On Lumad Killings: The Need for Self-Determination and a Philippine President’s Role

Norma Capuyan, vice chair of Apo Sandawa Lumadnong Panaghiusa sa Cotabato (ASLPC), says in the press conference Friday, February 27, 2009 there is need to strengthen the ranks of indigenous peoples in Mindanao to be able to defend their ancestral domains. Capuyan is among of the 200 indigenous peoples who gathered in Davao City for the first assembly of the Kusog sa Katawhang Lumad sa Mindanao(Kalumaran), an umbrella organization of indigenous peoples groups in Mindanao, in Davao City on February 27 to March 2. AKP Images/ Keith BacongcoNorma Capuyan, vice chair of Apo Sandawa Lumadnong Panaghiusa sa Cotabato (ASLPC), says in the press conference Friday, February 27, 2009 there is need to strengthen the ranks of indigenous peoples in Mindanao to be able to defend their ancestral domains. Capuyan is among of the 200 indigenous peoples who gathered in Davao City for the first assembly of the Kusog sa Katawhang Lumad sa Mindanao(Kalumaran), an umbrella organization of indigenous peoples groups in Mindanao, in Davao City on February 27 to March 2. AKP Images/ Keith Bacongco. Photo made available by Wikimedia Commons.

The next Philippine president must be an active supporter of indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination, among other key principles that can advance the welfare and well-being of Filipinos in general. Why view the broad well-being of the Filipino people through the lens of the indigenous? Well, the marginalization of indigenous people (IP) has long been a penchant of Philippine administrations: development aggression in resource-rich lands, displacement, militarization, harassment, and most recently, massacre.

If the Philippine government insists on treating the very people who carry the bloodline of the country, the people who have laid claim to ancestral domain not just as property but as their cultural inheritance, the people who have carefully woven in the land and history of the Philippines into their lives today, in these abhorrent ways, then what more of Filipinos who are not of indigenous descent. What type of treatment can we expect from our government?

The recent spate of killings of Lumad leaders, Emerito “Emok” Samarca executive director of Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV), Dionel Campos chairperson of Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang sa Sumusunod (MAPASU) and his cousin Aurelio Sinzo, in Tandag, Surigao Del Sur, Mindanao has swept the news in the Philippines and in Filipino American communities across the United States.

Many Filipino American professionals and students have taken trips to ALCADEV to learn from their alternative learning strategies that draw from indigenous Lumad principles to teach young people basic skills in literacy, agricultural production, and cultural capital that include defense of ancestral domain.

For many Filipino Americans, returning to the Philippines to learn from the Lumad people about the often, desperate conditions of their communities has been a worthy endeavor as they are also able to learn about the resilience and creativity of the Lumad people in maintaining their cultural traditions and the paradigms about land, sustainability and respect they teach their children.

Many Filipino Americans, living in a land not their own, disconnected and displaced from their country of origin were moved to action with the recent massacre at ALCADEV and concerned about the continuing displacement of Lumads.

Presently, around 3,000 internally displaced residents from Lianga, Marihatag, San Agustin, San Miguel and Tago are in Tandag City, afraid to return to their towns because of the terrorization of para-military and Philippine military troops. The number of Lumads killed under the current Benigno S. Aquino administration numbers at 58. While the amount of Philippine military in Mindanao are 60% of the national troops.

Much of these military exercises are funded with U.S. military aid that amounts to upwards of $30 million. These juxtaposed statistics and numbers tell a story that criminalizes the lives and strategies of survival for Lumads. During a time when the quest for self-determination and alternative sustainability of indigenous lives is picking up steam, the answer to the innovative methods of IP survival is militarization, displacement, and death?

Many debates around this issue toss the idea that institutions like ALCADEV is a front for rebel army activity or that these killings are connected to a civil war happening on Philippine soil between the New People’s Army and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). And although this context may complicate the issue, it does not excuse the rampant killings of civilians and disrespect of institutions serving the greater good of IP in the Philippines.

If a presidential hopeful seeks to, not just win the upcoming elections, rather move the Philippines forward in its national development, this person must consider the lives of indigenous groups like the Lumad above the interests of corporate-centered development and US-Philippine military interests in regions like Mindanao. A new governance is necessary to prioritize lives and land over the interests of the political elite and rich.

Valerie Francisco
Author: Valerie Francisco
Valerie Francisco is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology and Social Sciences at San Jose State University in San Jose, California. Francisco received her Ph.D. from the Department of Sociology at City University of New York, The Graduate Center.