By MARYA SALAMAT
DAVAO CITY — Hundreds of tribal chieftains and bais from six regions in Mindanao gathered here for the first time in a five-day conference from April 21 to 25 to discuss various issues concerning the plight of the indigenous peoples in different areas of the island. The conference dubbed as Dumalongdong Mindanaw aims to take stock of their issues and find out the similarity and prevalence of the said issues, and to strengthen the unity of the indigenous peoples all over Mindanao.
Kalumaran or Kusog sa Katawhang Lumad sa Mindanao (Kalumaran-Mindanao), the largest organisation of indigenous peoples in the whole island, hosted the historic event.
Among the issues raised on the ancestral domain of the indigenous peoples is the intrusion of big foreign companies into their lands as these companies expand plantations, logging and mining operations and hydropower plants.
Dulphing Ogan, Kalumaran secretary general, said, “These projects have been driving us away from our ancestral lands, destroying our environment and exacting huge profits for the investors while leaving most of us impoverished and landless.”
He also said the mentioned projects should not have been priority programs of the government, which should instead be implementing genuine land reform. This, he explained, involves distribution of lands, increasing agricultural outputs and addressing issues about land-use in favor of the tillers of the land.
Ogan particularly warned against the pursuit of these projects, questioning why the government is still hell-bent in pushing these “environmentally-destructive projects and ventures when disasters ravaged our communities.”
“The Aquino government just shows itself as anti-indigenous people and destroyer of the environment,” Ogan said.
Kerlan Fanagel, secretary general of Pasaka (Confederation of Lumad Organizations in Southern Mindanao), cited cases of human rights abuses committed against indigenous people in Mindanao. These, he said, include military encampment in lumad schools, trumped-up charges against lumads, threats, harassments and intimidations and extra-judicial killings, among others.
All the groups present at the Dumalongdong Mindanaw also expressed the need for the immediate resumption of peace talks between the Government of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.