Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Lumad Demand Self-Determination

Indigenous people in south Philippines want protection of their rights enshrined in any future peace agreement.
By Ma Cecilia
No one informed us, nobody consulted us,” said Timuay Nanding Mudai.

The tribal chieftain is a Lumad – a generic term that refers to members of the 18 major ethno-linguistic groupings of indigenous peoples in Mindanao.

He was adamant as he explained why his people refused to come out in support of the controversial Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain, MOA-AD, which has now been scrapped by Manila.

The agreement, which was intended to bring peace to the region, would have created the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity, BJE, a sub-state led by the local Muslim community in Mindanao in the south Philippines.

The proposed entity would have covered most of the Subanen –a Lumad tribe – ancestral home, including in Zambonga del Sur and Zamboanga del Norte, in Western Mindanao region.

The MOA-AD was scuttled after the Supreme Court in Manila ordered a temporary restraining order on the eve of its scheduled signing in Malaysia on August 5.

Renewed clashes between Muslim separatist group the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, MILF, and government troops broke out after the authorities refused to sign the MOA-AD, saying they would not agree to it in its current form.

As the government rethinks its framework for forging peace in the troubled Mindanao region, and the MILF cry foul over its abandoning of the agreement, Lumad are now calling for more say in any subsequent agreement.

MILF insists that when the MOA-AD was being drafted, there was proper consultation among those indigenous peoples who would have come under BJE jurisdiction.

Its vice chairperson for political affairs Ghadzali Jaafar said that negotiations went on for two years before the final draft was produced, which was then jointly initialled on July 27 in Kuala Lumpur by the government and MILF.

However, Nanding’s complaint is not an isolated case.

On August 27, more than 200 other tribal leaders representing 18 major ethno-linguistic indigenous groups in Mindanao and Palawan province signed up to a joint declaration opposing the BJE.

In the declaration – entitled the Cagayan de Oro Declaration – the leaders asserted their rights to their ancestral home.

“We assert that Mindanao is not only inhabited by the Bangsamoro people, but also by indigenous peoples and migrant settlers,” they said.

Bangsamoro is another name for Moro, a multi-lingual ethnic group which lives in the south Philippines.

“Thus, we call for the respect to the right to self-determination of the indigenous peoples, the right to use our traditional governance systems, our ownership of our ancestral [homes] and our rights to the resources therein,” said the leaders.

In their declaration, they also cited a traditional peace pact made between the ancestors of indigenous people and of the Bangsamoro people.

Higaonon tribal chieftain Maticadong Angkong Limikid explained the ancient pact as the unwritten agreement between the Lumad and the Moro on territorial boundaries.

“The pact governed our ancestors on delineation of territories. It also sealed the peaceful coexistence of the Moro and the Lumad through centuries and ensured that no blood will again be spilled between our peoples,” said Limikid, in the local dialect.

Nanding says the Lumad have always supported peace.

“We have peacefully coexisted with our Moro brothers for a long time. There is always a way to dialogue,” he said.

The tribal leaders pointed out that the Lumad and the Moro have the same aspiration – self-determination.

In their declaration, the tribal leaders also recognise the right of the Moro to claim their ancestral lands in turn.

“The right to self-determination of our Moro brethren is also enshrined in laws and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and that we recognise their struggle and efforts to achieve recognition of this right as a legitimate cause and has historical basis,” said their declaration.

But Nanding summed up the apprehension of the Lumad – in the proposed BJE, the MILF would have encroached on their territories.

The Lumad consist of the Subanen, Manobo, B’laan, Ata, Mandaya, T’boli, Higaonon, Tiruray (Teduray), Mansaka, Bagobo, Bukidnon, Dibabawon, Tagakaolo, Banwaon, Ubo Manobo, Manguwangon, Lambangian and Mamanwa tribes. Sub-tribes have also been formed by tribal intermarriages over the years.

According to recent statistics, the population of indigenous peoples in Mindanao is around 2.5 million, or 5 per cent of the island’s population. However, the real figure is likely to be higher, as many Lumad families do not formally register births.

The 1997 Indigenous Peoples Rights Act, IPRA, or Republic Act 8379, recognises the inherent right of the indigenous peoples to own and possess ancestral homes, the right to self-governance and self-determination, and the preservation of their culture, traditions and institutions.

These rights are also embodied in United Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, UNDRIP, which specifies that indigenous peoples can “freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development”.

However, in asserting their right to self-determination, the Lumad face the challenge of persuading all tribes to take one course of action.

Janette Serrano, commissioner of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, NCIP, for Central Mindanao, said groups representing the indigenous people have different political persuasions.

“One group cannot claim it represents the sentiments of the Lumad because there are others who have different beliefs, different points of view,” she said.

Serrano said that the challenge to tribal leaders now with regards to the MOA-AD is to overcome political differences and unite on one definite stand.

Not all Lumad opposed the BJE. Those within the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, ARMM – which contains all of the country’s mainly Muslim provinces – fully supported the scrapped agreement.

In the two-page statement they issued on the MOA-AD on August 17, members of the Teduray, Lambangian and Dulangan Manobo in Upi, Shariff Kabunsuan – which all lie in the ARMM – said the MOA-AD should be seen as “an opportunity to safeguard interests of the majority”.

Calling themselves Lumad-ARMM, the tribal leaders also said that achieving self-determination did not imply separating from the Moro people.

“Our free choice would help us preserve our self-determination, governance and ancestral [homes] within the BJE,” said the statement.

Another Lumad group – the Kusog sa Katawhang Lumad sa Mindanao (Kalumaran) – also said they supported the Bangsamoro’s call for self-determination.

However, they accused the government of taking advantage of confusion over the MOA-AD to renew offensives against the MILF in the wake of its collapse. The clashes, which are now in their seventh week, have already displaced more than 500,000 people in Central and Northern Mindanao regions.

Victoria Tauli-Corpus, chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, UNDRIP, called on the tribes who attended the Mindanao-Palawan indigenous peoples’ gathering to organise themselves.

“Do not let your political affiliations get into the process of shaping your own broad network,” said Corpus.

Yet, despite their criticism of parts of the MOA-AD, the Mindanao-Palawan tribal leaders said they were saddened that it had been abandoned. They called on both the MILF and the government to return to the negotiating table.

The leaders noted that the MOA-AD was a tangible expression of the right to self-determination and would have been a first step for the Moro and the indigenous peoples in Mindanao towards peace.

“We are not thankful that this [scrapping of the agreement] happened. It would have led to peace in Mindanao. What we wanted was to be included in the review and consultation, not to scrap it,” said Limikid.

Norma Capuyan, a Higaonon babaylan (woman leader or priestess), was especially critical of the Manila authorities.

“This only shows the insincerity of the Arroyo administration,” she said. “They have been talking for years now, and then they drop everything just like that.”

Nanding said it was regretful that the tribal leaders had not been party to the details of the MOA-AD earlier.

“It would have been a very good springboard towards achieving peace,” he said.

Ma Cecilia L Rodriguez is a journalist based in Northern Mindanao.

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