By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – The first and biggest alliance of national minorities in the country called to end the “fascist attacks” against their ranks and President Duterte’s martial law in Mindanao, as they held their assembly today, Sept. 4.
Some 2,600 delegates of indigenous peoples and Moros from all over the country gathered for the second year for the assembly of the Movement of Moro and Indigenous Peoples for Self-Determination, or Sandugo, the historic alliance formed last year after a series of protest caravans and unified campaigns by national minorities since 2012.
In contrast to last year’s “positive political climate,” the protest caravan dubbed Lakbayan ng Pambansang Minorya or Lakbayan, journeyed this year under the shadow of Duterte’s martial law in Mindanao, continued attacks and killings of indigenous peoples, military operations in Marawi City, and the worsening condition of its displaced residents.
Shouts of “Takbir!” (Allah is greatest) from the Moro delegates alternated with calls to “Defend ancestral lands,” expressed in varying versions and languages of different indigenous groups.
Although the body was smaller than the 3,500-strong first assembly in 2016, there was a bigger Moro contingent –187 — highlighted by the presence of Maranao evacuees from Marawi, who are members of the newly-formed Tindeg Ranao.
Datu Jerome Succor Aba, Sandugo co-chairperson, reported the formation of a new group called Bugras in Negros Oriental, as well as new Sandugo chapters in Mindanao. This underscores the growing cooperation among Lumad and Moro, especially in areas where they commonly face the intrusion of destructive, extractive projects.
Elderly datu and matanem — the male tribal chiefs were present, as well as the women leaders, the bai. But there were also many young leaders among Moros, Cordillerans, Dumagats, Aetas, Palaw’ans and Lumads. Also there were the Manobo and Blaan students from the “bakwet schools” being hosted by UP Diliman. The youngest “delegate” was a Dumagat baby, few months old, brought along by her mother, a young leader from Rizal province.
Sandugo gave tribute to 17 martyred indigenous and Moro leaders in the past year, some of whom were victims of extrajudicial killings, including Salugpungan student Alibando Tingkas and Manobo-Pulangihon and Tindoga secretary general Renato Anglao. Also among the martyrs was last year’s lakbayani, Talaingod-Manobo Datu Gombil Mansimuy-at who died of cholera.
The two-day assembly was held under overcast skies at the makeshift assembly area at the Equine Stud Farm of the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman in Quezon City, where the Lakbayan has set up its Kampuhan, or people’s camp. The area has been designated “sitio Sandugo.”
The assembly opened with the reading of the Qu’oran by a young Maguindanaoan ustadz. This was followed by a ritual by indigenous leaders, who made offerings of soil, water, tree, flame and a chicken, which symbolizes the national minorities link to nature, their unity and selflessness in the struggle for self-determination.
UP Diliman Chancellor Michael Tan, one of Sandugo’s advocate-convenors, called the Sandugo delegates “UP’s visiting professors,” who will be enlightening Metromanilan visitors about their situation, culture and struggles during their three-week stay.
Sandugo will be part of the big mobilization on Sept. 21, the commemoration of the 45th year of the Marcos Dictatorship’s Martial Law. The rally will also protest Duterte’s martial law in Mindanao.