“Pinalangga namo ang kabukiran.”
[The mountains are loved by my people.]
This is how Datu Jimboy Mandagit, 27, speaks of the Pantaron Mountain Range, a vast cordillera straddling Misamis Oriental, Bukidnon, Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Davao del Norte, and Davao del Sur in Mindanao. From Pantaron flows the waters of five major rivers: the Mindanao River, Pulangi River, Davao River, Tagoloan River, and Agusan River. Deep within Pantaron’s earth lie nickel, gold, chromite, copper, and other rich minerals. For the people of San Fernando, Bukidnon, Pantaron is their wellspring of life.
Datu Jimboy was 15 years old when he became supreme datu of the Tigwahanon tribe in San Fernando. Before his grandfather passed, he reminded Jimboy of his role as leader of the community.
“Pagkamatay niya atong 2005, ako ang ilang gipuli isip supreme datu. Akong gituman ang iyang gistorya nga hangtod kinabuhi ang makalas, dili gyod nako biyaan ang atong yutang kabilin,” Datu Jimboy recalls.
[When he died in 2005, I replaced him as supreme datu. I took to heart what he said about never forsaking our ancestral land, even if that means laying my life on the line.]
As a Lumad custom, one cannot be community leader unless one has claimed the lives of 10 enemies, criminals who commit grave crimes against the people and the land. Like the historic pangayaw (Lumad traditional warfare) waged by the Manobo tribe in Talaingod 23 years ago against big logging concessionaire Alcantara and Sons, Datu Jimboy and the Tigwahanon tribe are warriors of their land. As one poem goes, warriors, like poets, are keen to sights and sounds – in knowing the difference between the sound of a wild boar’s scampering and a military man’s violent strides.
Deep in the forests of Pantaron, another sort of warriors also moved about. The New People’s Army (NPA), with agrarian revolution as the crux of their armed struggle, is the target of the government’s so-called counterinsurgency program. But Rodrigo Duterte’s ‘Oplan Kapayapaan’, as Datu Jimboy asserts, also targets civilians.
“Dili na bag-o sa amoa ang mga hulga sa among kinabuhi,” says Datu Jimboy.
[Threats to our lives are not new to us.]
Karapatan has recorded 98 cases of extrajudicial killings under the Duterte administration July 2016 to September 2017; 25 of those killed are members of indigenous groups.
Eight cases of these killings are from Northern Mindanao.
On July 2017, Ande Latuan, 30, a member of Pigyayungaan Indigenous Tribal Association, was gunned down by the Alamara paramilitary group in Cabanglasan, Bukidnon. The association has long maintained its stand against the entry of mining and logging projects, as well as big plantations. Karapatan notes that military and paramilitary troops serve as investment defense forces to hasten the ingress of big businesses in indigenous people’s land.
According to Ryan Amper of Barug Katungod Mindanao, the country’s southernmost island is the “showcase of Duterte’s tyranny and fascism”.
Seventy-five percent of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ active troops are scattered across Mindanao’s five regions. Since the declaration of martial law in Mindanao, 40 cases of bombings in civilian communities have been tallied.
Barug Katungod Mindanao also expresses alarm over extensive evacuation and displacement in Lumad communities: 500,000 individuals from Marawi; 16,000 from Caraga, Soccsksargen, Northern Mindanao, and Southern Mindanao; and 2,000 from Lianga and Agusan del Sur.
Four hundred trumped-up cases are filed in courts by the armed forces versus leaders and members of legal democratic organizations all over Mindanao. With Duterte’s recent terrorist tag of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the NPA and his threat of a crackdown against activists, Barug Katungod Mindanao fears that these numbers will rise in the coming days.
“Hindi lamang binobomba ng AFP ang mga komunidad ng Lumad. Ginugutom rin nila,” says Amper of the military’s restriction of food aid in Lianga, Surigao del Sur, where 250 families have evacuated after fleeing their communities from fear of military operations against the New People’s Army.
[The AFP does not only bomb Lumad communities. They also starve them.]
“Ang mga sundalo, imbes na mo-protekta sa mga sibilyan, sila na nuon ang manguna sa pagpatay sa mga sibilyan bisan walay mga sala,” says Datu Jimboy.
[Instead of protecting civilians, it’s the military that’s killing innocent people.]
Datu Jimboy also has his share of near misses.
“Tulo ka beses na ko giplano ug patay.”
[My life has been attempted on thrice.]
At the third attempt on August 25, 2016, he was riding a motorcycle on the way to a meeting in Valencia City, Bukidnon, when masked men in a motorcycle suddenly appeared from a curve and pulled the trigger on a .45 caliber pistol. The gun didn’t fire and Datu Jimboy managed to kick the motorcycle’s handles. As the assailants’ motorcycle fell into a ditch, Datu Jimboy and his motorcycle driver sped away. He could not eat for five days from shock.
One year into the incident, Datu Jimboy remains pensive.
“Kung nibuto ‘to, siguradong patay gyud ko.”
[If that gun had fired, I would have surely died.]
Yet he remains steadfast in defending his people and the land, despite constant threats to security and attempts to arrest and file trumped-up charges against him.
“Ang akong pangandoy gyod sa akong kinabuhi, na samtang buhi pa ko, padayon gyod ko nga isinggit ang hustisya og kalinaw. Kami nga mga Lumad, wala na mi nangandoy nga mabuhi mi gikan sa suporta sa gobyerno,” he says, referring to basic social services like agrarian aid, health, and education.
[My life’s dream is that while I am alive, I will continue to shout for justice and peace. We, the Lumad, have stopped waiting on the government for support.]
The Lumad, he says, have also seen in the military the face of a beast, a busaw or a monster, as Lumad children would describe the soldiers.
“Nibaliktad na ug ayo si Duterte sukad atong nagkita mi sa Malacañang atong June 30, 2016. Nagsaad siya kaniadto nga iyang isugo ang pagdakop sa mga pulis og sundalo nga naay sala sa inosente nga katawhan. Wala na gyud diay maasahan namo kini nga presidente, tungod kay tanan iyang gisaad sa amo nga kabag-uhan, wala gyud matuman nga bisan isa,” Datu Jimboy says.
[Duterte has done a complete turnaround since we met inside Malacañang on June 30, 2016. He promised to order the arrest of police and military forces who committed crimes against innocent people. There is nothing to hope for under his rule, because not one of his promises has been fulfilled.]
Datu Jimboy is sure where the Lumad will go from here: “Duha na lang gyod ang among gusto nga paingnan – muanhi dinhi mismo sa syudad aron ikundena sa gobyerno na ihunong ang pag-atake sa among komunidad, o mag-armas na lang gyod mi tungod wala na gyud mi kapaingnan kung dili mulaban.”
[There are only two options for us – one is to go to the city and call to end against attacks in our communities, and the other to take up arms because we are left with no choice but to fight.]
On December 10, as people the world over will be commemorating International Human Rights Day, Datu Jimboy will be marching alongside tens of thousands of people to condemn state-perpetrated human rights violations and call for the overthrow of President Duterte.
Meanwhile, the Lumad – the warriors in the countryside fighting for land and life – will continue the struggle as it is described in a poem:
An endless movement of strength
Behold the protracted theme:
The people’s epic, the people’s war.