by Theresa Endoso, Anakbayan NY
In Tandag City, Surigao del Sur, Caraga, Mindanao, Philippines, I lived in an evacuation camp or “bakwit” for three months with Lumad (indigenous) evacuees forcibly displaced by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)’s 75th infantry battalion and its paramilitary, the Magahat Bagani.
International and Philippine mining companies with international investors and shareholders are behind these militarized and extrajudicial killings and evacuations of Lumad peoples.
It was 3 months in bakwit but a lifetime of lessons where I developed lifelong relationships and a lifelong commitment to serving the Lumad struggle for self-determination.
Overlooking bakwit. Not pictured are the bleachers that circle the sports complex, also overcrowded with makeshift tents.
From the Lumad elders, leaders, youth, students, activists, children and the staff of both the Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur (TRIFPSS) and the Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV), I learned firsthand the principles and practices necessary to be an effective member in revolutionary organizing.
The incredible will power, the perseverance of the Lumad people is rooted in love: love for the natural environment, the rich ancestral domain and one’s community. Family, land, culture, and history are all bound by this deep love.
Love in Lumad communities is active, collective, and militant. It is revolutionary. Love is what unifies different villages and even tribes. Love is what gives the people undying strength to face such dismal challenges from militarization to massacre to displacement and surviving the conditions of bakwit.
Education in Lumad communities is one of the deepest expressions of this love. Community schools of TRIFPSS and ALCADEV are the heart, the pride, the promise of the Lumad struggle.
The Lumad children are consciously and actively concerned about the next generation. We often hold this expectation to elders, but for children to be so invested in the well-being of the land and future generation is incredible. In drastic contrast to Western values and socialized ideas of success, the children’s aspirations center on community empowerment, as opposed to individual gain. These principles are inherently embedded in the cultural fabric, but are especially encouraged in the community schools.
The Lumad youth are incredibly empowered by the culturally relevant education they receive in their own schools. For these schools to be shut down by militarization and government oppression would mean ethnocide, an entire livelihood of indigeneity threatened.
The living conditions of bakwit are simply not fit for living. There is neither sufficient food nor water and illnesses are rampant from UTI’s, ulcers, asthma, fever, flu, cold, allergic reactions to bakwit diet, and much more serious illnesses as well.
Most days, the public water supply (needed especially for cleaning the public bathroom and washing away waste) runs out first thing in the morning after being rationed amongst families. So, there is not enough to meet all the needs of bathing, drinking, washing clothes, washing dishes, cooking, and bathroom use. The bakwit is overcrowded which makes cooking, sleeping, studying, and teaching very difficult.
Lumad community schools not only pass on the rich culture of their respective tribes, but provide the tools necessary in asserting self-efficiency and self-determination.
Literacy alone helps to ensure that Lumads will not be insidiously misled into signing away their entitled ancestral land rights. But these schools offer so much more than any Department of Education school could. Each subject is tailored to relate to the everyday lives (farming) and political climates of the Lumads.
The Lumads have friends in local government, churches of many faiths, political organizations, environmentalists, academics, activists and many other communities and individuals who recognize the severity of the situation and the intrinsic value of the Lumad livelihood and its legacy. However, it is not enough.
MORE and STRONGER international support is VITAL in securing the safety and respect of rights of the Lumads across Mindanao.