Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Volume 3, Number 4              February 23 - March 1, 2003            Quezon City, Philippines

Join the Bulatlat.com mailing list!

Powered by groups.yahoo.com


Terror in Ancestral Lands

“Life on the run” aptly describes the situation of the Lumads, the collective name for the 18 indigenous ethno-linguistic groups in Mindanao. These tribes have found life more dangerous since the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) launched Oplan Alsa Lumad, the military operation that created the Lumad paramilitary group called Alamara and uses them to fight their own people.


Bai Likayan Bigkay, a woman chieftain of a Lumad community in Bukidnon, has been harassed by both the Alamara and the military. She is leading the fight in her village against the Alamara. Photo by Carlos H. Conde

The Pasaka Regional Lumad Confedation, which covers the ancestral domains in Southern Mindanao, described Oplan Alsa Lumad as “a vicious military scheme of unleashing indigenous vigilantes and fanatics for the government’s counter-insurgency.” It called Alamara a form of “indigenized” Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu).

During a ceremony held last Dec. 5 inside Camp Malagos, Philippine Army’s 73rd Infantry Battalion (IB) headquarters in Davao City, Alamara leaders “baptized” Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes with the title “Datu Kalasag” (shield) where he was given a shield, circa 1920, by Joel Unad, head of the military-created Supreme Tribal Council for Peace and Development. Early last year, Col. Eduardo del Rosario, who leads the battalion and the principal supporter, financier and logistics officer of the Alamara, had also been “baptized” as “Datu Limbotong” (defender).

According to Pasaka reports, this conferment of the title of “datu” is a bastardization of the Lumads’ culture, which the AFP has freely engaged in under its Oplan Alsa Lumad.

Alamara: Pawns in the counter-insurgency game

Alamara is a Lumad term that roughly translates as “extensive and massive tribal war.” According to Pasaka, the paramilitary group is a “brainchild” of Col. Felipe Berroya, former commanding officer of the 701st Brigade PA that allegedly formed it and directly arms, finances, trains, and controls it.

Oplan Alsa Lumad is a rehash of the Alsa Masa in the late 1980s and follows the divide-and-rule tactic. But its most dangerous element is the use of indigenous concepts and traditions to distort, erode, and disintegrate the very ethnicity of the Lumads. It further intensifies the phenomenon called ethnocide, the systematic decimation of indigenous cultures and peoples.

The Oplan aims to “organize an effective village defense system in order to provide the Lumads with a natural shield against New People’s Army (NPA) intrusion/atrocities and prevent them from being recruited by the NPA; neutralize and recover NPA mass bases and establish Barangay Intelligence Networks (BIN) in Lumad communities; provide the indigenous peoples (IPs) with livelihood assistance and opportunities; and unite all IPs in the area-of-responsibility to attain real empowerment.”

However, contrary to the objective of the Oplan, it only increased the cases of human rights violations committed by paramilitary men and soldiers.

The military link to the Alsa Lumad Movement is established in the February 2002 report of the Committees on Civil, Political and Human Rights, Peace and Order, and Indigenous Cultural Communities of the Davao City Sangguniang Panlungsod. The briefing manuscript of the Lihok Lumad Movement of the 701st Brigade verified it, “Our vision of having insurgency-free Davao by CY 2005 is highly probable. However, our success largely depends on the unit’s handling of the growing Lihok Lumad Movement…Alsa Masa in urban Davao in the 80’s, but today… Lihok Lumad in tribal communities.”  The link was further confirmed in the Davao City council public hearing where Col. del Rosario admitted that the Alamara is just another name for the Cafgu.

As a vigilante group, the Alamara patrols the hinterlands with sharp bolos (machete) and M14, M16, and other high-caliber rifles from the Army. The members use a certain “lana” (oil potion) sold at P150 in Kapalong, Davao del Norte, in the belief that it will give them invincible powers from enemy bullets. Members in Bukidnon possess amulets called habak having the same faith of invincibility.

They carry a certificate from the military sold at P30 each. Although they are promised salaries of P1,800 to P3,000 to as high as P7,000, as well as the military’s P70-million socio-economic projects, they only get P600 a month. The Indigenous Peoples Apostolate in Malabog reported that while the men now rely on “quick money” from their Alamara work, women in Alamara communities now carry the burden of farming.

