Tumandok People's Struggle for their Ancestral Lands

Media launch in preparation for the 7th Biennial Tumanduk Assembly. A solidarity group supporting the cause of Panay's indigenous peoples (IP) and largest ethnic group collectively known as tumandoks held the media launch to raise awareness on their plight. Since 1998, when the first assembly was held, the celebration's theme has always revolved around the tumandok's struggle for their right over their ancestral lands.

Military Reservation

For most indigenous communities, the struggle for self-determination is always rooted in the issue of ancestral domain. In the case of the tumandokpeople, they are up against the Philippine government. In 1962, then President Diosdado Macapagal transformed the 33,310 hectare of land in Jamindan and Tapaz in Capiz province occupied by the tumandoks into a military reservation through Presidential Proclamation No. 67. The proclamation was followed by the construction of the headquarters of 3rd Infantry Division of the Philippine Army (3rd ID-PA) in Barangay Jaena Norte, Jamindan and the subsequent establishment of military and paramilitary detachments all over the contested area.

Sustained military exercises since the 1970s up to the present have continued to disrupt the lives of the 18,000 tumandoks in 17 communities in the upland villages. The Philippine Army obliged the tumandoks to pay the tumado or land rent for them to be able to stay and till their land.

The tumandoks did not submit to this. In the past, they protested this encroachment on their land and rights by organized resistance in the form of non-payment of tumado. Their resistance, however, was met by the military with repression and violence. Cases of harassment, strafing, intimidation and other forms of human right abuses were documented. There were also cases of death and injuries brought about by the military exercises carried out in the area. Indigenous women were often target of the soldiers' sexual harassment and innuendos. The military also tried to divide thetumandoks by recruiting them as para-military volunteers and by reviving old tribal feuds among rival tribes.

The tumandoks, however, were not cowed. To assert their right over their ancestral lands, IP leaders organized efforts to develop the land and to further strengthen unity in their communities through campaigns and programs such as mutual exchange of labor in land cultivation, literacy and numeracy, and health.

Landless and Hunger

The fear of some members of the communities of being evicted is the reason why they have reluctance in investing any effort in cultivating and developing the farm lands. Because of this thinking, subsistence agriculture is pervasive among indigenous peoples' farming communities. Landlessness is preventing the tumandoks from developing their land into something more sustainable than kaingin farming which employs the slash and burn method.

Aside from threats of eviction, the more pressing concern of the tumandoks is hunger. The backwardness of their farming method is taking its toll on their dwindling harvest. Since 1999, their rice harvest has constantly decreased. Even with this dismal situation, they are being exploited by the traders from the lowlands who are buying their malido rice, a good quality traditional rice variety, at P7.00 per kilo and are selling them downtown for P24 per kilo. The traders' monopoly over the market gave them the control over the farm gate price of rice.

Facing hunger, the younger tumandoks are forced to leave their communities and look for opportunities in the lowlands. Because of their lack of education and lowlanders' perception that they are uncivilized, the tumandoks are often victim of discrimination and exploitation. They often end in jobs like caretakers, domestic helpers, stevedores and other odd jobs and are being paid with very measly salary of not more than P1,500 a month.

Forging Unity and Alliance

When eviction of the tumandoks from their ancestral lands became imminent and offensives against them by the military intensified in the late 90s, the IPs took a drastic collective undertaking by convening the first general assembly of the 17 tumandoktumandoks' demanded the reclaiming of land ownership of the area by virtue of ancestral domain. In effect, they are also calling for the expulsion of the 3rd ID-PA from their ancestral lands.

The Tumanduk alliance is trying to address these concerns through their campaign for their ancestral lands. Part of this is the campaign to increase agricultural production -- the IP leaders want to introduce sustainable agriculture through diversified farming integrated system (DFIS) to IP farmers to develop the land and restore its fertility. With their lands developed and cultivated, IP communities will value their lands more and will fight any attempt to force them out. This campaign also aims to increase the rice production and buying price of rice to augment the income of the farmers. They hope to set up more market cooperatives operated by people's organizations where the tumandoks can sell their goods at better prices.

On the other hand, Organic Farming Field Experimental and Resource Station-Panay (OFFERS-Panay), a non-government organization which advocates and implements food security and sustainable agriculture programs through DFIS, has already extended support in some IP communities in Tapaz, Capiz in 2007. OFFERS-Panay, through the support of Belgian NGO New World, assisted and taught indigenous farmers in converting fromkaingin to contour farming and sustainable agriculture. They also encouraged the IPs to preserve and propagate traditional rice varieties grown only in Panay like malido and kalutak and practice environmentally-sound farming methods. Slowly, the communities which benefited from OFFERS-Panay's endeavors are passing on the knowledge to adjacent communities. To increase the agricultural production, OFFERS-Panay is working with Philippine Network of Food Security Programmes, Inc., a network of NGOs related to food security, in implementing a community-level appropriate technology program in some upland villages in Panay.

The tumandoks' struggle for their land is part of every landless farmer's pursuit for true agrarian reform program. The classification of lands other than agricultural is being used to hamper efforts to redistribute them to landless farmers. And in the tumandoks' case, it is the Philippine government which refuses to grant them the land which their ancestors have tilled and cultivated. The Indigenous Peoples' Rights Act of 1997 has failed to protect and advance the rights of the tumandoks and the IPs in general. Moreso, the Philippine government has been crafting and implementing policies and laws such as the PP 67 and Mining Act of 1995 which aggravated the already deplorable situation of IPs all over the country. These policies are being used and circumvented by landowners and the government itself in transgressing the rights of IPs over their ancestral lands.

During the assembly held on May 15 to 17, Tumanduk passed a resolution reasserting the tumandok peoples' rights over their ancestral lands and to put a stop to the military exercises being conducted in the area. They also sought the support of the local government in their call to repeal the proclamation that turned their ancestral lands into a military reservation.

Like any other indigenous groups in the country, the tumandok peoples' unity is the key for them to reclaim their ancestral lands. And their efforts to alleviate poverty and hunger are all geared towards this goal. Only when the tumandoks gain full control over their ancestral lands will they attain progress.

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