Comprehensive rehab, military pullout needed for Lumad evacuees’ homecoming

Lumad struggle
‘For almost a year, we have been waiting for President Duterte’s commitment of returning the Lumad evacuees home as part of his promise for change. But until now, we still bear the brunt of the military’s ire ….’ — Kerlan Fanagel, chairperson, PASAKA (Photo by Kilab Multimedia, 7 April 2017)

In returning for another Lakbayan and camping out in the capital, the Lumad hope to thresh out with the DSWD a workable and acceptable rehabilitation program that would allow them to get back on their feet.

By MARYA SALAMAT
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – Datu Tungig Mansumoy-at, 28, is one of the 60 Lumad from Mindanao who arrived in the capital on April 4. With him are members of Matigsalug and Manobo tribes, mostly first-timers in the capital which was why, he said, they are not yet as fluent in Filipino. They are now camped outside the main offices of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), at a sidewalk near its gates, across the highway is the sprawling complex of the House of Representatives in Batasan Hills, Quezon City.

For three days they traveled to reach the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) headquarters. Their goal: to follow up on agreements promised them by the Duterte administration toward resolving their tribes’ forced evacuation.

In an interview, he and fellow Lumad explained that the Duterte government has assured them, over nine months ago in talks held after his first State of the Nation Address, that the Lumad bakwits (evacuees) could return to their communities soon. Duterte also reportedly told them he has mandated the DSWD to implement the tribes’ needed rehabilitation program.

Following the talks, indigenous group Pasaka-Southern Mindanao submitted a proposal on rehabilitating the communities and livelihood of the Lumad tribes whose crops, houses and schools were destroyed in military operations. Kerlan Fanagel, chairperson of Pasaka-Southern Mindanao, estimated that starting the rehabilitation will take at least seven months, during which they would need aid to re-cultivate the farm, plant crops for food, rebuild their destroyed houses and schools, and replace the farm animals that had been stolen or butchered by the soldiers or the paramilitary group Alamara.

Why seven months? Because that’s the time it will take for crops to be planted and to hopefully grow and be ready for harvest for the Lumad community’s food, Fanagel said. The Lumad plant and eat palay (rice) and root crops such as sweet potato and cassava.

Up to now, though, President Duterte’s promise to them still remains a promise. Worse, their communities continue to be militarized.

“Our communities remain militarized because of the AFP’s all-out war,” the indigenous people’s umbrella group Sandugo Movement of Moro and Indigenous Peoples for Self Determination said in a statement on April 7.

With continuous militarization, some Lumad families continue to remain as evacuees. And more add or threaten to add to their number. Fanagel’s group Pasaka is still documenting cases of forced evacuation among Lumad.

Up to now, half of the Lumad evacuees from Kapalong (half of at least 971 families) who fled their homes in Davao del Norte in 2014 are still in Haran compound in Davao City. The other half returned to Kapalong on January this year, while most of the more than 2,000 evacuee families from Talingod had returned in 2016.

Kerlan Fanagel
Kerlan Fanagel in Lumad camp outside DSWD in QC. Ironing out the details of rehabilitating their communities include ensuring the government agencies such as DSWD are respecting the communal, cooperative tradition of the indigenous peoples.

But Fanagel said the Kapalong evacuees have remained evacuees because they are not yet back in their old community – it is still occupied by the military. They are camped in a “sanctuary” in Kapalong.

The lumad communities in Kapalong and Talaingod lie near Pantaron Range, one of the last remaining virgin forests in the country but under threat from big corporation’s push to expand plantations, logging, mining, and energy projects.

“We want to return to our old communities,” 69-year old Ginum Andel told Bulatlat. He was wearing a necklace made from bones of small animals. The oppressive summer heat retained by the street where they were camping was more trying for him given his age, but he gamely wrote down his name when asked how to spell it properly. He said he joined the Lakbayan to add his voice to the demand to draw up a comprehensive rehabilitation program for their communities. He still has to return to his home in Talaingod.

Evacuation in the city whether in Davao or in their camp-out in front of the DSWD is no picnic. “We bear staying in the city, where it’s this hot,” he said, to bring their issue to the capital in hopes it could facilitate their return to their old communities.

Unlike in their mountain communities where water and air are fresh and free-flowing, it is hot and expensive to live in the city, he noted.

In returning for another Lakbayan and camping out in the capital, the Lumad hope to thresh out with the DSWD a workable and acceptable rehabilitation program that would allow them to get back on their feet.

Conflicting faces of ‘peace and development’

Although thousands of evacuees had returned in Talaingod in 2016, hundreds had “returned” in Kapalong, both in Davao del Norte, and also the evacuees in Bukidnon, they want to press the urgency of their communities’ rehabilitation needs now, as their families are going hungry.

“Right now, life is still terrible for us because our food is being seized by the Alamara and the military,” Mansimoy-at told Bulatlat.

Going to their farm is a challenge that could cost their lives or freedom, because of the military questioning or threatening them, accusing or forcing them to act as guide or informant on the New People’s Army. Hunger and fear combine to make them more vulnerable to diseases. Mansumoy-at said some of his fellow Lumad in Talaingod are getting sick and dying now as a result of their enforced poverty.

If their communities are still being used as military camps, Fanagel said, the Lumad also find it harder to go about implementing a comprehensive rehabilitation. But they are trying.

Lumad Datu Mansimoy-at
Datu Tungig Mansimoy-at face to face with policemen guarding the gate of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Camp Aguinaldo: ‘If we allow the destruction of Pantaron Range, it will not just be us but all of us who will be adversely affected.’

Although Social Welfare Sec. Judy Taguiwalo is no stranger to the Lumad, she is one of the conveners of the IP’s Save our Schools campaign, Fanagel said at least two regional DSWD officers have been making it more difficult for the Lumad evacuees to access even token aid such as a lone food pack. And yet, they have been evacuees for more than two years now.

The Lumad bakwits also complained their local DSWD of reducing the content of relief packs and social services as well as requiring additional papers before they could be considered as beneficiaries.

Fanagel said the DSWD in Region 11 is being used by the military for its counterinsurgency operations that unfortunately also target the Lumad. He said this DSWD is making them pass through the proverbial eye of the needle just so they could access a bit of aid. And until today, nine months since Duterte promised them, they have yet to access the promised comprehensive rehabilitation of the Lumad bakwit’s communities.

He said some regional heads of the DSWD have also been instrumental in reducing their proposed rehabilitation to its barest bones – from their proposal for aid in livestock support, and cash and food for work for seven months, it was reduced to just 15 days, then before talks of signing an agreement, it was further reduced to just 10 days. And the agreement about its implementation is still unclear to this day.

The Lumads pressed Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo to help them address their complaints against certain local DSWD offices and draw up a comprehensive and sustainable rehabilitation of their communities.

In a discussion, Manimoy-at and his fellow Lumad in their camp out said that by themselves, they have been working fine in their communities, seeing to it that they are getting by, and they are even building and running their own schools with help from Church people and advocates for indigenous peoples. “We’re okay seeking our development in our communities in the mountain, but we’re being disrupted by the military.” (http://bulatlat.com)

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