Monico Cayog, secretary general of Pasaka, criticized this scheme, “We pay taxes to the government every time we purchase rice, salt, and other needs, or when we ride motorcycles and jeepneys, or when we get a cedula.  These taxes return to us in the form of bullets and military operations, or literacy projects from the army to bribe us and win over our loyalty. We are part of the many people who give life to this government. But what does it give us in return but death?”

Pasaka reports say that the AFP took advantage of Lumad fanaticism and vigilantism to use indigenous peoples as pawns in its counter-insurgency campaign, as quoted from the AFP’s Briefing Manuscript, “the NPA is the real problem of the Lumads in the countryside” and “the Lumads should be kings in their own land.”

Some tribal chieftains (datu) appointed by and under the payroll of the military have deceived their members into joining the Alamara claiming that it aims to defend ancestral lands through the application for Certificate of Ancestral Domain Titles (CADT) and by entering into an alliance with the military for protection.

However, Pasaka charged, it is these leaders who are leading their culture to disintegration by allowing the intrusion of projects into their ancestral territories. The projects were reportedly found to be the cause of land grabbing of ancestral domains and dislocation of thousands of indigenous peoples.

The AFP has likewise boasted of entering into a sandugo or pakang (peace pact) with the Lumads. Experience however shows how the military violates these “peace” agreements.  For instance, after a pakang, the military launched an operation in Sitio Toruyan, Malabog without seeking the consent of the tribal chieftain where the datu was harassed and intimidated by the team’s commanding officer.

Bandit origins

The scheme for “extensive and massive tribal war” originated from former Talaingod Lumad mayor Jose Libayao who was killed by the NPA on Sept. 5, 2001. The military projected the killing of Libayao as a transgression of the Lumad’s right to self-determination to goad Lumads into launching retaliations against the NPA.

Libayao was a Manobo from Mapula, Paquibato and not a native of Talaingod. He worked as a company guard for Alcantara and Sons’ (Alsons) Industrial Forest Management Agreement (IFMA) before he became the mayor of the newly created municipality. He was also former president of the United Cultural Minorities Association where he allegedly used to collect P50 to P100 from each of its 55,000 members.

Libayao envisioned himself to be the Supreme Datu of his planned “Lumad Province” supposedly comprising of the municipalities of Arakan Valley in North Cotabato, Senuda in Bukidnon, Talaingod in Davao del Norte, and the districts of Malabog, Paquibato and Marilog in Davao City. This plan would have also served large-scale mining interests and the expansion of the Alsons IFMA project.

He launched a pangayao (tribal war) with the aid of the 72nd IB in order to control the said areas. Lumads who did not support and participate in Libayao’s pangayao were tagged as “sympathizers” or “masses of the NPA.” The pangayao killed a Visayan couple in Pig-alongan, Paquibato, Davao City, on April 20, 1999 and was also responsible for the rustling of 44 carabaos and cattles from Kitaotao, Bukidnon, the burning of houses, and killing of Lucio Huros, a farmer from Colosas, Paquibato. Banditry and cattle rustling was reportedly headed by then Kitaotao Vice Mayor Lorenzo Gawilan (now mayor), where the existence of a “Gawilan-Libayao Trail” was believed to be the transit route for stolen cattles from Senudo to Talaingod.

However, the military has completely renounced the acts of Libayao.

Until today, Diodas Pinaling, believed to be the right hand of Libayao and accused of leading the abuses, is still free from prosecution and arrest.

Meanwhile, many Lumads in Talaingod believe that the Alamara is just a new name for Libayao’s bandit group.

Masters behind Alamara

According to Col. Del Rosario, Alsa Lumad has 100,000 members, including an estimated 100 armed Alamara in Marilog and some 400 in Paquibato, both districts of Davao City.

In the field, it is the commanding officers of the Army who recruit for the Alamara and encourage support for Oplan Alsa Lumad.

In Davao City, the principal Alamara leader is Joel Unad, a Lumad known to own vast tracts of land in Calinan and Marilog. He is the applicant owner of 8,000 hectares of ancestral lands applied for CADT.

Ruben Labawan, president of the Ata-Dibabawon Tribe Inc (ATADI), is another Alamara leader. He is the administrative officer of CADC 016 and 093 covering 32,000 hectares.

