them by law, by force, and not infrequently by outright deception. [3]

The Struggle

Naturally, they want to protect what remains and to administrate it in the manner befitting their culture, legal systems, and spiritual beliefs. There was a positive development for them in the 1987 Constitution, which provided for autonomous regions in the Cordilleras and Muslim Mindanao. However, carrying out the constitutional mandate proved difficult. The Lumads, not a large force to begin with, organized and began peacefully militating for the right to self-determination.

On the Moro side, Nur Misuari began setting up the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity which he envisioned to be concurrently an independent Islamic State, thereby fulfilling the Muslim Moros’ religious and nationalistic aspirations. With larger numbers and the force of arms, Misuari’s MNLF bloodily engaged the government until a shaky ceasefire was brokered by President Fidel V. Ramos in 1996. However, the autonomy promised in that deal was not acceptable to a faction of the insurgents, which adamantly insisted on claiming recognition as an independent state. This group eventually broke away and continued the armed struggle as the MILF.

Meanwhile, the Lumads enjoyed another legal victory with the passing of the Indigenous People’s Rights Act in 1997. The IPRA allowed them to have their ancestral domains and lands certified and titled. It also gave them certain guarantees such as the right to own and develop their lands and natural resources; the right to occupy the territories; in case of temporary displacement, the right to be resettled in suitable areas and the right to later return; the right  to manage their inland water and air space; and the right to resolve conflicts in customary ways as a primary resort, among others. Sadly, the IPRA was a hollow triumph because its implementation proved horrendously challenging for the Mindanao Lumads. The IPRA was never enforced in the ARMM, and to date, several tribes still await the release of their certificates of ancestral domain and certificates of ancestral land. Without these titles, they cannot enjoy the rights granted them and are still threatened with displacement, land grabbing,and gerrymandering.

Enter the BBL

The MILF has since softened its stance and entered into peace talks with the government, ostensibly willing to accept a lucrative autonomy as a felicitous compromise for independence. It has found an affectionate partner in President BS Aquino and loyal helpmeets in Sec. Teresita Deles and Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer. Together, they have designed a formula for self-rule that satisfies the Moro cry for justice under the banner of the Bangsamoro identity. Notably, the territory marked as the new Bangsamoro sub-state in the Bangsamoro Basic Law encompasses the ancestral lands of several Lumad tribes in Central Mindanao, the Zamboanga peninsula, the Sulu archipelago, and the ARMM. [4]

The problem is that a significant number of Lumads do not consider themselves Bangsamoro. “We cannot accept Bangsamoro as our identity. We have our own identity and this is the Erumanen ne Manuvu,” Erumanen Datu Ronaldo Ambangan declared in the congressional consultations held in Midsayap, North Cotabato in June 2014. In Davao, Timuay Alim Bandara told another congressional committtee:

“I especially mention here other affected communities and societies because it is not only the Bangsamoro community and society that has been affected by all the wars and armed encounters, by injustices and conflicts in this region. I am referring to the community and society of indigenous peoples specifically the Teduray, Lambangian and Dulangan Manobo in portions of Maguindanao in the ARMM where the IPRA provisions are not implemented in the past 17 years simply because we are inside an autonomous region that is the product of the peace process….[W]e are not only victims of war but also victims of peace.” [5]

The Lumads further assail the indifference with which their numerous attempts to join the government-MILF dialogue have been treated. “What have happened to the many years of our engagement with the government, our own LGUs, the MILF and OPAPP? Where have all our proposals gone? Are we to expect the same treatment and inattention to happen to our submissions to the Bangsamoro Transition Commission?” Lumad leaders asked in an open letter to President Aquino in April 2014. [6]

The MILF acknowledges the Lumads’ claim to their ancestral domain, but differs with them on their sense of identity. Mohagher Iqbal, writing under his nom de plume Salah Jubair, stated that the Lumads were the “small or young brother” destined to come under the protection of their big brother Moros. [7] They have been advised to trust their Moro brethren and to await their reserved seats in the proposed Bangsamoro Parliament.

But to the Lumads, this is unacceptable. In its position paper on the BBL presented in the congressional hearing on October 2014, the Lilak (Purple Action for Indigenous Women’s Rights) argued:

“It has also been said – trust in the Bangsamoro Parliament. If you don’t see your rights in the version, the Lumads need not worry, for it is within the exclusive powers of the Bangsamoro parliament to enact laws governing ancestral domain and natural resources.

But trust is something that is earned, something that is built on understanding, respect, and reciprocity.

