Tungkol sa Kanayunan

(Center left to right) Angeline Montenegro and Mira Villar, ALCADEV students, and Arly Enriquez, a TRIFPSS volunteer teacher. Photo by Thomas Spencer Balete.
Manigaon Magno Limbasan, a tribal leader of Lumad Manobos.

Manigaon Magno Limbasan — 77 years old — is tired of the city.

“Gusto kong umuwi na. Nilalagnat na ako,” he said.

His tent in the University of the Philippines — Diliman campus is hot, small, sprawled with tarpaulins, and freckled with dust. He longs for the cold, crisp air of the mountains in Agusan.

Manigaon Limbasan boasted, “Malamig ang simoy. Ala-sais gusto na namin maglangoy-langoy sa ilog.”

When thirsty, he does not like the bottles of mineral water offered him. He misses the streams, the trees, the grass.

But he needs to be in the city.

On an ordinary day in the mountains, his tribe of Lumad Manobos would wake up at four in the morning and call a kahimunan (assembly). They would offer a pig or a chicken in thanksgiving for what they are about to harvest. Then, they would proceed with the morning’s farm work.

But more often than not, their days are less than ordinary.

Tungkol sa isang pagbabalik

Arly Enriquez teaches Grade 1 students at Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur (TRIFPSS) — an alternative learning system (ALS) for elementary students. He is 19 years old and is a Lumad. The students he teaches are also Lumads.

With him are Mira Villar and Angeline Montenegro — 4th year high school students at Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV), an ALS secondary school for Lumads.

“Ganito rin kami mag-aral sa evacuation center,” Mira pointed out, referring to sitting on a banig in groups. “Pero di ‘yun naging hadlang para matuto kami.”

When asked why they still want to pursue education at such a difficult place — and a difficult time -, they replied the same thing: “Para madepensahan ang lupang ninuno.”

They are all from the mountains of CARAGA, miles of rocks and danger from the nearest barrio. Little government help comes to them, but they manage.

Manigaon Limbasan, though not of Arly’s and Mira’s communities, says something that holds true for all of the Lumads. The mountain is their fish pond, their pharmacy, and their hospital.

“Bundok e. Talagang masagana sa lahat ng pangangailangan,” said Arly.

But there are certain things which extend to the mountains, like the brutality of the military.

Last year, reported Lumad extrajudicial killings passed 90 and Lumad school-related violence reached a point where entire communities had to temporarily move to evacuation centers. This spurred the online hashtag, #StopLumadKillings and #SaveOurSchools. Lumads camped at UP-Diliman at the peak of the massacres on October 2015. This year, they decided to return, and they won’t stop coming back until they get what they need.

Makeshift tents where some indigenous groups stayed in at UP Diliman. Photo by Thomas Spencer Balete.

Tungkol sa pagtayo at pagpapatayo

Angeline stayed in a Department of Education (DepEd) school for two years.

When Angeline was asked what made ALCADEV different from DepEd schools, she said, “Sa nalalaman ko, sa DepEd, ang edukasyon ay ginagawang negosyo. Hindi ka malayang makapaghayag ng ideya dahil matalino lang ang [pinapaboran].”

Angeline continued, “At mahal talaga, hindi libre. At ayun, ‘di ako kontento.”

There are only two ALCADEV schools throughout the CARAGA region. They are taught eight subjects — among which are English, Filipino, Science, and their main subject, Agriculture — and live in a dormitory.

Like many high school students in DepEd schools, Mira shares the same sentiments regarding certain subjects.

“Hindi! Hindi ko talaga idol ‘yung subject na Math,” she laughed. “Idol ko lang Filipino, English, Science, Agriculture. Math ‘di ko masyado type.”

Schools days are the same as in DepEd schools, but on Fridays, there is an adult literacy program, where the elder are taught how to read and write. Every morning, after the necessary preparations, they would do farm work at five until seven before proceeding with the flag ceremony and another day of classes.