In Bukidnon, Kitaotao Mayor Lorenzo Gawilan is believed behind the Alamara.  It had been reported that Gawilan received a loan of P26 million from the International Labor Organization (ILO) for a palm oil plantation “entrepreneurship” project.  Gawilan’s Certificate of Ancestral Domain Claim (CADC) covers 77,134 hectares, and had been allegedly made as a “collateral” for his ILO loan.

In Talaingod, it is widely believed that Basilio Libayao, son of the former mayor, is the brain of the Alamara. Like the father, Basilio had also been linked to bandit activities. In Talaingod, Datu Luis Sangat heads the Alamara. He reportedly takes his orders from the Libayao family.

In Kapalong, the Alamara leaders are known as Nonoy Tubao and Datu Makurampil. Tubao is a trader and Makurampil is also a staunched pro-IFMA leader. In the communities, Datu Laris and Datu Isaac Laydan are responsible for the selling of the oil potion to the Alamara members particularly in Patil and Kapugi. Laydan is also a known Alsons IFMA supporter.

In an Alamara concept paper obtained by Pasaka from Bukidnon, the paper reveals a “central commander” known as Bagang Bangan Banlayen and a “field commander” known as Kulihi.  In Lanipao, Kitaotao town, in Bukidnon, a Commander Bansilan heads the unit.

From the list, Alamara leaders appear to be aspiring landlords, being applicants if not actual holders of various CADCs/CALTs, where communal land ownership becomes their personal ownership.

Human rights violations

According to Pasaka, the “terrorism” wrought by Oplan Alsa Lumad through the Alamara has resulted in various human rights violations. They include forced evacuations, murders, torture, massacres, hamletting, grave threats, illegal detention, and food blockades. These violations show that the victims of Oplan Alsa Lumad are the Lumads themselves.

The human rights group Karapatan in Southern Mindanao recorded a total of 87 cases victimizing 625 Lumads from January to Dec. 5, 2002. Horrible accounts of these violations are documented and have been submitted to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

Capt. Audiencia of the 72nd IB allegedly threatened the Lumads of Talaingod saying “Kung dili mo mo-alsa dinhi, mga NPA mo!” (If you won’t rise up, then you are NPA members), attested a purok (area) leader.

Datus Manuel Engay, Leo Ondali, and Berto Sarunor of Malamba, Marilog District, Davao City, allegedly suffered from physical assault in the hands of a certain Lt. Calapini after an NPA-AFP encounter. Lt. Calapini was heard warning the Lumads: “Magpasalamat mo kay walay namatay sa amoa kay kung naa pa, patyon ta mong tanang sibilyan kay I-charge ta mo nga NPA! (You are lucky we had no casualties. Otherwise you civilians would be all dead. I will charge you as NPAs!)

Lumad leaders who are against the Oplan are either being hunted or coopted.  Datus Pendio and Dogoan of Sitio Kiman-anaw, Brgy. Salapawan, Paquibato District approached the Davao City Council in February 2002 to complain of forcible recruitment and training by the 73rd IB for the Cafgu.  The complaint was published in a local daily, a news website, and aired over a local television station. 

The same was also brought to the attention of Tabang Mindanaw, a non-government organization promoting sustainable agriculture. Tabang Mindanaw consequently made a statement opposing Cafgu recruitment in its beneficiary areas. The 73rd IB reportedly “invited” the complaining datus for a meeting. In the subsequent public hearing on the matter called by the City Council, the datus retracted their complaint, forcing the council to defer the probe on forced Cafgu recruitment among Lumads until new evidence is presented.

Even the complaint of Bai Likayan Bigkay, a Bibiyaon (woman tribal chieftain), against Alamara recruitment and abuses in her area was also dismissed by the 73rd IB as a “cry of Karapatan”. The military claimed the human rights group “coached” Bigkay during a press conference on the issue held by Pasaka and Karapatan.  The Bai refuted this by saying that as Bibiyaon, she is compelled to speak only the truth. Bigkay’s members attest that ever since their tribal chieftain spoke before the media against the Alamara, she has been hunted by the military.


Based on the reports submitted by local organizations, the following are the adverse effects of the Alamara and Oplan Alsa Lumad: 

·       Gravely affected farming and livelihood of the Lumads. They can no longer freely move about and perform economic activities life farming and food gathering because of fear.

·      Disruption of the way of life and normal activities of the Lumads in the hinterlands particularly the schooling of children, community activities, and the transport and trading of farm products.

