By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – The streets of Metro Manila turned the vibrant ethnic colors of red, black and green, and echoed with the sound of ganzas and gongs, as indigenous peoples and Moros marched to Mendiola today Oct.13, in a historic show of unity in their fight for the right to self-determination and their ancestral lands.
Led by Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamamayang Pilipino (Katribu) and Suara Bangsamoro, the Lakbayan ng Pambansang Minorya, which began Oct. 8, arrived in two contingents from the north and south of the National Capital Region, and converged to stage a torch parade from Morayta avenue to the foot of Mendiola Bridge.
The groups expressed support for President Duterte’s push for an independent foreign policy, but decried the continuing implementation of the Aquino administration’s counterinsurgency program Oplan Bayanihan, to which they attribute the continuing attacks on communities of indigenous peoples and Moros.
“This is a historic event for all of us, to see all marginalized and minoritized tribes gather in Manila…to call attention on the continuing human rights violations due to the military’s presence in communities,” said Kerlan Fanagel, chairman of Pasaka Confederation of Lumad Organizations.
The singular call to defend ancestral land, life and the national patrimony reverberated in slogans chanted in Filipino, Cebuano and Ilocano, showing the unity in struggle of different ethnolinguistic tribes.
“You are proof that the national democratic struggle will succeed because you have persisted and prevailed amid the hundreds of years of oppression,” Sham Astudillo of Kabataan Partylist addressed the Lakbayan delegates. “We speak different languages, but on this day, we are united by the language of struggle.”
In Mendiola, the different indigenous and Moro tribes performed a unity dance, weaving together colored bands tied to a 15-foot pole.
Continuing attacks under Oplan Bayanihan
Just this week, two leaders were killed in Compostela Valley province: Jimmy Saypan, 48, a Mansaka and secretary general of Compostela Famers’ Association, and Anoy Pasaporte, 28, a member of Panalipdan youth.
Amid the festive atmosphere, Fanagel asked the crowd to raise their fists in a minute of silence for Saypan, who even saw the Lakbayan off last weekend. Minutes later in the program, it was announced that even as they marched to Mendiola, at 5:20 p.m. today, Pasaporte was shot dead by suspected soldiers in Mabini, Compostela Valley.
“As long as the problems remain — Oplan Bayanihan, militarization, continued landgrabbing and plunder of ancestral lands, encroachment by big, foreign corporations — the right to self-determination continues to be trampled on,” Fanagel said.
Fanagel denounced the attacks as violation of the unilateral ceasefire agreement declared by government.
Loss of ancestral lands
Among the 3,000-strong Lakbayanis were some 100 Moros, from the tribes of Maguindanao, Maranaw, Tausug, Iranon, Kagan, Sama, and Sangir.
Meriam Cabuntalan, a farmer and member of Suara Bangsamoro from General Santos City, lamented that Moros and indigenous peoples alike are discriminated in availing of social services, such as the conditional cash transfer. Many of her relatives also fall victim to landgrabbing, losing their land to new owners without their knowing.
She said Moro victims of state repression are also denied indemnification, such as her father-in-law Jose Nait, one of those killed in the gruesome Palimbang massacre during martial law.
Lito dela Cruz, an Ayta and member of the Central Luzon Ayta Association (CLAA) from Capas, Tarlac, said the livelihood of indigenous farmers like him were affected, as they were kept out of their farms by soldiers in the military reservation that covers their community. “That military reservation is actually on our ancestral lands,” he said.
The indigenous tribes that joined the Lakbayan were: the Cordilleran tribes of Kankanaey, Ibaloi, Bontoc, Isneg, Kalinga, Ifugao, Tinggian,Iyapayao, Bugkalot, Aggay, Malaweg and Bago; Mangyan. Dumagat,Pala’wan of Southern Luzon; Aytas and Dumagat of Central Luzon; and the Lumads of Mindanao, from the tribes of Bagobo, Manobo, Higaonon, Blaan, Manobo-Dulagan, Talaindig, Subanen, Mandaya, Mansaka, Mamanwa, Tiboli and Tagakaolo-Bagobo.
The people’s caravan have set up a Kampuhan (people’s camp) in the University of the Philippines Diliman in Quezon City, which will be opened to Metromanilans for socio-political discussions, workshops and cultural solidarity nights.