DAVAO CITY – A tribal leader is worried over the pronouncement by a congresswoman that she will file a bill to recognize and regulate the bagani, an indigenous defense system in the country.
“A bagani keeps peace and leads the people in defending the ancestral land. Baganis are also usually the datus (tribal leaders). They are not the paramilitary troops who are out to kill us, drive us away from our homes and facilitate the entry of outsiders,” said Datu Benito Bay-ao of the Manobos of Talaingod, Davao del Norte.
Bay-ao refers to the statement by North Cotabato Rep. Nancy Catamco, who posted in her Facebook account that “recognition should come explicitly by law, such as the law that regulates the services of private security agencies or the SCAA (Special Cafgu Active Auxiliary) as an auxiliary force to the Cafgu (Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit).”
The SCAA and Cafgu are paramilitary units or “force multipliers” under the command of the Philippine Army.
Bay-ao said that while their traditional bagani is for defense, the ones created by the Army, such as the group called Alamara “have been enticed with money and guns by the Army to hunt NPAs (New People’s Army).”
“This group together with the Army force us to join them or else we get branded as NPA supporters and get their ire. That is not what our bagani is all about,” he said.
Bay-ao said when an outsider like that of a logging company insisted to go deeper into their forests in the 1990s, their bagani Datu Guibang Apoga, called and consulted other datus to decide on their defense.
“Will the Alamara defend us if foreign loggers and miners pillage our ancestral land? Or will they be part of the clearing operations against us?” he said.
Bay-ao said, “Knowing Catamco, this is just a scheme to divide us, to use our traditional ways to make us fight against each other.”
“When she pushed us to go home even if we are not safe in our communities, she did not even recognize us as traditional Datus,” he said.
In a Facebook post, Catamco said the “indigenous community defense systems that have been in existence through all the years of collective and community life and history of these peoples is still practiced by many of our indigenous communities until today, except only for a few.”
Catamco said the IP “defense systems are living tradition amongst these peoples for the preservation and protection of their communities, their land and territory and all that is left of their cultural possession as peoples.”
She said these “defense systems” are still “less understood despite the clamor of many of these communities that it be categorically recognized in law as they believe is already recognized by IPRA (Indigenous People’s Rights Acts).”
Catamco said the IP defense systems “may be authorized by the appropriate government agency to exercise powers to prevent, apprehend and prosecute all persons violating environmental and natural resources laws within ancestral domains in accordance with Chapter XI, Section 72 of the IPRA.”
“On the other hand, I am equally aware of the many pitfalls that may lie ahead for the recognition of this right, and perhaps is the main reason why policy makers tend to have ignored its existence and the clamor for its recognition,” said Catamco.
However, she said ancestral domain(s) are “private and community property of the IPs concerned.”
Early September, forces from alleged indigenous paramilitary groups Magahat and Bagani killed a Lumad school administrator and two leaders in Diatagon village, Lianga in Surigo del Sur province.
Surigao del Sur Governor Johnny Pimentel said the tribal militias are “a monster created by the military.”
The Manobos in Diatagon have also left their villages in 2012 and in 2014.
In 2014, they signed an agreement with the local government that they will return home if their safety will be guaranteed from threats by the Bagani and Magahat, among other conditions.