“We refuse to give up the struggle, and they try to kill us. We give up, they will still kill us. So, it’s better to carry on the struggle.” – Datu Guibang Apoga of Talaingod, Davao del Norte
by DEE AYROSO
MANILA – “If we do not fight and the dams push through, we die anyway. If we fight, we die honourably. Thus I exhort you all, kayaw (struggle)!”
These words still ring true, spoken 34 years ago by Macliing Dulag, Kalinga chieftain, and one of the leaders of the Cordilleran resistance against the Chico dam during the Martial Law era.
From the north to the south of the country, various indigenous peoples groups echo the same words of struggle against development aggression, in the observance of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples today, Aug. 9.
One such statement came from Datu Guibang Apoga, Manobo chieftain of Talingod, Davao del Norte in Mindanao.
“We refuse to give up the struggle, and they try to kill us; we give up, and they will still kill us. So, it’s better to carry on the struggle,” he said in a recent statement. A transcription of an audio recording of Apoga’s statement was acquired by Bulatlat.com. The transcription was translated from Manobo to Cebuano.
Apoga had been wanted by the government since 1997, after he and other Lumad leaders declared a pangayaw (tribal war) against the Alcantara and Sons logging company in Pantaron range. Occasionally, he appears to media, such as in an interview in 2007 by Davao-based media, and in 2014 when 1,500 Manobos evacuated Talaingod. Apoga remains in hiding.
The Manobos of Talaingod continue to be subjected to intense military operations, which they say are meant to pave the way for the return of logging and entry of mining companies in their ancestral lands. They are among the 700 Lumad evacuees who had sought sanctuary at the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) Haran house in Davao City to escape military encampment in their communities.
The Lumad chief decried the encroachment of projects for plantation, mining and hydroelectric plant in Pantaron.”If we let them take away our ancestral lands, where will the next generation live?” Apoga said.
“We have not committed any crime, yet they always trouble us,” Apoga said, referring to how the Philippine Army’s 60th and 68th infantry battalions have “spread terror in the communities,” and organized the paramilitary group Alamara. “They pit us against each other to get our lands,” he said.
“In reality, they want us all eradicated and thrown out of our ancestral lands. The objective of military presence in our communities is to implement mining in Pantaron, and other projects,” said Apoga.
Apoga, one of the founders of the Salugpungan Ta’Tanu Igkanugon which united 83 Manobo tribes of Talaingod, said they had “dark days” before they organized themselves. But as a group, they were able to ask help from NGOs, to build a school and develop their livelihood. In contrast, “the crow has turned white,” but they never received aid from government, he said. Now, the military wants to “destroy the school” and the gains by the group, said Apoga.
Apoga appealed to the public to join the call for the pull-out of soldiers in the communities.
“We are not able to do anything because of the soldiers’ presence,” he said. Soldiers have restricted farm work to one and-a-half hours, and falsely accused villagers of being New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas.
“They can see that we only have scythes. But why do they look at us as NPA fighters? These soldiers are soldiers of a government that exploits and oppresses,” he said.
To his fellow Lumads, Apoga encouraged them to stay united and to prevail over adversity.
“Be strong. Let us not think of the hardship, let us focus on our lands which are being grabbed by the capitalists, the government and the military. No matter the hardship, we can continue the struggle. Our poverty will worsen if we lose our land and be divided,” he said.
Aquino is accountable
In Mindanao, up to 40,000 individuals have been driven off their homes both by militarization and the entry companies, said a Lumad group.
“Aquino’s ‘daang matuwid (righteous path) is a sham,” said Dulphing Ogan, Kusog sa Katawhang Lumad sa Mindanao (Kalumaran) secretary general.
“Corporate encroachment has turned many indigenous peoples into modern slaves in their own lands working as plantation and mine workers,” he said. Those who resist became targets of “brutal attacks” under the counterinsurgency program Oplan Bayanihan.
“Aquino’s true intention is to relegate the Lumad to the lowest level of society and eventually eradicate them so that imperialist countries like the US could freely exploit their ancestral lands,” Ogan said. He said government even fear that Lumad children will become “more capable of asserting their rights and resisting the onslaught of imperialist plunder,” which he said was the reason for the attacks on Lumad schools.
“We hold the US-Aquino regime fully accountable for all the crimes and injustices it has inflicted upon the indigenous peoples,” Ogan said.
No option but to struggle
Apoga’s words resonate in the Cordillera region, as Abigail Anongos, secretary general of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance, said that the indigenous peoples “have no recourse but to struggle.”
“From Tinoc, Ifugao, to Pasil and Tanudan in Kalinga to Mankayan and Kapangan in Benguet, to Lacub in Abra, to Mountain Province and Apayao, communities are asserting their right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) in the face of the collusion of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) with some local government units and officials, energy and mining giants,” Anongos said.
She cited the extrajudicial killing of human rights worker William Bugatti in Ifugao, the massacre of the Ligiw family in Abra, and violations of the international humanitarian law with the torture and killing of NPA fighters in Lacub, Abra. These are just a few of the 262 extrajudicial victims in five years under the Aquino administration, 61 of whom were indigenous peoples.
“These are crimes, not only against indigenous peoples, but against humanity,” said Anongos.
Anongos said that as in the time of Macliing Dulag, mining and power projects continue to encroach in the ancestral lands of Cordillerans, led by companies such as Hedcor, SN Aboitiz, Quadriver, Sta. Clara, Chevron, Gold Fields, and Golden Lake Mineral Resources.
“Until our right to self-determination is recognized, and genuine regional autonomy is in place under a truly sovereign Philippines, the only recourse for indigenous peoples is to press onward with the struggle.”