“In his speech delivered at the assembly, Datu Guibang Apoga spoke of his desire for the Lumad schools to continue to serve his people. Owing to his failing health and increasing age, he spoke of what he perceived as his inadequacies as the tribe’s tribal chieftain. Nowhere in his brief discourse did he speak of surrendering his conviction nor did he endorse the demise of his tribe and his people.”
By RAYMUND VILLANUEVA
The reported surrender of a legendary tribal leader last June 9 in Talaingod, Davao del Norte was an orchestrated gathering by the military that victimized the ailing and elderly chieftain, Lumad organizations and leaders said.
Lumad organizations Salupongan Ta ‘Tanu Igkanugon and PASAKA Confederation of Lumad Organizations in Southern Mindanao Region said Datu Guibang Apoga, who led the Manobo’s successful resistance against logging and mining operations at the Pantaron Mountain Range, did not surrender nor spoke of giving up their struggle to defend their ancestral land.
“In his speech delivered at the assembly, Datu Guibang Apoga spoke of his desire for the Lumad schools to continue to serve his people. Owing to his failing health and increasing age, he spoke of what he perceived as his inadequacies as the tribe’s tribal chieftain,” Salupongan said in a statement.
“Nowhere in his brief discourse did he speak of surrendering his conviction nor did he endorse the demise of his tribe and his people,” the group added.
The 10th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army (IDPA) said Apoga was a member of the New People’s Army (NPA) who has defected to the military by turning over his M16 rifle to Brigadier General Ernesto C Torres Jr AFP, Commander of the 1003rd Brigade during the ceremony.
Five hundred Lumads witnessed the event, the military said.
“After more than two decades of being ‘out’ and having been legendary among his circle for his political efforts in supporting the NPA, Datu Gibang is now back to Nasilaban. His surrender would definitely hasten the clearing of areas in and around Talaingod from CPP (Communist Party of the Philippines) and NPA influence,” the 10th IDPA added.
Pasaka chairperson Kerlan Fanagel, however, said Apoga was lured into attending an assembly of about 150 Lumad only, orchestrated by the paramilitary group Alamara and the military.
Fanagel said Apoga was “hostaged and pressured” by the overwhelming presence of the military.
“In his brief speech, Datu Guibang never said mining operations may already be allowed on Pantaron and their Lumad schools should already be closed,” Fanagel told Kodao, quoting Salupongan council officers and members present at the event.
Fanagel said Rural Missionaries of the Philippines paramedics tried to approach Apoga to give him a physical check up but the octogenarian chieftain was constantly surrounded by the military.
Fanagel added that based on the chieftain’s medical history, they suspect Apoga to be suffering from a kidney ailment.
Apoga and other Manobo chieftains in Talaingod launched a pangayaw (a tribal war) in 1993 to prevent logging operations by the Alcantara & Sons (Alsons) corporation.
Apoga and the other datu (chieftain) formed the Salupongan ‘Ta Igkanugon (Unity for the Defense of Ancestral Land) fought off Alsons’s private army and the military with native weapons and old rifles and won.
The government, however, ordered the arrest of Apoga and 25 other datus and have since been hunted by the military, until June 9.
Salupongan said the government has failed to sway its members by deceiving Apoga into attending a tribal assembly that turned into a fake surrender ceremony.
“[The government] has grown desperate in quelling our ranks in the last few months, first by pouring an overwhelming number of state forces in our lands by three Army battalions, second by campaigning for the closure of community schools and harassing community teachers, students and parents, and third by finagling Datu Guibang as a surrendered leader,” Salupongan said.
Apoga’s fellow Talaingod chieftain, Bai Bibiyaon Ligkayan Bigkay said the military and the paramilitary Alamara used Apoga’s frail health and advanced age into “pressuring” him to a “staged surrender ceremony.”
In a statement, Bibiyaon rallied the Manobo people to remain unfaltering in defending the Pantaron Range, reminding them of their decades of resistance against military operations from Alsa Lumad and Alamara since the 1990s.
“Many more leaders from among our people who continue to suffer from hunger, government neglect and military abuses will rise to continue Salugpongan’s legacy of resistance. Hence, to all the Manobo and lumad people, our resolve must remain unfaltering like the Pantaron on which generations of our people have lived and depended on for generations,” Bibiyaon said.