What's causing the Lumads' Struggles?
The Manilakbayan is a Mindanao People's Mobilization for Land, the Environment, and Human Rights that aims to bring the voices of the different collectives in Mindanao, including Lumads and the Moro people, to the center of the Philippine Republic for the purpose of popularizing their issues, actively calling for justice for violations committed against them, and fighting for their right to the their respective ancestral domains. It has been in existence since as early as 2012 but has only recently gained popularity because of the bloody killings of two Lumad leaders and one educator in Surigao del Sur said to be committed by military elements in the area. These three were not the only victims of state-perpetrated violence, in fact there have been at least 55 indigenous peoples killed during Noynoy Aquino’s regime (from July 2010 to December 2014) under different schemes particularly Oplan Bayanihan, the government’s current counter-insurgency program.
What prompted the military to commit the killings? Was it simply because of the Lumads’ supposed connections with the New Peoples’ Army, the main target of Oplan Bayanihan? Is the issue a matter of tribal conflict? Or was it just a bunch of isolated cases? The resounding answer is no. Beyond the accusations of the Lumads being rebels is a deeper issue rooted in the perpetual aim of the flawed system currently at work: the search for profit. Mindanao is one of the areas with hoards of untapped minerals and natural resources. The Lumad communities are targeted because they stand on top of these riches.
The Philippines is a rich country in terms of its natural resources. An estimated area of 9 million hectares or 30% of its total land area is believed to contain metallic mineral deposits. It is the 5th most mineralized country in the world accounting for an untapped wealth of US$840 billion according to the government’s calculations. The business of mining in the country is guided by the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, a law which has endured despite strong movements opposing it. The said law, as amended by Executive Order 79, eases the process of securing permits to operate which has led to uncertainty regarding the environment’s condition during and after the mining operation. In some cases it has led to the spilling of mine tailings (material discarded from mining operations), affecting not only the lands but also the water surrounding the area, and sometimes even the air above it.
The Mining Act also allows the foreign ownership of mining companies by as much as 60% and only charges for a tax as low as 10% of the companies’ total profits, one of the lowest rates in Asia and the world. This makes the country attractive to companies who want to maximize their investments. Unfortunately, it is a lopsided deal with the Philippines on the losing end; our gains from the entire mining industry only account for about 2% of our country’s gross domestic product, a horribly unfair figure considering the destructive and irreversible effects of mining on our natural environment and to the people.
It has been common practice that when a particular company wants to enter into a community but is opposed by the members of it, the company uses military elements to intimidate the people into giving in. This is especially true for mining companies seeking to establish operations in far-flung mineral-rich areas. The formation of special troops, like the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit or the CAFGU, is also becoming a usual mechanism for the military to go around technicalities by saying that CAFGU members are civilians and not soldiers.
The presence of military elements in the Lumad communities is a threat to the daily lives of the people in the area. We are far from Mindanao in terms of distance and in terms of the conditions we face every day. It does not mean, however, that we should not care for the atrocities being committed against them. In fact, we should be more vigilant and more concerned since we, the Lumads and us, are victims of the same system that puts lives behind corporate profits. We are of the same kind and should work together to fight for our collective rights.