By LOI MANALANSAN
DAVAO DEL NORTE — The anticipation was high as we prepared ourselves for an international solidarity mission last July 17 to the community of Sitio Dulyan, in the town of Talaingod in Davao del Norte province. On this humble village stands the first Learning Center of the Salupongan Ta Tanu Igkanugon people’s organization, an indigenous Lumad school made for and by the Lumad themselves.
It took us a three-hour bus travel from Davao City to get to the gym of Sto. Niño village, Talaingod, where we held the final preparations and briefing before taking off into the mountains on habal-habal (skylab motorcycle) rides. This part of Talaingod’s highlands is a shock of rolling grasslands, but we were told that back then, it was a lush tropical forest from which the Lumad got their subsistence and cultural identity.
The mountains of Talaingod have suffered dearly from the large-scale logging operations of extractive corporation Alcantara and Sons. Since the 90s, it inflicted massive denudation of the forests, adversely affecting the lives and livelihood of the Lumad.
Bearing multiple passengers plus our heavy baggage, our motorcycles traversed the rugged pathways to Dulyan. Debris from past landslides further marred the way. After some grueling and painful hours of travel, we heaved a collective sigh of relief when we saw Lumad women and children welcoming us with their big beautiful smiles.
Paradise under siege
It’s hard not to fall in love with the astounding sunrise view and the picturesque, verdant layers of the mountain range. But this spitting image of paradise belies the underlying challenges confronted by the community of the Ata Manobo Lumad in Dulyan.
In far-flung areas such as Dulyan, the national government has long failed to provide basic social services to the people. Education, healthcare, and public utilities are still inaccessible for the majority of Filipinos, especially in most rural communities where socio-economic inequity and injustice are apparent and unimaginable.
State abandonment is very visible in every inch of Dulyan’s unpaved roads and battered classrooms and houses. The only state intervention that the community receives is the constant siege of fascist attacks by military and paramilitary groups. Under the banner of counter-insurgency, state forces have been targeting communities like Dulyan that resist land monopolies and destructive ‘development’ projects.
Water has been a serious concern of Dulyan for decades. Families live without access to an adequate water supply. Although there is an abundance of freshwater sources in the mountains, getting to the upland springs is a treacherous journey. As in any remote community in the mountains, one has to brave all types of terrain just to get some water enough for only two small-sized containers. A local can get to the water source after walking 30 minutes or an hour. Children, at the age of 6, have to help their parents in fetching water primarily for their everyday supply of drinking water. It has been a routine for most children in Sitio Dulyan, if there are no other tasks assigned to them.
Without water, sanitation and hygiene have become pressing problems especially for women and children. There was a time when grade school students were only able to take a bath once a month when the already far-flung water sources were scarce. They also do not have the opportunity to regularly do laundry and change clothes.
A failure of governance
In 2013, the government attempted to set up a water system in Dulyan. At first, the thought of a consistent and reliable water source raised hopes for the Ata Manobo. Imagine, not needing to walk miles everyday just to fetch water!
The water system didn’t last for long, however. Military personnel regularly passing by the community cut the water lines to drink directly from the hose. The soldiers didn’t bother to reconnect the lines each and every time, disrupting the water supply to the residents.
Community leaders raised this issue to the village and municipal officials. They received positive promises of action. To date, not one of the local government units have come to Sitio Dulyan to fix the water system and put to task the careless military troops.
Water for life
No one will help the people but the people themselves. The Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment and the Salupongan International worked with the people’s organizations in Dulyan to launch a water system project in their community last June 2016.
The project was made possible through the support and assistance of the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON) based in San Francisco, United States. It aims to provide freshwater services to the residents by setting up a communal water tank directly fed by water from natural springs in the mountains.
The community, led by Salupongan Ta Tanu Igkanugon, built the water system by themselves. They looked for available materials in the mountains for constructing their water system. The elders and the children helped to transport additional construction materials such as water hoses and cement from Sto. Nino.
The installed water system now serves more than 400 people in the 70 to 80 households across Sitio Dulyan.
Winnie, a grade school student at the Salupongan Learning Center, does not need to worry anymore about where to get water for their agricultural crops. All students in Salupongan are taught to participate in sustainable agricultural production as an integral part of their lumad school curriculum. With the communal water source, they can now water their crops regularly and ensure that it will give them good harvest.
Teacher Cha, the school’s OIC, is very happy to see that there is now a water system in their community and school. They do not need to wake up early every morning for the painstaking journey to the upland springs. Teachers and students can follow now the standard class hours without being delayed by water duty. A pleasant change, Cha observed, is that students now come to class fresh and washed.
Continue the struggle
The communal water system has made positive impacts especially to the Lumad women and children of Dulyan. That they were able to set up their own water system after long years of deprivation reflects the Ata Manobo’s aspirations for genuine change in their community.
They are determined to protect and defend the water system. It is a welcome addition to the community they continue to build from the ground up, a slice of the genuine development they are carving out of the yutang kabilin (ancestral land) that they have long been fighting for.
The defense of land, water, life, livelihood and people’s rights — this is the struggle of the Lumad of Dulyan. This is what we helped to build. Carry on the struggle!
LOI MANALANSAN is the program manager and reclamation campaigner of the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment. He is also a contributing photojournalist of Bulatlat.