“As much as you, migrant workers all around the world are dreaming of coming back home with your families, we share with you our dreams, for our right to education, right to self-determination, a democratic government, and a just society.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – When indigenous peoples became migrant workers, they didn’t forget their ancestral land or their people’s continuing struggles. Last Sunday, October 29, the United Filipinos in Hong Kong (UNIFIL-MIGRANTE-HK) reported a historic celebration of Tribal Filipino Sunday. Migrant Filipinos working in Hong Kong turned a section of Edinburgh Place in the state’s busy Central district into a meeting place of overseas Filipino workers and indigenous peoples. They dubbed the event ‘a breakthrough’ of various overseas Filipino groups.
More than 700 from different groups of tribal Filipino migrants and advocates gathered at the Edinburgh Place and filled it with a festival of ethnic songs and pattong. They mingled with other migrants in their tribal gears and danced and chanted with them.
The historic event for migrant Filipinos and indigenous peoples was organized by Lumads from Mindanao through the Mindanao (HK) Workers Federation, Mangyans of Mindoro through Occidental Mindoro Association, and Igorots from the Cordillera region through the Mountain Province Federation, Benguet Federation, and Kalinga Province Hong Kong Workers Association.
Each group of indigenous peoples who became overseas workers highlighted the issues prevailing in their homeland.
During the gathering, they launched the “Defend Land, Life, and Resources” (DLLR) Coalition Hong Kong. The Abra Tinguian Ilocano Society (ATIS-HK), Cordillera Alliance (CORALL-HK) and United Filipinos in Hong Kong (UNIFIL-MIGRANTE-HK) combined forces to bring the coalition to life.
Dolo Balladares, chairperson of UNIFIL, told Bulatlat there are many indigenous peoples from Cordillera, Mindanao and other places in the Philippines now working in Hong Kong. Even as they confront and take action on the issues of migrant workers, they continue to seek a resolution to the issues being faced by their fellow indigenous peoples at home.
With DLLR, Balladares cheered the Tribal Filipino Sunday’s “breakthrough” of having worked this year with six other migrants’ groups. These include the Benguet Federation, Kalinga Province HK Workers Association, Pinatud a Saleng Ti Umili, Occidental Mindoro HK Workers Federation, Mountain Province Federation HK, and Suyo Ilocos Sur Association.
Unforgettable defense of land pursues IPs / migrant workers
The DLLR Coalition took shape last Sunday, but it began earlier this year with the indigenous groups’ launching of campaigns seeking to save their ancestral lands from the encroachment of mining and energy projects.
The Suyo Ilocos Sur Association (SISA HK) and Cervantes Organization led early this year among workers in Hong Kong the “No to Mining Exploration in Cervantes” petition-signing campaign. It is directed against the Cordillera Exploration Company (CEXI), a Nickel Asia Corp. company. The indigenous groups of Cordillera have been resisting the gold and copper exploration and mining permits of this company which covered a sizeable portion of their ancestral lands.
Meanwhile, the Abra Tingguian Ilocano Society in Hong Kong (ATIS-HK) started also early this year a “Save the Abra River” campaign. At the same time, leaders and concerned migrants from Kalinga Province Hong Kong Workers Association (KAHPWA) launched protests against the hydro dam projects in their home communities.
These groups then reportedly linked up with the Cordillera Peoples Alliance and Defend Ilocos Network to Save the Environment for a joint campaign to defend their land, life and resources.
Another first in the Tribal Filipino Sunday among migrant Filipinos in Hong Kong, they were joined by a lumad leader from Mindanao. Eufemia Cullamat of the Manobo tribe in Surigao del Sur was keynote speaker in the Tribal Filipino Sunday activities in Hong Kong.
Cullamat is a council member of MAPASU or the Malahutayong Pakigbigsog alang sa Sumusunod (Persevering Struggle for the Next Generation) and KASALO or Kahugpongan sa Lumad Organization. She participated in the recent Lakbayan Para sa Katarungan at Sariling Pagpapasya in Manila for about a month last September.
Before fellow indigenous peoples and migrants, Eufemia shared how, since the 1980s, the Lumads have been repeatedly evacuating their community in Lianga, Surigao del Sur due to bombings by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). She said the bombings were really for the ‘protection’ of foreign mining companies.
“The people, especially women, were frightened. Many fear going out of their house after persons they knew started getting killed, tortured or harassed,” Cullamat said.
Cullamat said soldiers would ask about members of the New People’s Army (NPA), but they would actually target the civilians. She reported several human rights violations allegedly perpetrated by the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines). Until now, she said, “nothing has changed — we are still neglected by the government.”
Govt forces disrupting people-powered social services
MAPASU came into being through the help of Tribal Filipino Program in Surigao del Sur or TRFPSS and the Church, the Diocese of Tandag. It implemented projects to help provide the Lumad literacy, numeracy, and knowledge and skills on sustainable agriculture. In 1998, Cullamat said, they were able to establish ALCADEV (Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development). Through this, the literacy program in their communities became totally accessible to all children and even adults living there.
On September 1, 2015, Cullamat recounted how their entire community was forced to witness the execution of their beloved tribal leaders including the Executive Director of ALCADEV. The attack happened amid a fierce resistance of their communities, counting the five tribal groups in Caraga, against the intrusion of large mining companies into their ancestral lands. The attack was blamed on military and para-military groups they bred and would sometimes deploy into communities.
Cullamat said the mining project came to their community with military threats and harassments of their locals. “There is nothing we can do but fight.”
She said migrants and IPs share common dreams and aspirations.
“As much as you, migrant workers all around the world are dreaming of coming back home with your families, we share with you our dreams, for our right to education, right to self-determination, a democratic government, and a just society,” Eufemia told the gathered indigenous peoples and migrant workers in Hong Kong.