Datu Guibang Apoga, the chieftain of the Ata-Manobo tribe in the hinterlands of Talaingod, Davao del Norte, has been in hiding for a decade now. In the lowlands of Mindanao, his face is prominently displayed on posters in bus terminals and police stations as one of the most wanted persons in Southern Mindanao. In the uplands, he is being hunted down by government-backed tribal vigilantes. How this datu’s life has come to this is a long story that began with the encroachment of big companies, mainly C. Alcantara and Sons, into his tribe’s ancestral lands.
BY DAVAO TODAY
Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VII, No. 38, October 28-November 3, 2007
TALAINGOD, Davao del Norte — Datu Guibang Apoga, the chieftain of the Ata-Manobo tribe in the hinterlands of Talaingod, has been in hiding for a decade now.
In the lowlands of Mindanao, his face is prominently displayed on posters in bus terminals and police stations as one of the most wanted persons in Southern Mindanao. In the uplands, he is being hunted down by government-backed tribal vigilantes.
In 1997, a warrant of arrest was issued against Datu Guibang and 25 other leaders of his tribe who had fought, using their spears and arrows, the armed goons of  Ecowood plywood whose expansion encroached into the tribal lands of the Ata Manobos. Ironically, it was also the year when the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA), which purported to protect the rights of indigenous peoples, was signed into law by then President Fidel Ramos.
How the Ata-Manobo datu has come into hiding is a long story that began with the encroachment of big companies into the tribe’s ancestral lands. As the tribe urged other Mindanao tribes to withdraw their certificates of ancestral domain titles (CADT) and scrap the IPRA, the struggle of this fugitive datu and other Mindanao tribes is not about to end soon.
The first encroachment
In 1991, Alsons encroached into the Ata Manobo territories when it initiated tree planting activities in Talaingod after the government approved its Integrated Forest Management Agreement (IFMA). Through IFMA, logging companies like Alsons, with expired Timber License Agreements (TLA), were able to convert their logging concessions into commercial timber plantations.
Owned by the powerful Alcantara family whose members include top officials in the Ramos and Arroyo regimes, Alsons was working out, in the early ’90s, an application to increase the coverage of its operations from 19,000 to 45,000 hectares — an area that practically covers the entire Talaingod. At around this time, Paul Dominguez, a member of the Alcantara business and political dynastry, was the presidential assistant for Mindanao.
(To learn more about Alsons’ business practices, read this special report in The Manila Times in 2003.)
Talaingod had just been turned into a town, with former Alsons security guard, Jose Libayao, lording over it as mayor. Libayao was an Ata Manobo. He was not from Talaingod but from Mapula, in Paquibato District, Davao City. He signed the agreement that put the entire Talaingod area under Alson’s IFMA. The plan also included relocating Ata-Manobo communities to a 5,000 hectare relocation site.
Datu Guibang and his fellow tribal leaders fiercely opposed the proposal. The datus agreed to unite in defense of their land.
Pangayao vs Alsons’ IFMA
On Nov. 30, 1993, Datu Guibang gathered the tribal leaders at dusk to perform the rites of a pangayao (tribal war), where the datus made the sacred vow to unite and defend their land. They then formed the Salugpungan Ta Tanu Igkanugon (Unity in Defense of Ancestral Land).
The Salugpungan initiated dialogues with Libayao, demanding that they be distinguished from the Lumads who supported Alsons’s IFMA. They also delineated a boundary that would separate the land of those who opposed the IFMA from those who were in favor of it.
But Libayao and other pro IFMA tribal leaders rejected the Salugpungan’s move. Libayao insisted that Talaingod should stand as one municipality and told Salugpungan leaders that the group had no legal authority to bar Alsons’ IFMA.
Alsons started accusing Salugpungan leaders of instigating “anti-government activities.” Soon, attacks against Lumad communities in Talaingod began.
In February 1994, three truckloads of soldiers from the Philippine Army’s 64th Infantry Batttalion swooped down on anti-IFMA villages, purportedly to rid the area of the communist New People’s Army (NPA).
Many Lumads fled their communities as troops burned down houses, looted harvests and slaughtered livestock. The military also set up a detachment in one of the Lumad villages.
(Read Bulatlat.com’s report, “Terror in Ancestral Lands,” on the militarization of Lumad lands.)
In August 1994, more than 500 Ata-Manobos fled to the town centers of Davao del Norte as a result of the military operations. They found temporary sanctuaries in church grounds and facilities, while Datu Guibang and the Salugpungan leaders remained in the hinterland to defend their ground.
Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte called a dialog between the Salugpungan leaders and the pro-IFMA leaders led by Libayao. As a result, the two conflicting parties signed a Memorandum of Agreement, where the two parties agreed to exclude the Salugpungan areas from IFMA operations. They also agreed to call for an appropriate government agency to survey and map the Salugpungan territory. They also agreed that Alsons and the military should pull out.