The same goes for ALCADEV’s sister elementary school, TRIFPSS. While there are only two ALCADEV campuses, TRIFPSS is all over the region. However, since, according to Arly, the students are “bata pa,” they are spared the rigors of farm work and go home at the end of every day instead of staying in a dorm.

Evidently, Agriculture is the most important part of their education. At school, they are taught more modern, scientific yet environment-friendly technologies for farming. They bring them to their communities where the traditional practice is still followed. For the Lumads, farming is a lifestyle, a way of being at one with nature and with each other.

Arly was once a student of ALCADEV. While ALCADEV has sent a good number of students to university, Arly decided to teach.

“Nagtuturo ako kasi kailangan e,” the 19-year-old reasoned. “Maraming batang hindi makapag-aral dahil iilan lang college graduate ang nag-aapply. Sa totoo lang, ‘di ako nagpatuloy sa college kasi alam na alam kong maraming bata ang nangangailangan. [Alam ko] kasi doon ako galing.”

To qualify for teaching at TRIFPSS, ALCADEV students need only two months of practicum teaching at its sister institution. On November 18, Mira will also take the same training.

When Mira was asked why education is so important to her, she responded, “Para mabuhay [kami] sa sarili namin. Hindi na namin kailangan umasa sa magulang lang. Kaya po namin tumayo para sa sarili namin.”

Education to them is a treasure, but the effort put into developing the schools are deceptively simple. They did not hire construction workers to build schools. The classrooms were built by the students’ parents.

Because of this, Arly said, “Okay na kami sa stable [na pamumuhay] lang kasi nakapagtayo na kami ng sariling paaralan na talagang sa pagsisikap namin nanggaling. ‘Yun yung pinakamalaking karangalan para sa amin.”

Now, those schools are destroyed, their chairs, tables, and books burnt.

Manigaon Magno Limbasan is interviewed by The Science Scholar staff member Matthew Aviso. Photo by Thomas Spencer Balete.

Tungkol sa batas

According to Manigaon Limbasan, military raids in their community have been going on since the Marcos era.

Manigaon Limbasan tells of their customary law. Kaugalingon pagbuot ug pagdumala — batas ng kaugalian. This is a law as old as their culture, untouched by Hispanic influence. This is a law, he said, the government does not respect.

“Kaya kami nandito,” Manigaon Limabasan said.

Manigaon Limbasan listed down three of what he claimed to be the biggest problems they face: imperialism, bureaucratic capitalism, and feudalism.

When asked to describe imperialism, Manigaon Limbasan said, “Ah ‘yun ‘yung mga, ‘Ah, bahala, mayayaman kami, wala kaming pakialam sa inyo.’” And according to him, the National Commission of Indigenous People (NCIP) represents this problem.

While the NCIP claimed they have sent help to the Lumads, Manigaon Limbasan said, “Hanggang ngayon wala! Wala silang pakialam sa mga tribo. Ginagamit nila para sa interes nila.”

The kaugalingon is their source of power. When the military have paved way for loggers and mining corporations, Manigaon Limbasan remarked, this kaugalingon is violated.

“Lahat naaapektuhan ng military,” Manigaon Limbasan said, even their crop.

As they follow traditional agriculture, their produce is small, only enough for the community. Come a military raid, Manigaon Limbasan said, “isang araw, isang kain lang.”

Even their schools are affected.

“Kung may military, wala, withdraw na mga bata,” Manigaon Limbasan said. “Takot sila.”

“Wala kami magawa. Armado sila,” he added.

Manigaon Limbasan, however, believes in education as a solution to their problem.

“Ako, wala ako napag-aralan. Hindi ako makasulat. Gusto namin mga anak namin makasulat, makabasa, maka-kwenta. Pangarap namin may mga anak na makakuha ng mataas na grado para [makapasok] sa gobyerno upang [mapasa] mga batas sa gobyerno,” Manigaon Limbasan remarked.

Later on, he said, “Kaming mga matatanda na, gusto ang ma-edukado ang mga bata namin [upang] masagot ang pwede magawa para sa Pilipinas.”

