Lumad Struggles in Mindanao And the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines

Community News & Features Sep 9, 2016 at 7:34 pm
Sr. Flora  Secuya (right)  of Rural  Missionaries of the Philippines. Left, Mithi  Esguerra Edades

Sr. Flora Secuya (right)
of Rural Missionaries of the Philippines.  Left, Mithi Esguerra Edades

By Joyce Valbuena

Remember, in your cultural presentations, whenever you perform the dances of indigenous people, you have to consider that each dance step has a meaning. Dance is a common element of every indigenous people’s culture. It is an expression of their struggles and victories. Each dance step is guided by spirits. You don’t just perform their dance, you have to convey the meaning of their dance,” Sr Flora Secuya explained to a group of cultural performers and social advocates in a community dialogue held at the Centre for Women and Trans People in University of Toronto last August 28.

“Through cultural performances, solidarity actions and advocacies here in Canada, you have many ways to support Lumad people in the Philippines,” said Sr Flora.

Sr Flora of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) visited Toronto this August to promote international solidarity for Lumad people in Mindanao among the Filipino communities in Canada. RMP is a national organization, inter-diocesan and inter-congregational in character, of men and women religious, priests and lay people. They live and work with the peasants. RMP envisions a free, just, peaceful and egalitarian society; dignified among family of nations with a united people; participating in decision making; owning the land they till, and enjoying the fruits of their labor while preserving the integrity of creation.

RMP has been working with Indigenous people in the Philippines for land and self-determination. The group has been instrumental in supporting the establishment of Lumad schools and has been at the forefront of the Save Our Schools (SOS) campaign.

Photos: Sarah Salise

Photos: Sarah Salise

The community dialogue was organized by KAPWA Collective and Anakbayan-Toronto. The event aimed to pose a challenge to the Filipino immigrants in Canada on how we can respond to our own history of displacement as Filipino people and be accountable to the ongoing colonization of indigenous people in the Philippines.

In recent years, the Filipino progressive groups in Canada have launched various campaigns for Lumad and their schools in an aim to end aggression and displacement of these people in Mindanao.

“The spirituality of indigenous people is connected to their natural environment. Their ancestral land is important for the Lumad people. It is important we give our support to help them return peacefully to their ancestral land which is their home,” Sr Flora said to enlighten the participants.

Sr Flora shared some updates on the situation of indigenous people in Mindanao. She said that indigenous people are forcibly displaced from their ancestral lands by the military to give way to mining, logging and agro-forestry operations of foreign companies. For instance, the land they used to till to plant food crops has now been planted with softwood trees which are used as source material to manufacture wooden products such as toothpicks, matches and popsicle sticks for export to other countries.

IMG_0873“The Philippine government is giving way to manufacture toothpicks for export instead of letting the indigenous people produce their own food in their own lands,” Sr Flora lamented.

Moreover, there are still numerous sad stories of indigenous people being displaced due to mining operations in Mindanao. Environmental destruction continues affecting the lives of the people.

Lumad schools were attacked, while some teachers were harassed, by the military and paramilitary which forced the Lumad people to leave their homes.
Sr Flora said that the Lumad people demand access to schools so that they can be educated about their rights. There are 162 alternative schools for the Lumad which accommodate around 6,000 students. RMP in Mindanao has been giving alternative education to indigenous children and adults in remote communities for over six years now.

The government has now promised to build 250 schools in their communities, however, Sr Flora said it is important to ensure that these schools will fit to the needs and culture of Lumad children.

IMG_0874Sr Flora reiterated that the Lumad people need support from their concerned fellow Filipinos in all parts of the world. Sr Flora explained that as an advocate, it is important to know our roots so we can understand better why we need to sympathize with the indigenous people.

Hence, the community dialogue started with participants sharing information on which province in the Philippines they were born or where their parents were from. Participants shared their stories on how they or their parents immigrated to Canada and about learning Filipino language if they were born or raised in Canada. KAPWA collective also led the opening ceremony where the participants placed objects on top of a cloth laid in the center of the room to symbolize our recognition of our Filipino roots and ancestry. Some of the participants revealed that their families are also from an indigenous group in the Philippines or that they also hailed from Mindanao.

The Lumad people in Mindanao have lived a long history of resistance against militarization and displacement by continually building self-sustaining communities. RMP calls on support from the international Filipino communities and solidarity groups:

IMG_0875For the pull-out of military troops and detachments from Lumad communities; to prohibit the soldiers from camping in the communities;
Help the Lumad with their security, food, medicines until they are safely back in the communities;

Help them in monitoring violations against the rights of indigenous peoples, and ensure the respect for their right to self-determination.

At the end of the community dialogue, the participants proposed some action plans to continue the advocacy and support.

For organizations to work together to help support Indigenous schools in the Philippines through the SOS Network. To meet again and talk about what we are capable of as a collective i.e. adopting a school, adopting a teacher, sponsoring school supplies, chairs, helping with teacher salaries etc.
To continue communication with RMP.

To create a coalition to continue learning from each other, for example, from our various immersion experiences in the Philippines.
Compile and share recommended reading lists coming from our various organizations.

IMG_0878Create a code of conduct when using the indigenous arts and culture from various tribes in the Philippines in order to help artists stay grounded on where these knowledge and practice comes from.

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The KAPWA Collective is a group of Filipino Canadian artists, critical thinkers, and healers who work across different academic and applied disciplines. The group facilitates links between academic, artistic, activist, and other communities in Toronto.

ANAKBAYAN is a national democratic mass organization of the Filipino youth with chapters in various cities around the world, including Toronto. It seeks to unite the youths from different sectors of society to advance the cause of national democracy.

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