On Monday, Dec. 3, Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr. publicly tagged Bayan Muna former representative Satur Ocampo and ACT Teachers’ Partylist Rep. France Castro an “active members of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).”
In a news report, Galvez claimed that Ocampo and Castro, who were recently released from detention in Talaingod, Davao del Sur, are recruiting NPA members in Lumad schools, which the military alleged as breeding grounds for the NPA.
If we will look back, under the administration of President Benigno Aquino III, this was the same accusation used against the Lumad schools and those in solidarity with the Lumad’s struggle for ancestral land and right to self-determination. It is also under Aquino that the attacks against Lumad schools intensified due to the heavy deployment of soldiers in Mindanao.
But why the attacks on Lumad schools?
In these Lumad communities lie the rich natural resources of Mindanao. One is the Pantaron Mountain Range, the last remaining forest in Mindanao, which is home to the Talaingod Manobos. According to Kalikasan Philippine Network for the Environment (KPNE) who visited the community in 2014, this forest serves as the indigenous people’s livelihood and natural pharmacy. Hardwood species are also found this forest including lamotan, red lawaan, iron wood, and kamagong, among others. In this area also lies the 1.8 million hectares of virgin forest that supply water to major rivers of Mindanao.
Datu Guibang Apoga, the chieftain of the Talaingod Manobo tribe, has protected their ancestral land from the encroachment of a logging company. They even launched pangayao (tribal war) to defend their ancestral land.
In 1994, they formed the Salugpongan Ta’Tanu Igkanugon (Unity in Defense of Ancestral Land) that stood up against the Alcantara and Sons’ (Alsons), a manufacturer of plywood and other wood products in the Philippines. In 2003, the Salugpongan sought the assistance of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines and indigenous peoples’ advocates to set up a school that is now called as the Salugpongan Ta’Tanu Igkanugon Community Learning Center Inc. (STTICLCI). It was accredited by the Department of Education (DepEd) as an alternative school since 2007.
The same story goes for the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (Alcadev) in Surigao del Sur, which was established in 2004. Borne out of the Lumad’s unity to defend their land and the desire for better life conditions, their schools were built with the help of the Tribal Filipino Program in Surigao del Sur (Trifpss).
Surigao del Sur was also highly militarized since it is where the Andap Valley Complex, a land corridor highly mineralized with coal, gold and copper, is located. At least eight communities are situated in the Andap Valley Complex including Lianga where the massacre of Alcadev administrator Emerito Samarca and two other leaders took place.
The Lumad in Surigao del Sur has consistently fought against the encroachment of their ancestral land. In the 1980s, they were able to kick the Benguet Mining Corporation out of their communities. This has led to the massive militarization of their communities resulting in human rights violations perpetrated by none other than the AFP.
Since 2008, the AFP has formed the Investment Defense Force (IDF) to “give a protective shield to power assets, other infrastructures and mineral development projects.” These IDF continue to sow terror to the Lumad communities up to the present administration.
According to Caraga Watch, five companies “have been raring to operate” in Andap Valley since 2015. These are Benguet Corp. of the Romualdez family, Abacus Coal Exploration and Development Corp., Chinese-owned Great Wall Mining and Power Corp., ASK Mining and Exploration Corp. and CoalB lack Mining Corp. Their entry to the Lumad communities was prevented by their refusal to sign the Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) agreement.
The government has identified 12 mineral districts in Mindanao for its international roadshow for investors. These included areas in Mindanao such as the North Central Mindanao, Zamboanga Peninsula, Southern Mindanao, and Samar-Eastern Mindanao. The said areas are rich in minerals such as gold, copper, iron, chromium, chromite, nickel, cobalt, platinum and manganese.
This explains why the military and paramilitary forces forcibly close Lumad schools — to pave the way the entry of the mining, logging and plantation companies.
But the Lumad will persist. As Datu Dulphing Ogan, spokesperson of Kalumaran said, the Lumad has never stopped fighting for their ancestral lands since Spaniards and American colonizers. And they will continue to do so just to preserve their home and their culture.