“We bring home victory: the support of a broad range of people to the people’s resistance in Mindanao, which is also the Filipino people’s struggle.”
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – The Manilakbayan ng Mindanao, heads back down south of the archipelago today, Nov. 22.
The 700-strong protest caravan has wrapped up their journey this year, in which they travelled 1,000 kilometers through the Visayas, Bicol, and Southern Tagalog, all the way to Metro Manila. They had marched hundreds of kilometers, staged dozens of protests, and had some skirmishes with police.
President Aquino continued to ignore the Manilakbayan, but that matters little now, as they have received the attention and overwhelming support, from schools, students, athletes, netizens, the Catholic Church and other church denominations, NGOs, showbiz personalities, Aldub fans, and even local government councils. And these are enough to declare that the journey was worth taking.
“We bring home victory: the support of a broad range of people to the people’s resistance in Mindanao, which is also the Filipino people’s struggle,” said Kerlan Fanagel, chairperson of Pasaka day Salugpungan Kalimudan (Pasaka – Regional Federation of Lumád in Southern Mindanao Region) and third nominee of the Sulong Katribu partylist.
Their calls — “Stop Lumád killings, Save our schools, Pull out military from the communities, Disband paramilitary groups” – had reverberated and were echoed in many unexpected quarters in the National Capital Region, and abroad.
“Malacañang did not respond, but we can see that they are affected, by the broad and huge support that Manilakbayan received,” Fanagel said.
“If they were not affected, they would not put up the ‘overkill’ police blockade here at Baclaran,” Fanagel said, referring to the 1,300 police men and trainees who had guarded the Lumád camp for days before, during and after the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference (Apec) summit.
The Lumád presence in Manila was indeed, hard to ignore. They set up a Kampuhang Bayan (people’s camp) at the University of the Philippines in Diliman Quezon City, then at the Liwasang Bonifacio in Manila, and lastly at the Baclaran Church grounds in Parañaque City. Each camp became a political and cultural center where tens of thousands of youths, activists, concerned citizens and just the generally curious, gravitated.
They tirelessly staged protests, almost on a daily basis, on several occasions, even three times in a day. Corporate media had to take notice, which prompted Presidential Spokesperson Herminio Coloma to issue a statement that government is doing what it can to address the issue of Lumád killings.
But this year’s Manilakbayan victories were preceded by the Sept. 1 killing of the Lianga martyrs, tribal school executive director Emerito Samarca, Manobo leaders Dionel Campos and Datu Juvello Sinzo. The ensuing outrage set off the Mindanao protest caravan on a heightened fervour with a call for justice.
After a whole month of campaign, the arrest warrant for the perpetrators – Magahat-Bagani paramilitary men – remain unserved, in spite of reports that they are seen in the company of soldiers in Surigao del Sur.
Worse, at least two Lumád were killed in paramilitary attacks in Bukidnon and Davao del Norte, one tribal school was shut down by a village official, and another razed to the ground by suspected soldiers in Agusan del Sur.
Thousands remain in evacuation centers, as soldiers and paramilitary men remain in the communities, as do the threats of trumped-up charges against Lumád leaders and other activists.
One of them, Datu Juanito Binaton of White Culaman village, Kitaotao, Bukidnon, learned while at the Manilakbayan, that 64 residents of his village were slapped with criminal charges, including him and his daughter, Marissa Ejanel, and a number of the Manilakbayan delegates.
If the soldiers are still in their community, Binaton said, he fears that they will be arrested or abducted.
Such threats, at present, pale in comparison to the support that “cheers, inspires and strengthens” the Lumád, like Binaton, who will be coming back, not to their communities, but to the evacuation centers.
“We are happy that we see so many people support us…among the media, church, students, and even local government units,” said Binaton. He is optimistic that soldiers will leave so he can again see his village, and see that their school reopen.
This year’s Manilakbayan was also visited by global activists who were delegates to the assembly of the International League of Peoples’ Struggles (ILPS). This exposed the Lumád activists to the fact that the fight to protect indigenous ancestral lands and the environment is being waged all over the world.
“Even other nations supported Manilakbayan, Mexico, India, even the US, where there are also indigenous peoples…all these encourage us, raise our spirits,” Binaton said.
Fanagel said they expect worsening attacks on activists, leaders and communities in Mindanao, specially after the Apec summit, when mining and agribusiness corporations will be more aggressive.
“Things will worsen, which calls for even more strengthening and broadening of the struggle and support to the people in Mindanao,” Fanagel said. But it will be harder for government to continue playing deaf, as more and more people in the capital will echo their calls.