Real Talk

Laban, Lumad: Their Fight

for Safe Space and


by Shara Mae Balce, March 21, 2019 4:44pm

Art by Dani Elevazo

Real Talk

Laban, Lumad: Their Fight for Safe Space and Community

by Shara Mae Balce, March 21, 2019 4:44pm
Art by Dani Elevazo

The University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman campus celebrated its annual week-long university fair on February 12 to 16 with the theme “Rak N Rally.” With the solid lineup of local bands, this year’s fair also brought the university’s different advocacies to the spotlight: raising awareness on national sovereignty; press freedom; mental health; gender emancipation; and upholding the rights of the indigenous groups in Mindanao collectively known as the “Lumad.”

Members of the Lumad community were invited to join the UP Fair and two of them spoke up on stage against President Rodrigo Duterte’s implementation of Martial Law in Mindanao.  Everything was going all right until other fair-goers were overheard poking fun and criticizing the  representatives. One netizen called out those who got “bored” and laughed at the Lumads’ manner of speaking Tagalog while delivering their speech on stage.

The act prompted reactions from Lumad School volunteer teacher Micah Simon, and the Lumad’s community school, Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV).

Considered to be the first inhabitants of Mindanao, Lumad in Cebuano literally means indigenous or native—this self-ascription of people from the southern part of the Philippines call themselves. In 2015, hundreds of Lumads traveled from Mindanao to UP-Diliman grounds for a massive caravan called “Manilakbayan.”—a platform for them to voice out their distress on the increasing human rights violations in Mindanao that resulted in the displacement of thousands of Lumads. The group stayed in UP Diliman for a week-long camp-out that seeks to expose and open up discussions about the military harassment and social discrimination to the Indigenous Peoples (IP).

Escape from the Killings

The violence started when three Manobo leaders—Aurelio Sinzo, Dionel Campos, and Lumad’s community school director Emerito Samarca—were rounded up and killed on the early morning of September 1, 2015, in northern Mindanao by the suspected members of the paramilitary group, Magahat-Bagani. After the encounter, locals were threatened to be killed if they would not leave the area. About 4,000 who fled the violence went to evacuation camps in Tanday City, Surigao del Sur.

Magahat group has been tagged for a persistent security problem in Surigao del Sur province. They are allegedly armed and apparently acting with the aid of local soldiers. However, the Philippine military has since denied the allegations about them supporting the paramilitary group. The partially armed conflict between the military and the New People’s Army in 2015 resulted in the closure of Lumad schools.

Lumads form the words #SAVELUMADSCHOOLS while marching with thousands of protesters to coincide with President Rodrigo Duterte’s second State of the Nation Address on July 24, 2017. Photo by Bullit Marquez/AP

According to a study by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Philippines is composed of an estimated 14 to 17 million indigenous peoples. Almost 60% of it is Lumads, which are composed of 18 tribes including Manobo, Mandaya, Subanen, and B’laan peoples in Northern Mindanao. Most of these tribes are living under the poverty line. In fact, discriminations and violations of their rights are also indisputable. The rights of the indigenous peoples were supposed to have been protected by the Indigenous peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA) of 1997 and by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples (UNDRIP) which safeguard the rights of IPs to self-determination and control over their ancestral lands. But, despite the existence of IPRA and UNDRIP, the indigenous peoples still suffer from exploitation, gruesome human rights abuses, and lack of access to health services and education.

What’s more disturbing is President Rodrigo Duterte’s threats to bomb Lumad schools and communities. During the press conference after his second State of the Nation Address, Duterte made accusations that Lumad schools teach the children to “rebel against the government.”

“I’m telling those in the Lumad schools now, get out. I’ll bomb you. I’ll include your structures,” said Duterte in Filipino.

The accusations of Duterte has been denounced by Chad Booc, one of the volunteer teachers of ALCADEV. In an interview with Philstar in 2018, Booc said students there are taught basic life skills like sewing and carpentry, in contrast to the President’s assumptions. Duterte’s statement also caused outrage among human rights activists including the Save Our Schools (SOS) network, an advocate of children’s and human rights. The SOS strongly condemned Duterte’s statement saying it is clearly taken as an authoritative order by his “lapdogs” in the AFP—reinforcing attacks on Lumad schools, communities, and projects.

A Haven for Lumads

The UP Community is the first to give space for the IPs—most of them are staying in the International Center dormitory where other exchange students stay. UP isn’t the only one to express support for the Lumads. Other schools including the University of Sto. Tomas and the De La Salle University also welcomed the IPs students to their campus. In 2017, they established “bakwit” schools for children of Lumad evacuees, who stayed in Manila amid the fear of being bombed or harassed in their previous schools.

Lumad students assemble for their flag-raising ceremony in UP-Diliman. Photo from Rius Valle/UP

Such social discriminations prompted the call for the creation of a safe space for Lumads. They traveled here in Manila, seeking for safe spaces and inclusivity. The UP Fair became a platform for Lumad students to share their stories of displacement and grief. What they need are to be heard, to be treated fairly, and to be respected—not to laugh at because of what they wear or how they speak, most especially. Above all, it started from the desire to be free from atrocities and if we want any kind of sort to stop, we should lend a hand or at least act with due regard for their feelings.


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