Our successful mission to the remote villages in Talaingod, Davao Del Norte had finished and we convened at the International Conference for People’s Rights in the Philippines (ICPRP) to link with human rights activists around the globe to continue our efforts in pursuing justice for the lumad and people of the Philippines. The colorful reportbacks from all the International Solidarity Missions tied the suffering of the lumad we visited to those across the islands to the effects of the Philippine government and multinational corporations’ militarization and harassment while the people’s determined resistance was highlighted as the key to seeking lasting peace.
On our way to the workshop sessions, I received another jolt of reality. Text alerts poured in asking if some of the international delegates could attend the parangal (wake) and burial of a lumad leader who had been shot. A group of us boarded a rented jeepney and headed to the banana plantations of Sitio Kahusayan, Barangay Manuel Guianga in Davao City.
When we arrived, we were guided by children of the community through the seemingly endless rows of banana trees. Grieving members of the community lined the dirt roads leading to the house of Hermie Alegre. Hermie was a beloved leader whom community members would go to for advice and who stood strong in the battle to win back their land from Pastor Apollo Quiboloy, a man claiming he is the appointed son of God and founded his own religious sect – Kingdom of Jesus Christ, The Name Above Every Name. His self-aggrandizement apparently doesn’t stop with the names he’s chosen.
According to community members, Quiboloy has a direct hand in the Bagobo lands of the lumad in Kahusayan shrinking from 800 hectares to a mere 2 hectares. These ancestral lands were supposedly protected by the Philippine Department of Natural Resources but were sold off by individuals from the community under false pretexts to Quiboloy’s followers and complex laws on ancestral domain have limited what the Bagobo have been able to claim are theirs.
Hermie was on his way home on a motorcycle with Danny Diarog, a Bagobo tribal chieftain of Kahusayan, from a meeting with the National Commission on Indigenous People. Motorcycle-riding gunmen shot and killed Hermie and left Danny critically injured. What would I think if a landlord drove my community from their ancestral lands, built miles of fence to cut my community off from the main road and enlisted the military to shoot at us when going near the fence, and threatened us with lawsuits and imprisonment for not selling our lands? This is exactly what Quiboloy has done, and thus it makes perfect sense for the community to point to him in the assassination plot of Hermie and Danny. Quiboloy’s publicly known friendship with former Davao City mayor and now Philippine President – Rodrigo Duterte has sealed the deal for him to act with impunity.
We parted ways with the Bagobo back in July and today the peace talks between the Government of the Philippines and the revolutionary forces represented by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines have achieved unprecedented headway. As I continue to support and promote the peace talks as one means to resolve the social, economic and political root problems of the lumad and the rest of the Filipino people, my time with the people of Talaingod and Kahusayan along with the voices of the people’s struggle at ICPRP ring clear in my mind – at the final call, the people’s resistance will be the determining factor for the people’s victory. Meaning to say, we cannot wait and rely on the government to clear the way for our liberation. We have to take the fight into our own hands and be an active part in tearing down the system that is drowning us and build a new society where we put people’s needs, in balance with the earth’s ecosystems, at the forefront.
Contributed by Bev Tang – member of GABRIELA Los Angeles and International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines fighting for #JustPeacePh