Lumad, the Left and Mareng Winnie’s ‘new people’s army’ | Global News

Lumad, the Left and Mareng Winnie’s ‘new people’s army’

02:40 AM October 06, 2015

Reacting to the #StopLumadKillings protest, INQUIRER columnist Solita Monsod portrayed the Lumad as both pawns and victims of communists, and the Philippine military as selfless, gallant defenders of indigenous peoples of Mindanao.

“In this instance, I am definitely pro-army,” she wrote. “Now the army of today is a whole different kettle of fish than the army of martial law days. … Today’s army cut its teeth on human rights, on people-centered and whole-of-nation approaches to internal peace and security.”

“If the military has killed lumad,” she also said, “it is not because they are lumad, but because they are NPA.”


I’ll get to the military part later. Let’s start with the Lumad’s alleged communist connection.


Well, it’s true.

One of the ways the New People’s Army and the underground movement expanded in Mindanao in the 1970s was by reaching out to the Lumad. And it’s not surprising that the rebel movement was successful.

The Lumad were even then a community besieged, constantly bearing the brunt of ruthless militarization under martial law.

Then came this new group, an underground movement of young, intelligent, idealistic activists, with a bold dream for the future and who were willing to risk their lives to defend them,

The story of one activist who immersed himself in the world of the Bilaan, one of more than a dozen Lumad tribes, illustrates why many Lumad embraced this alliance.

A famous poet and activist from the Ateneo, he joined the first wave of activists who started the rebel underground movement in Mindanao. His name: Eman Lacaba.


A MANOBO mother breast-feeds her child inside a makeshift house in an evacuation center in Davao City. Hundreds of “lumad” were displaced from Talaingod, Davao del Norte province, following a series of attacks allegedly committed by paramilitary and government forces. KARLOS MANLUPIG/INQUIRER MINDANAO

One of his first assignments was to reach out to the Bilaan, his brother, the poet and writer (and my friend) Pete Lacaba recalls in a moving essay in Pilipino published in the 1980s.

Eman couldn’t speak their language, so he used drawings to communicate with them. He was so patient and determined to learn that within a month and a half he learned to speak Bilaan.

He even came to appreciate their food, even though the Bilaan prepared wild boar in a way that a typical Manileno wouldn’t normally enjoy. They let the meat rot and be infested with worms for about two weeks before roasting it.

The Bilaan embraced Eman Lacaba like a native son. “Tuwang tuwa sa kanya ang mga Bilaan,” Pete wrote.

It was during this period of his life that Eman Lacaba wrote one of the most famous poems of that era, “Open Letters to Filipino Artists.” There’s a hint of the bond he formed with the Bilaan tribe in one verse:

We are tribeless and all tribes are ours.

We are homeless and all homes are ours.

We are nameless and all names are ours.

To the fascists we are the faceless enemy

Who come like thieves in the night, angels of death;

The ever moving, shining, secret eye of the storm.”

Eman Lacaba was killed in a military encounter in 1976. The movement he and other young activists like Edgar Jopson and Merardo Arce helped launch in Mindanao went on to become a major political force in Mindanao.

Unfortunately, that movement hasn’t always followed the pure, noble path. The UG has, in a way, morphed into an organization that Lacaba, Jopson and Arce would probably not recognize — a political force capable of so much dogmatic violence.

It was in Mindanao that one of the bloody purges within the UG movement took place in the late 1980s. Two years ago, the NPA ambushed the mayor of Gingoog City, a 78-year-old woman who happened to be the mother of Sen. TG Guingona.

It’s become a much more complicated story.

I guess it’s always been complicated, that there always was a grim side to the story of romantic revolutionaries who aligned themselves with the oppressed tribe.

For the history of the UG movement has always involved two competing storylines: on the one hand, the narrative of young, idealistic activists willing to offer up their lives for the weak and oppressed; on the other, the tragedy of a violent, dogmatic political force.

It wouldn’t be surprising if some Lumad communities continue to be drawn to the first storyline, welcoming young UG activists into their homes and lives, the way they accepted the young poet from Manila.

But then again, there are Lumad leaders who see the NPA as a threat and who opt to align themselves with the military.

In other words, we’re talking about a community caught in the crossfire of a civil war that’s been raging for decades.

Which brings us to the Philippine military’s own history in Mindanao and Monsod’s glowing portrayal of the AFP as a new and improved organization that “cut its teeth on human rights, on people-centered and whole-of-nation approaches to internal peace and security.”

Here’s another complicated story that Mareng Winnie is trying to oversimplify with this outlandish claim.

For the picture of “people-centered,” human-rights conscious military is certainly not the picture that emerges from media coverage and reports from human rights organizations of the Lumad killings.

Surigao del Sur Gov. Johnny Pimentel (we’re not related) has blamed the killings in the village of Diatagon on the Magahat-Bagani, a paramilitary force that he called “monster created by the military.”

“This is the creation of the military. But they created a monster that they could no longer control,” Pimentel told the INQUIRER.

It’s an accusation that’s definitely worth looking deeper into, for the Philippine military has a history of creating or supporting “monsters,” notorious paramilitary units with such names as Tadtad and Alsa Masa.

The military has denied creating the paramilitary group responsible for the Lumad killings, to which the governor shot back, according to an INQUIRER report: “Why then do they have a camp near a military detachment?”

Residents and local religious leaders echoed the same claim. And some of them are puzzled and even angered by Mareng Winnie’s portrait of a new people’s army that she argues could not have been responsible for killing innocent civilians.

Monsod argued: “Most of the Filipino people who have met up with this new army are also on its side. Except the members of the hard Left.”

That prompted a response from Michelle Campos, daughter of Dionel Campos, one of the Lumad leaders killed. In an open letter in MindaNews, she recounted the massacre that led to the displacement of 3,000 of her people.

“Ma’am Monsod, after saying this, will you also bear the same thinking of the AFP and include us in your list of the ‘hard left’?”

Campos then spoke of the “pattern,” the cycle of violence that has trapped the Lumad for decades.

“We get vilified, we get killed,” she said, “then our just demands against the military operations within our communities and schools are trivialized, the reason behind the systematic killing and displacement reduced to an internal conflict that lays the blame on the victims.”

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TAGS: #StopLumadKillings, Eman Lacaba, killing of indigenous Lumad Philippines, New People’s Army, Pete Lacaba

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