Stories of Struggle

A narrative of displacement

by ARNOLD P. ALAMON

DISPLACEMENT has become a constant feature of Mindanao’s troubled history ever since the mad rush for resources which places a premium on profits over people have become the feature of the local economy. For the island of Mindanao, we can think broadly in terms of three waves of indigenous peoples’ large-scale displacement in recent history. The first is the push of colonialism to conquer the island and its resources through the establishment of garrisons and trading ports in a few key areas along the coasts in what is now known as the Misamis provinces.

Mindanao-wide Lumad Children's Congress delegates held a Candle lighting activity to express their solidarity with Lumad evacuees in Tandag sports complex, Mindanao Philippines, last October 08, 2015. (Photo: Save Our Schools Network Mindanao)

Mindanao-wide Lumad Children’s Congress delegates held a Candle lighting activity to express their solidarity with Lumad evacuees in Tandag sports complex, Mindanao Philippines, last October 08, 2015. (Photo: Save Our Schools Network Mindanao)

In the more than three hundred year-rule of the Spaniards, the friars and colonial administrators brought with them hordes of Visayan settlers coming from the island of Bohol and Cebu who have established settlements in the Western coast of the island from Camiguin to Dapitan.

The resulting encounter between these lowlanders o “dinagats” and the Higaonon, for instance, pushed these indigenous peoples who used to occupy the verdant riverside areas of Tagoloan, Cagayan, and Bayug further upstream and into the highlands of Bukidnon spanning the areas of Claveria, Talakag, and Rogongon.

Instead of adopting the Christianized ways of the new migrants, it was the preference of the indigenous group to preserve their beliefs and ways of life by shunning integration and assimilation with the bearers of this new set of beliefs and culture. Their response was to go further inland up to the mountains of Bukidnon where they maintained their indigenous culture and ways of living.

When the Americans took over as colonial ruler, a second wave of large-scale displacement of indigenous peoples occurred. With the demand for raw materials that would feed into the requirements of the colonial rulers’ industrialized needs, logging concessions granted to foreign and local businesses transformed the once thick virgin forests of Mindanao into arable land ready for large-scale plantations. Multinational companies like Dole and Del Monte quickly earned from thousands of hectares of land grants in Bukidnon and South Cotabato.

Once again, the Talaandig, Banwaon, and Manobos this time encompassing the areas of Bukidnon, Agusan, and Surigao needed to move further inland and upland to preserve their culture and way of life.

Between these two waves, the situation of Mindanao’s indigenous peoples reflected the changing landscape of the Southern political economy where their experience is that of economic displacement. Whereas before it was possible to live off the bounty of the land and the forest through swidden farming and hunting and gathering under ways of subsistence living, the entry of logging and large-scale agricultural plantations pushed them further to the remotest corners and the figurative and literal fringes of the new economy.

Whereas before it was possible to live off the bounty of the land and the forest through swidden farming and hunting and gathering under ways of subsistence living, the entry of logging and large-scale agricultural plantations pushed them further to the remotest corners and the figurative and literal fringes of the new economy.

There was no more land to till to plant mountain rice, vegetables, and root crops to feed the family and the community. The plantations and ever growing number of Christian settlers had their ancestral land titled and appropriated. Some of them had to work as manual laborers in the logging concessions, their traditional leaders given token and puny royalty fees just to facilitate entry. They were not even hired as workers in the new plantations with even newer migrants from the Visayas and the North occupying these new jobs.

The fourth and current wave of displacement among Mindanao’s indigenous peoples and one that we see now in the form of their forced encampment in evacuation centers because of militarization is currently driven by the mad rush for profitable minerals that can be found in the remote areas where they are.

In all these waves of displacement driven by the logic of external economic forces that alter and make ever so small their resources that allow them to continue their traditional way of life in the past 500 or so years, there is a consistent feature that remains unchanging. Their displacement has been undertaken by government backed up by its military, private militias, and political warlords in the name of development.

This time, however, there is no more highland or interior to flee to, since agricultural plantations and the wave of settler migration have all but claimed land that used to be theirs.  They have no choice but to fight back.

Originally published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on October 13, 2015.

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