In addition to raiding their schools, the military rape their women and kill their loved ones. One of them is Manigaon Limbasan’s seventh sibling.

But Manigaon could not bring himself to talk about it. His eyes wandered elsewhere as he muttered in inaudible Bisaya.

“Wala silang respeto. Pulis sila, may batas sila pero wala silang respeto.”

Lumad representatives — Angeline, Mira, and Arly — lead the group discussion with Pisay students as part of the immersion program. Photo by Thomas Spencer Balete.

Tungkol sa isang umaga

It is hard to speak of massacres. When asked to describe the day they had to leave their community for an evacuation center, Mira and Angeline could not bring themselves to say anything. But Arly narrated everything.

It was the night before the first of September last year when the military camped near the community. ALCADEV just celebrated its Foundation Day, and all were in a festive mood.

“Siyempre, ang sasaya ng mga estudyante, hindi talaga inaasahan na mangyayari ‘yung ganoong pangyayari,” Arly said.

Come early morning, they were woken up by a raid.

“Ni-ransack ng mga military ang ALCADEV at tsaka ‘yung mga tirahan ng mga titser at ‘yung mismong komunidad ng mga katutubo,” Arly continued.

All students in ALCADEV were forced out to Kilometro 16. There, they were clumped into a basketball court with their teachers and the rest of the community.

Arly remembered magahat — paramilitary — surrounding them. They were Lumad, too. Manigaon Limbasan called them bataon. Yet both mean the same thing to them — the Lumad who betrayed his kin.

But then there were also some military. Of them, Arly said, “Kung masasama na mga paramilitary, mas masama ‘yung mga militar kasi siya ‘yung nagtuturo [sa mga paramilitar] e, ‘yung nagbibigay ng armas upang patayin ‘yung nagdedepensa sa lupang ninuno.”

Both the paramilitary and the military were there. They made the newly elected Mapaso Lumad chairperson Janelle Campos sit on a chair.

The executive director of ALCADEV, Imok Samarta, was taken hostage inside the faculty room, Arly recalled. “Noong estudyante pa ako ng ALCADEV, hindi kami nakaranas ng napagalitan niya kami. Talagang napakabait niya sa amin. Para namin siyang ama sa loob ng campus.”

He was inside and they were out there, early in the morning, in a basketball court on Kilometro 16. The magahat and the military started shooting.

“Pero sa taas lang naman,” Arly recounted. “Pinadapa ang lahat at binaril si Janelle Campos sa ulo. Binaril siya sa ulo.”

They thought it was only Janelle Campos who died. Far behind them, “meron ding si Datu Villosinso, binalian din siya ng mga buto at binaril din at sinaksak.”

The magahat and the military left eventually. They left them to bury their own corpses.

Afterward, they went to look for Sir Imok.

“Siyempre, hindi naman nakalimutan na nandoon si Sir Imok sa loob kaya ayon talaga ang unang target nilang hanapin — kung nasaan si Sir Imok, kung okay lang ba siya,” Arly said.

When they opened the door to the faculty room, they saw Sir Imok prostrate on the floor.

“Maraming sugat at giniitan sa leeg. At ‘yung dalawang kamay niya ay ginapos at ang daming sugat sa katawan.”

Tungkol sa kung ano ang totoo

The military would often reason that they destroy Lumad schools because of their alleged link to the militant Left group, the New People’s Army (NPA). However, Mira, Arly, and Manigaon Limbasan firmly deny it.

Mira said, “Hindi po totoo na hawak kami ng mga NPA. Hawak lang naman namin bolpen at papel.”

“Isa lang naman ang dahilan. Gusto nila wasakin o kunin ang lupain ng aming mga ninuno dahil ang lupa ng aming mga ninuno ay punong-puno ng minerales,” Mira affirmed, alluding to their accusation of the military serving the interests of mining corporations.

Arly supported this, saying, “gustong gibain [ang mga eskwelahan] dahil nagpapamulat ito sa mga kabataan maging mas mapagmahal sa kalikasan.”