Under the ARMM for 24 years, the Lumads were not able to enjoy the care from the government. The programs which were supposed to be intended for them, eg. education for the tribal peoples, was not implemented. The Office of the Deputy Governor for IPs, and the Office of the Southern Cultural Communities, were empty shells, had no programs to be implemented, had no fund allocation. Representation in the governance structure was a mere act of tokenism.” [8]

The Lumads are distinct ethnic groups desiring respect and recognition as an equal partner in the peace negotiations. They do not share the Bangsamoro identity and have been saying so, waiting for the parties to the peace process to listen. They deserve to be heard. The BBL as it stands is not the solution to their problem.

President Aquino has disdained the critics of the BBL, snidely saying that they should produce a better alternative if they can. Prof. Rudy B. Rodil has submitted one in the form of what he calls a “tri-people approach,” which encourages the participation of the Moros, Lumads, and Mindanao “migrants” in in-depth, multi-level forums with the various stakeholders (LGUs, communities, business folk, to name a few) and the active work of government in initiating understanding among the different groups. Rodil says this is a task that goes beyond the negotiating table and necessarily takes time – a lasting, inclusive and sustainable peace can never be achieved through peace talks alone. Rodil served on the peace panel in the ’90s and knows whereof he speaks. His proposal has been read by peace advocates and is a source document for studies on the BBL issue. I would be shocked if President Aquino, the OPAPP, and the GPH panel have never heard of it. There, Mr. President, is one alternative. Do you have the courage to even consider it? For the sake of the Lumads at least?

Include the Lumads and  the non-Muslim/non-Lumad sector in the discussion and we might get somewhere. And while they’re talking with the government and the MILF, keep the rest of us updated. That’s what a democracy is all about. That’s the transparency we expect. That’s the thoroughness we seek.

There’s still time, Mr. Aquino. Please don’t let us down again.

But I’m not holding my breath.

This is why I’m calling on Congress to take a good, long look at the Lumad situation and to please take up the cudgels for them. You won’t have to look far. They’re right there where our President dropped them.

[1]  Rudy B. Rodil, Achieving Peace and Justice in Mindanao (http://www.scribd.com/doc/43483652/Achieving-Peace-and-Justice-in-Mindanao#scribd).

[2] The Philippines: Indigenous Rights and the MILF Peace Process, Asia Report No. 213 – 22  November 2011, The  International Crisis Group (http://www.academia.edu/1185485/Indigenous_rights_and_the_MILF_Peace_Process)

[3] The Rodil paper offers an comprehensive and insightful discussion on this aspect.

[4]  In the ARMM, most affected are the Teduray-Lambangian of Maguindanao (about 60,000 of them) and the smaller tribes of Dulangan Manobo and B’laan. Other non-Muslim Lumad groups are likewise affected: the Higaonon of Lanao del Sur, the Badjao of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, the Erumanen-Menuvu in North Cotabato, and other tribes who live on the ARMM periphery. The Philippines: Indigenous Rights and the MILF Peace Process, Asia Report No. 213 – 22  November 2011, The  International Crisis Group (http://www.academia.edu/1185485/Indigenous_rights_and_the_MILF_Peace_Process)

[5]  Germelina Lacorte, Indigenous tribes want ancestral lands excluded from Bangsamoro autonomy (http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/615262/indigenous-tribes-want-ancestral-lands-excluded-from-bangsamoro-autonomy#ixzz3SwHEZ6Wa)

[6] “We will not be ignored again,’ say lumad in prospective Bangsamoro (www.interaksyon.com/article/84715/we-will-not-be-ignored-again-say-lumad-in-prospective-bangsamoro)

[7] See the chapter on the Lumad (“The Protected”) in Salah Jubair, The Long Road to Peace: Inside the GRP-MILF Peace Process (Manila, 2007). Quoted in The Philippines: Indigenous Rights and the MILF Peace Process, Asia Report No. 213 – 22  November 2011, The  International Crisis Group (http://www.academia.edu/1185485/Indigenous_rights_and_the_MILF_Peace_Process)

[8] LILAK (Purple Action for Indigenous Women’s Rights) (https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?id=446251688730248&story_fbid=832884360066977)

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Comments (2)

  1. Mar Ocampo


    These are the informations that a common Filipino citizen like me should know about the BBL. Thanks Ma’am Candy for sharing. I am WORRIED for the Lumads

    • Reply

      Thank you, Mar. There is still a lot to be said about this; perhaps I’ll tackle it in another article. Their story is an interesting one and should really be heard. They must be made part of the negotiations and so too must the affected non-Lumad/non-Moro/non-Muslim sector. The talks are incomplete without them. Please help raise awareness. God bless you.

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