Ramblings on "indigenous defence"
And its acual existence as "attack dogs"
By Kat Ulrike
It's been an issue months ago as most of the Manobo tribe, as well as the lowlanders sympathysing, continue to yearn for justice for its killed and displaced brethren.
As news reports, particularly in social media sites tackling much about the issue, it seems that the system is in a series of both justifications and denials, of urging the recognition of paramilitary groups as volunteers, whilst denying the killings of certain personages if not forced displacements of tribespeople in the name of development, furthermore, they remain insisting that the rebels are the ones who initiated as such making the mountainfolk opposing the "developmental" policies of the state, including those of mining operations in their mountains of not plantation sites for cash crops.
Most people continue to shrug serious issues this person had stated in favour of repititive love stories, but to think that aside from the issue of heavy traffic at EDSA if not the controveries over certain Presidentiables, the issue over the state of these indigenous tribespeople like the Manobos, be it those of the murder of certain personages, displacements from their communities, to those of their schools taken over by the system through its volunteers armed by the system's own attack dogs. The actions taken by these armed thugs, obviously, is far from what Congresswoman Nancy Catamco's statement, as said:
"The indigenous community defence systems that have been in existence through all the years of collective and community life and history of these peoples is still practised by many of our indigenous communities until today, except only for a few.
The indigenous community defence systems are living tradition amongst these peoples for the preservation and protection of their communities, their land and territory and all that is left as their cultural possession as peoples."
But come to think of this, since Catamco described the volunteer paramilitary groups like the Magahat, Bagani, and Alamara as an Indigenous Defence System, she was just paraphrasing those of Aquino recognizing the Nakasaka, Alsa Masa or even Alsa Lumad as a Civilian Volunteer Organisation that was directly trained and armed by the military. These two groups, despite coming from different eras, does have objective such as supporting the military against the insurgents and separatists alike; yet on the other hand, these volunteer groups are hired by private interests, be it mining or plantation companies trying to take over land from those stubbornly defending it; and if killed, be branded as rebels simply because of being against "developmental projects" that obviously trying to "humanise" an exploitative operation.
Way back the late 80s till the present, the government's eagerness to stem out insurgency has been a carrot and stick approach: of developmental projects and special operations. The creation of volunteer operations side by side with a tangible rhetoric of building roads, bridges, and even "communities" likely to be described as hamlets. Private interests such as those of mining and agribusinesses tend to join with the government's efforts in pursuit of exploiting, be it from the north or south, of Cordillera and Lumad tribes, but in the end, what everyone sees today is same old victims: be it those from exploitation if not because of their unrepentant stubbornness in keeping their communities. Remember, Macliing Dulag was killed for opposing developmental moves such as the Chico Dam and Cellophil's attempt to exploit the mountains of Cordillera, so is todays individuals from the south like Dionel Campos of "Malahutayong Pagkabisog Alang sa Sumusunod"; Aurelio Sinzo; and Emerito Samarca of the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV).
For sure there are more nameless personages coming from various Indigenous Tribespeople that for sure been killed by the volunteers coddled by the system, whether armed by their statements or by the gun, the system knows that these potential subversives ought to be wiped out in the name of development catered to the interests be it mining or for cash crops, if not dams or various forms including those of commercialisation of the folk itself.
And also far from what Catamco said of defending communites, that these "imdigenous defenders" killed Campos and Sinzo in front of ALCADEV teachers and students, while Samarca was found dead in the school's premises-stabbed, having a slit throat, and his hands and feet tied. And contrary to what the military described as "Communist School" or even a "Training Camp", ALCADEV is recognized by the Education Department as a learning institution for the Manobo mountainfolk, even won a prize such as "National Literacy Award"; so what kind of indigenous defence is the congresswoman talking about when in actual are murderers guised as warriors killing innocents and displacing its own kin for development?
Obviously, there are more examples of paramilitary groups and "volunteers" besides those of Magahat, Bagani, and Alamara, amongst Indigenous Peoples coerced by the system. The Bungkatol Liberation Front, known as BULIF, has a history of Kidnappings, Extortion, and attacks on aid workers and communities such as in Agusan Del Norte; The Alimaong Tribal Justice has been with the Magahat and Bagani as part of Task Force Gantangan and its series of tribal vendettas and human rights violations. There are various armed "volunteer" groups in the south, that just like the Cordillera Peoples Liberation Army in the North, are supported by the system in the name of "counterinsurgency", "zone of peace", and other similar rhetorics that is far from the contrary as attack dogs preying on fellow indigenous peoples as well as lowlanders sympathysing.
And that behind its terms, is plain simple "Dirty War" reminiscent of past regimes in South America and in the Philippines itself continuing until today. From the system itself, the idea of indigenous defence systems, of instigating "Pangayaw" (tribal war), and the misuse of "tribal justice", if not appointing tribal leaders "loyal" to the system's interests, is part of a plan to intensify conflict against insurgents, if not harassing those who are questioning the legitimacy of military presence, as well as developmental projects made by scrupulous officials and interests. Like what Catamco said:
"And just like any other ordinary citizen who have the right to protect their persons and properties, traditional defence systems of the indigenous communities also deserve to be recognised in a way that it would fit their own customs, traditions, and practises. And the recognition should come explicitly by law, such as the law that regulates the services of private security agencies or the SCAA as an auxiliary force to the CAFGU."
Ideally speaking, having an Indigenous Defence System means defending their communities against exploiters including those from the system itself. But in its actual existence, the term is more of a veneer for a legalising a paramilitary group, a mercenary paid by interests with an objective of rooting out dissent be it the lowlandler or the mountainfolk who questions legitimacy. The displaced tribespeople knows the fact that the system wanted their community's hidden wealth be exploited by interests, that through the support of local government, armed forces, and even "paid" members of the Indigenous tribespeople they wanted to penetrate deeper communities in pursuit of their actions be it those if mining, plantation, agribusiness or tourism.
And to use Catamco's statement using the "Indigenous Peoples Rights Act" that stated the right of Indigenous Peoples to "self-defence" same as the "Right to Life, Liberty, and Property", does it require harassing those who trying to preserve traditions through education and asserting Indigenous Peoples rights? Is preserving culture be limited to those seen by tourists such as weaving and people wearing costumes while their communities being ravaged by war, disenfranchisement, and various forms of social injustice worse than lowlanders? Is the defence of the indigenous really for the indigenous? Or for interests who afforded to sneer the folk through programs and half empty rhetorics?
Again, the system has killed innocents and washed its own dirty linen amidst denials.