EDUCATION is the Lumads’ “weapon” in their fight for their rights to their ancestral lands.

This was the message of representatives from the indigenous people’s group as UST once again opened its doors for the annual Lumad Bakwit School program which was held from Sept. 14 to 17.

Datu Tunging Mansumuy-At, a Lumad leader from Davao del Norte, said education is important to prevent being tricked by construction companies to sell their lands, as cases of alleged “paramilitary attacks” and human rights violations continue to displace them from their homes in Mindanao.

“’Yung mga estudyante namin pinapatay nila dahil ayaw [nilang makapag-aral] ‘yung mga [tao.] Ayaw nilang matuto kami para makapasok yung mga malalaking kumpanya,” he said in an interview with the Varsitarian.

Rius Valle, a spokesman for Save our Schools Network-Mindanao, emphasized that basic education helped members of the Lumad community to understand private property ownership.

“Noon, kayang kunin yung isang ektaryang lupain gamit ang isang lata ng sardinas at isang rolyo ng tobacco, [but going to school has been an] expression of their resistance, an expression of their [fight for] their ancestral lands,” he said.

Aside from defending its ancestral homes, the Lumad community is also fighting for the protection of their environment which is the “source of life” for the people in Mindanao, said Valle.

This includes watersheds, virgin forests and Mindanao’s natural biodiversity.

He said Lumad ancestral homes are considered “last frontier” as their natural resources are still in pristine condition.

At least 70 Lumad representatives camped out at the UST Central Seminary during their stay in UST.

On their last night in the University, a grand solidarity night was held between Thomasians and the Lumads to culminate the Bakwit School program.

Photo by Genielyn Rosario M. Soriano

Not backing down
Fabio Indao, a Lumad teacher, said being away from Mindanao does not mean the fight for their lands is over.

“Itong pagbabakwit (evacuation school) namin ay hindi [nangangahulugang] tumigil na kami sa aming panawagan. Isa itong malaking pakikibaka para [malaman ng] pamahalaan na hindi kami sang-ayon sa kanilang ginagawa,” he said.

President Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao following the Marawi siege in 2017 has also “worsened” the situation in the island, Indao said.

Datu Tunging also lamented how they have been evacuating for five years but the circumstances have not improved.

“Patuloy [kaming hina-harass kaya] sana i-pull out yung militar sa aming lugar at i-dismantle ‘yung army. Sana irespeto rin ‘yung mga pagkatao namin at bigyan kami ng pansin para [makapag-aral] kami,” he said.

Photo by Genielyn Rosario M. Soriano

UST in solidarity
Welcoming the Lumad in the University is not just a form of a “symbolic expression of solidarity,” but also a fulfillment of the call of Pope Francis “to be one with internal refugees,” Fr. Pablo Tiong, O.P., vice rector for religious affairs, told the Varsitarian.

“By staying in UST, they will benefit in our facilities and education modules. The students and faculty would [also] have the chance to be with them,” he said. UST Central Seminary Rector Fr. Quirico Pedregosa, O.P. urged Thomasians to be more involved by volunteering to help the Lumad. He said that Thomasians should remain committed even after helping them.

Valle urged Thomasians to know more about the situation in Mindanao and listen to the plight of the Lumad community.

“More than [what UST is giving] ang gusto ng Lumad is ‘yung tengang nakikinig at handang makinig sa kanilang [kwento] ng walang judgment at bias… hamon iyon na makinig at sana ipalaganap ‘yung mga storya ng mga Lumad,” he said.

Indao said the Lumad representatives need more support.

“Makipagsalamuha sana [ang mga Thomasians] para lalong maintindihan ‘yung sitwasiyon namin. Nanghihingi kami ng malaki at buong suporta sa mga panawagan namin dahil hindi kami mananaig kapag walang suporta galing sa mga tao,” he said. with reports from Marem A. de Jemel and Sherwin Dane Zauro C. Haro


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