Manigaon Limbasan also rejects the NPA label. For far too long a time, he has witnessed how the military destroy their schools — the schools Lumads have built with their hands.

Manigaon Limbasan said, “May NPA sa bundok pero wala sa komunidad namin. Nakaraan lang may dumaan. Habulin niyo! Wala dito sa amin!”

Tungkol sa kung ano ang makakaya

September 3, 2016 — A year after the massacre, they went back home. Everything was either battered or burnt. Everything had to be rebuilt.

None have been killed yet, but Angeline said, “Akala namin ligtas na kami, ngunit patuloy pa rin ang pagbabanta pati [sa] mga titser, mga guro namin, at mga lider, pati na kaming mga estudyante.”

Still, they continued studying, just like they did in the evacuation center.

Away from home, they did still study “kahit hirap,” Mira said. “Walang upuan walang lamesa, ganito lang. Nakalatag lang kami, nagsusulat, examination. Hindi naging hadlang na ipagpatuloy namin ang pag-aaral namin. Naging mas matatag pa kami na ipagpatuloy ang aming pag-aaral.”

They never force students to study. Even in their communities, they don’t force children to study if they don’t want to. But, as Mira remarked, “Pinagpatuloy talaga nila ang pag-aaral nila.”

Mira went on, “Kung itatanong mo sila bakit nagpatuloy pa rin sila sa pag-aaral, ang sinasagot nila ay ‘yung mga pangyayaring iyon ay ginagawa nilang hamon sa kanilang sarili upang kamtin ang mga pangarap sa buhay.”

Arly shared the same sentiments.

“Bilang isang [dating] estudyante, gusto ko lang ay ipagpatuloy ang pag-aaral. Para sa’kin, siyempre ‘di rin ako aabot sa ganito [kung walang edukasyon]. Isa rin akong katutubo na bumalik sa community upang tulungan ang mga kababayan ko.”

Now, they start from scratch. Even many of their already few volunteer teachers have fled in fear.

On studying now, Mira said, “‘Di rin namin masasabi na katulad din ng dati kasi wala na ring lamesa, wala na ring upuan. Pero okay lang naman. Kulang sa school supply pero okay lang naman ‘yun, ‘di naging hadlang sa amin. Marami namang nagsusuporta sa amin. Marami namang nagbibigay.”

Indeed, when Arly was asked why they went here, the first thing he mentioned was “para magpasalamat sa lahat ng mga tumulong.”

Tarpaulins with messages and statements from the indigenous people and different individuals or groups supporting their struggle. Photo by Thomas Spencer Balete.

Tungkol sa kung saan ang buhay

For Manigaon Limbasan, the fight for their ancestral land is far from over.

The NCIP has claimed thousands of hectares of land for imperialists, he said, and he intends to talk to Duterte about it.

“Bakit niyo kinukuha ang lupa? Ang Presidente ba ang may hawak ng langit, tubig, at lupa?” Manigaon Limbasan asked.

On titles and deeds to land, he said “Hindi!”

He continued, “Ayaw namin na isa lang ang may hawak ng lupa.”

What protection is there for them if there is no title?

“‘Yun ang problema namin. ‘Yun ang gusto namin ikausap kay Duterte,” Manigaon Limbasan said. “Ngayon, kapag hindi pa rin kami papakinggan, kami na ang bahala.”

He is the Manigaon — a title he inherited from his ancestors, a title associated with katakus — a clarity of mind. He is the leader of his tribe of Lumad Manobo. Here in the city is not where he wants to be, but here in the city he must be.

“Doon sa gubat, sa kabundukan ang buhay namin. Kabuhayan nami’y nasa aming mga kamay. Kung wala nang lupa at bundok, wala na. Wala nang buhay mga Lumad,” Manigaon Limbasan said.

He nodded his head as if pointing to a distant place. “Doon sa lupa. Doon ang buhay namin.”

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Matthew Aviso’s story.