Standing firm on their position to defend their ancestral land from mining and logging firms, the indigenous people of Mindanao bear the brunt of the state. Since May this year, there are reports of heightened attacks on the Lumad’s communities in which the United Nations called unacceptable and deplorable.
For decades since the martial law of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, the Lumads has been under the fear of violence and conflict. And after the fall of the dictatorship, the Lumads had to contend with multinational mining and logging corporations as the country since opened up its doors to foreign investors.
As massive pineapple and banana plantations took over most of the fertile land in Mindanao, the Lumads were forced to move deeper into the mountains and forests.
The violence against these indigenous people
The 18 ethnolinguistic groups Locally named as Lumads, they are collective identity of the indigenous peoples of Mindanao group
The military, however, denied any involvement in the death of Lumad leaders but maintains a stance that these Lumads are communist rebels and must be dealt with accordingly.
There are 18 Lumad ethnolinguistic groups: Atta, Bagobo, Banwaon, B’laan, Bukidnon, Dibabawon, Higaonon, Mamanwa, Mandaya, Manguwangan, Manobo, Mansaka, Subanen, Tagakaolo, Tasaday, Tboli, Teduray, and Ubo.
Unlike the Moros, the Lumad groups never formed a revolutionary group to unite them in armed struggle against the Philippine government. When the migrants came, many Lumad groups retreated into the mountains and forests. However, the Moro armed groups and the Communist-led New People’s Army (NPA) have recruited Lumads to their ranks, and the armed forces have also recruited them into paramilitary organisations to fight the Moros or the NPA.
“There is basically a civil war going on and that cannot be denied,” Carlos Conde, a HRW researcher based in the Philippines, tells TIME. “The fear in many of these people is palpable when you talk to them.”
Bebeth Kalinawan, a Mamanwa from Cabadbaran, Agusan del Norte, recalls her ordeal as she fought for her life after being hit by government troop’s bullets while having lunch with her family on their farm.
Because of heavy militarization, their community and family took shelter in evacuation shelters for months and found their homes, properties and even their church burned down upon their return.
From the perspective of our indigenous people, large-scale corporate mining does not contribute anything good to their communities.
Bae Likayan Bigkay, a 67-year old Ata-Manobo from Bukidnon laments all the pain and suffering that these mining companies have brought upon them.
The Lumads painstakingly take care of their resource-rich lands but these are systematically taken away from them. Their way of life drastically changes and continues to change. Those who oppose the mining operations were either pushed away from their land or killed.
Data from the Mines and Geoscience Bureau (MGB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) show that the mining industry’s contribution to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) ranges only from one percent to 1.7 percent from 2006 to 2010 and an employment contribution of only 0.5 percent from 2008 to third quarter of 2010.
Yet, more than 35 community leaders had been killed in Mindanao under the Aquino administration for defending their land and environment, adding to the thousands who died before them.
Experts have also noted the huge contribution of these mining and logging operations to the floods, causing more death and disaster because the natural protection from the environment are being destroyed at an alarming rate in which the lumads are one of the most affected.
“We are not animals. We are not pigs and chickens that you can just shoot at.” Bae Emil Digkalay-oban, from the Banwaon tribe says as she tells her story and the plight of her community in Agusan del Sur.
“The color of the blood in our veins – you, me, they, us — is all the same,” she says.
Bebeth Calinawan, a 29 year old member of the Mamanwa tribe and a mother of four, bear the scars of bullet wounds fired by government soldiers in Agusan del Norte in Mindanao. Her family were eating lunch at their farm when the first volley of bullets hit her in the chest and arm. Bleeding and fighting for her life, she was brought by the military to their camp and forced her to sign a paper admitting that she is an NPA rebel. When she declined, she was denied proper medical care but was given dextrose with no food for a week. She was detained for one month without charges and was finally released with the help of her father’s relentless appeal through a local radio station. Their ancestral land in Agusan is rich in copper, nickel, and gold and is being explored by numerous foreign mining companies.
“While mining and other environmentally sensitive projects promise economic benefits for Filipinos, they should not come at the expense of basic rights, particularly the lives of environmental advocates,” Pearson said. “The Aquino government should ensure that those responsible for these attacks are brought to justice.”