The Fugitive of Talaingod

DG: There were no NPAs when I stood for our ancestral land. The first time I ever had a glimpse of them was not until three years after, when they passed by our sitio. It was not the NPAs who prodded me to stand up for our land. We, Lumads, made this stand ourselves. Those who said that only meant to destroy our group, since they know they can never destroy the tribes of Salugpungan. It is our united stand to defend our land that gave me courage to stand up to the enemy like this. Had we not shown bravery, we would have lost our lands long ago, and become mere peons, just like what happened to other tribes in many other areas.
DT: Supposed they succeed in getting Datu Guibang Apoga — can the Salugpungan still stand on its feet?
DG: Our people will continue the fight. They will continue to protect our land and to stand up for their rights. I’ve seen and heard how our young ones have spoken. My son had sworn to continue the fight, just in case the enemy takes me away. But it could also be anyone from among our young, to continue what we’ve started.
DT: As you said, Datu, you have always been in hiding since. We wonder how you are still able to perform your functions as leader of your tribe?
DG: There’s always a way to communicate with the people, to talk to them, help solve practical problems, settle disputes, make sure that our laws are observed and not violated, our unities implemented, and improve ways on how we could manage our livelihood and resources better. We always make sure to inculcate in our people the importance of our basic principles of standing up in defense of our land, and our aspiration for respect for rights as a people and our right to self-determination.
DT: What problems for instance, Datu?
DG: Settling disputes, especially something that pertains to our culture and traditions like pangayao.
DT: Why do you think they continue to listen to you?
DG: People respect a leader who truly serves his people, someone who stands up to defend his land. There are those who pose as datus but they sell out their lands. They are not true leaders.
DT: So at present, Datu, what do you think is the most difficult problem faced by your tribe?
DG: Pangayao between communities is no longer a very difficult problem to solve. I see, as a difficult problem, the widespread poverty of our people and the entry of businesses who want to exploit our land for their own gains.
DT: Why do you think are these problems difficult to solve?
DG: It was IFMA that brought trouble to our tribe.
When IFMA came here, Alsons wanted our mountains to be turned into plantations of various types of trees. They looked down on us, as if we were deers and monkeys. We set boundaries so they would not intrude into our lands. It took us two years, trying to talk to them. They did not listen to us. They continued with their project, leaving us with no choice but to fight. We used what were available to us — arrows, spears and wooden traps — to defend our land. We declared pangayao against them. When they continued intruding into our boundaries, we fought Alsons men with what we had in our hands.
DT: We learned that it was the reason why they carried out the warrant.
DG: That’s right.
DT: Did these attempts to seize lands from you stop?
DG: It stopped for a while. But there were military operations afterwards, which displaced and harassed our tribe members.
DT: Is it still happening ?
DG: Yes, up to now.
DT: What do you think was the purpose?
DG: We think those operations were meant to pave the way for the entry of those projects because we notice that every time they leave, another band of military men would follow and another set of projects would come.
DT: What are these projects?
DG: What I have seen are the so-called CBFM (Community Based Forest Management), plantation projects of tree varieties such as falcatta, palm oil and also bananas. And now, another problem brought by the coming of the hydropower project.
DT: Were you consulted about this?
DG: No. They (the NCIP and other project proponents) met with other datus and dragged some of my tribesmen to their assembly for the approval of the hydropower plant. But the key officials of Salugpungan were never informed.
DT: Did the hydro project push through?
DG: It didn’t push through because of the petitions opposing it.
DT: After the hydropower project, what happened next?
DG: The troops came! There were military operations in Tibukag, Milyong up to Nasilaban.
All we want is peace in our land. Instead, they give us projects without our consent. We have decided to withdraw our CADT. CADT does not give us back our lands. It doesn’t recognize our right to self-determination. Instead, it makes it easier for them to grab our lands. I am making a call to all Lumads who have been deceived by this scheme. We don’t own our land just because the NCIP give us a piece of document. We, the people who work and live on this land for hundreds of years, are the real and living proofs that this land is our land.
DT: What will you do if they insist on those projects?
DG: We have no choice but to fight. If they would insist in taking the land away from us, then we must fight. As long as we still have our spears and arrows, we will continue to protect our land. Davao Today /(

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