Mindanaoans bring their protest, as well as their culture and tradition, to Mendiola.
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA — Some 600 marchers, many of them travelled all the way from Mindanao, protested Nov. 24 at the foot of Mendiola bridge, calling for President Aquino’s ouster. They said he had failed to stop the militarization, human rights violations and destruction of the environment in the island.
From the different regions of Mindanao came 300 of the protesters, who had travelled since Nov. 13 in a campaign called the Manilakbayan ng Mindanao 2014. They were called the “Lakbayanis,” coined from the two Filipino words “lakbay” (travel) and “bayani” (hero).
“After a long journey from our home in Mindanao, we finally arrive here, at the foot of the seat of power of the “busaw” president and his “busaw” soldiers and their US masters,” said Hanimay Suazo, secretary general of Karapatan-Southern Mindanao Region. “Busaw” is Cebuano for “monster.”
The Mindanaoans are calling for a pull-out of military troops in schools and communities, a stop to other human rights violations against progressive groups and their leaders, and the destructive mining by foreign companies. The protesters are also against the presence of US troops in the country, and the defense agreements which allow this.
“Walay hustisya, walay kalinaw (No justice, no peace),” said Suazo. “The people of Mindanao, with the people of Luzon and Visayas, are united in ousting Aquino and defeating Oplan Bayanihan,” she said.
The Mindanao protesters, who were mostly Lumads, are not only trying to make people aware of the problems they face, they also bring with them their indigenous rituals and traditions which foster community spirit and unity against a common problem. A rhythmic beating of the ganza signalled their arrival along Recto Avenue as the Lumads marched in in their scarlet traditional wear, while the others had “tubaos” on their heads.
At the corner of Morayta and Recto avenues, the protesters from Mindanao were welcomed and joined by some 300 members of progressive groups from Metro Manila, among them lawmakers of the Makabayan coalition, peasant, women, human rights and youth groups.
Earlier in the morning, the Lakbayanis who spent overnight at the Redemptorist Church in Baclaran along with activists from the Southern Tagalog region, first held a protest in front of the US embassy along Roxas boulevard, where the Lumad leaders took turns spitting chewed betel nut on a US flag.
There was a brief clash with anti-riot police, where Joseph Alicabo of Pamantik was hit in the head with a truncheon by a police. He was treated at a nearby hospital and has rejoined the marchers.
The protesters had set up a “kanlungan” or a sanctuary at the Mendiola peace arc where they will stay until a big protest on Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day.
As soon as the marchers reached the foot of Mendiola, the “datus” or chieftains held an all-tribes ritual, where they greeted the good spirits in the place, as well as gave thanks for their safe journey, by presenting courtesy gifts of cloths, betel nut and leaves.
Guaynon said almost all 18 Lumad tribes of Mindanao were represented in the Manilakbayan, including the Manobo, Banwaon, Higaonon, Matigsalog, Bagobo, Ata Manobo, Mamanwa, Tigwahonon, Subanon, Blaan, among others.
During the program, the tribal chiefs also slaughtered a native pig and a white chicken, as a gift to the good spirits, with a fervent prayer that would-be victims of extrajudicial killings and human rights abuses would be saved.
“We call on the good spirits of the trees, of the water around to save many lives, by taking the life of this pig,” explained Dulphing Ogan, secretary general of the Kusog sa Katawhang Lumad sa Mindanao (Kalumaran).
The offering also served a condemnation of the Aquino government, whose counterinsurgency plan Oplan Bayanihan continues to militarize communities, and protect big foreign extractive companies, Kalumbay leader Datu Jomorito Guaynon said.
One of the Lumad leaders went around the crowd with a white chicken feather dipped in blood, offering to smear people’s palms with blood, by way of “pamaas,” a symbolic solidarity with the tribes. People held out their palms in response.
“This means that we are united, and wherever we go, we will not be hindered,” said the Lumad leader.
At the end of the program, the protesters attached “kodaw” with red ribbons on the concertina wires in front of the Mendiola arc, by way of serving a notice to Pres. Aquino to answer their demands. The kodaw is a strip of rattan, which is the indigenous people’s way of sending messages. The number of knots on the kodaw represents the number of days before the sender will come. A red cloth means that the sender demands an answer from the receiver.
The protesters had kodaws with five knots, which means that the protesters give Aquino five days to respond.
“If he doesn’t answer, that means that he doesn’t want to talk to us, and he is not for the Lumad, not for the people,” said Goaynon.
On Nov. 23, the Council for Health Development (CHD) recorded treating 100 Lakbayanis at the medical check-up they held at the Redemptorist church in Baclaran where the Manilakbayan and Southern Tagalog marchers rested for the night.
Among those treated, five underwent minor surgery due to foot infection. Some patients complained of stomach pains caused by hyperacidity, given their long hours of walking, and not eating on time. Many suffered from muscular pains.