Igniting International Solidarity for the Lumad: Reflections from the International Solidarity Mission in Kitaotao, Bukidnon
The world currently has its eyes on the Philippines as the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte entered a series of peace negotiations with the CPP-NPA-NDF. These talks will significantly impact Filipinos across the archipelago, particularly indigenous communities who continue to be impacted by the armed conflict.
As a summer intern at IBON International, I had the opportunity to enter the world of the Lumad, the non-muslim, “native” or “indigenous” peoples in the lands of the southern Philippines who are directly experiencing the grievous effects of a militarized state. I, along with other IBON International representatives, served as delegates in this year’s International Solidarity Mission (ISM) in Mindanao as part of the larger 2016 International Conference for Peoples’ Rights in the Philippines (ICPRP). As a Filipina American with family roots in Mindanao, attending the ISM was a personal journey into the impacts of globalization on the lives of the marginalized, exploited communities in the Global South.
Our first day was spent in Davao City at UCCP (United Church of Christ in the Philippines) – Haran, a refugee shelter serving Lumad families impacted by violence that forced them to flee their ancestral lands. We bonded with other solidarity mission groups from the United States such as Anakbayan, Gabriela, and the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines who were participating in our mission to Cotabato. After feasting on our scrumptious kamayan, we listened to the stories of the Lumad living in Haran, recounting the hardships they face due to extreme militarization and the exploitation of their lands through land grabs for large-scale mining. As foreign developers continue to set their gaze on the abundant minerals and resources found in Lumad lands, resistance proves deadly for tribal community members. In order to defend their land and people, Lumad leaders continue to sacrifice themselves in the line of battle against paramilitary groups. As this bloodshed continues, military and paramilitary groups further accuse the Lumad of being communist-terrorist sympathizers due to their spirited opposition to the mining companies’ exploitation of their ancestral lands.
In 2011, former Philippine President, Benigno Aquino III, launched the counter-insurgency program, "Oplan Bayanihan," in order to suppress the expansion of the rebel group, the New People's Army (NPA). Since then, “OpBay” has deployed 60% of the Armed Forces of the Philippines' battalions, air assets and war equipment down south to Mindanao as well as fostered the growth of organized paramilitary groups such as the notorious, Magahat-Bagani, that continue to harass and attack Lumad communities.
Many of us were left in awe to learn that missions like Oplan Bayanihan continue to receive financial and political support from both the Philippine government and the United States of America. Between 2002-2013 the U.S. government provided $441 Million to the Philippine military for 'security assistance'; most of this money was allegedlyfunnelled toward improving the country's counter terrorism plans in the south.
Paramilitary and military occupation in Lumad lands has led the Lumad to pose three calls for the Philippine government:1) That the 60,000 paramilitary/military groups stationed to ‘civilize’ and exploit them be pulled out