·       Limitations imposed on rice and food purchases by the military’s food blockade. This has gravely affected Lumads because they have to trek mountains to buy goods they need.

·      Increasing influence of the cash economy and the erosion of their semi-communal way of life. Some Lumads have abandoned farming in lieu of the salary they receive as Alamara vigilantes. This dependence is alien to the indigenous way of life of subsistence farming and semi-communal ways (community ownership of land and resources and mutual aid practices, rather than individualism in income generation and food production).

·      More burden for Lumad women. Lumad women are the ones who immediately bear the burden of farming because their husbands have opted to be Alamara members. Alamara men no longer till the land because of security fears. In effect, they have been become “tied” to their firearms and are no longer economically productive.

·      Divisiveness among indigenous communities. The Lumads have been further divided between pro- and anti- IFMA and other “development” projects, between pro- and anti- Alamara. In effect, the military greatly weakened the resistance of the Lumads to landgrabbing and encroachment schemes of these projects into their territories.

·      Bastardization of indigenous culture through the sinister practice of conferring “datu” titles to military officials.  The AFP is responsible for distorting the system by which “datus” are recognized through ascribed traits – natural leadership in problem solving, conflict resolution, and territorial defense.

·      Distortion of the traditional political structure by introducing the concept of the “supreme datu” according to the military scheme. This is done through the creation of Tribal Councils whose members are appointed by the military or Lumad politicians.

·      Imbibing corrupt practices among Lumads.  It has reportedly been proven several times that the tribal chieftains lured into leading the Alamara practice corruption through commissions promised them by the military, deducted from the salary of each paramilitary recruit.

Interests in ancestral domains

According to Pasaka reports, the plot of the Alamara leaders to monopolize large tracts of ancestral domains— from Bukidnon to Talaingod, from Arakan to Paquibato— aims to facilitate easier entry of big capitalist interests into ancestral lands and territories such as palm oil plantations, IFMA, and large-scale mining companies. Capitalists regard land as a source of profit even if it means destroying people and the environment. On the other hand, opportunist leaders who have emerged as new landlords will only benefit from the royalties of these businesses at the expense of their fellow Lumads and the land.

Alamara leader Unad, who also heads the Tribal Supreme Council for Peace and Development, admitted that multinational companies like Dole, Marsmann and a Malaysian firm approached him to establish plantations and businesses in their lands.  Unad said he favors the entry of palm oil plantations and mining.

While big capitalist interests and landlords are grabbing ancestral domains from the Lumads, the “counter-insurgency” operations of the military mainly targeted those who oppose these encroachments. If divisiveness prevails among the Lumads, it becomes easier for mining, logging, and plantation corporations to seize ancestral domains.

The Arroyo government’s anti-Lumad and anti-environment policies

Large-scale mining, plantations, and IFMA are the concrete implementation of Arroyo’s globalization program called as “development aggression.” To implement it, militarization through the Alamara under Oplan Alsa Lumad is the government’s policy that offers the ancestral domains to big local and foreign capitalists.

The campaign of the military and the Alamara to tag as rebels those they could not control and deceive, is part of the counter-terrorism campaign of the Arroyo government. This scheme serves to suppress the Lumads’ resistance. 

The struggle of indigenous peoples to defend their ancestral lands is also being criminalized as exemplified in the case of Datu Guibang Apoga, chair of the Salugpungan ta tanu Igkanugon (Solidarity in Defense of the Ancestral Land) in Talaingod, Davao del Norte who has a P200,000 reward on his head. Guibang’s photo appears in a poster of wanted criminals with corresponding prize money for their captors or informers. Guibang, aside from actively opposing the Alamara, has been waging a pangayao against alleged land-grabbing designs of the Alsons IFMA project since 1994. 

For Pasaka, the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP) is an “inutile” government agency in the midst of the numerous abuses of indigenous peoples rights. In the AFP’s briefing paper, the NCIP is recognized by the military as a partner in the implementation of Oplan Alsa Lumad.

The sum effect of “development aggression” and militarization for the Lumads is ethnocide.

For a long time, the Lumads lived in peace until intruders disturbed them. At the price of being labeled terrorists or communists, the Lumads said they will continue to assert their historic and ancestral rights and emerge victorious. Not only do the Lumads believe that their lands are the country’s “last frontier” where natural resources still abound. Losing their land for them is tantamount to losing their lives. Bulatlat.com 

We want to know what you think of this article.