Graphics by Tonee Garcia, Year 10
Words by Kim Jao, Year 11
“I want, at the end of the day, that they will hear our voice, that there is someone who will fight for our rights.”
-Norman King, the first Aeta to earn a University degree
Indigenous Filipinos: people we only encounter through meticulously orchestrated tourist images aiming to convey a rich and cheerful culture. But what else is there beyond the picture? And how does the modern age affect their ancestral mores and daily life?
Asking around my peers, many knew little about the indigenous Filipinos. Some described them as “our first ancestors” or highlighted the fact that they are a “small population”. Others discussed things they had heard, such as their “endangerment from a sudden boom in modernisation” or that “desire for higher wages causes them to move away from their tradition and culture”. A rather interesting perception was one that seemed to have been affected by sensationalist media, associating indigenous Filipinos with “witchcraft” and “head hunting” – neither of which are entirely untrue.
With regards to their culture, however, I came to a general consensus outlining a common preconceived stigma: many saw the indigenous as primitive, less educated and closed-minded. It was at this point I realised that the struggles of the indigenous tribes have been overlooked for too long, and so I decided to outline some of the core problems they face.
The Education System
A cause for concern regarding the education of indigenous Filipinos is their lack of it. Many young indigenous Filipinos live too far away from government and local schools, which are popular choices due to their developed curriculum and versatility of education. To combat this, there is a small spread of indigenous Filipino schools throughout the Philippines. Examples include volunteer-run schools in Mindanao established for the indigenous Lumad people. The schools focus on basic numeracy and literacy as well as more localised subjects such as carpentry, sewing and agriculture – however, an overarching theme is the practise of Lumad cultural heritage.
Regardless, many indigenous children still attend government schools due to their practicality and proximity. The majority of students that attend these schools are from local village communities – thus, the culture clash with the minority of indigenous children is a source for discrimination. Maria Lourie Victor with the Department of Education’s Indigenous Peoples Education Office even described modern curriculums encourage indigenous children to resent their culture by conveying them as irrelevant or as something to escape from. This has caused an expansion of the gap between intergenerational ties; younger generations deprecate their elders’ beliefs and make them feel redundant in society. Others say that these children are often stereotyped to be slow learners, that due to their indigenous context and background, they learn differently, as we all do when we are put in unfamiliar situations. In terms of morals, modern teachings encourage students to focus on their own personal success, rather than helping their tribe as a whole. These beliefs have led to many students leaving their tribe for more lucrative jobs in the city, resulting in fewer people to inherit their farms, protect the land and sustain their culture. Lastly, many indigenous families dislike the teachings of government schools, saying that they disrespect the indigenous Filipino culture by reenacting their sacred rituals and treating the tribal wear as mere costumes.
For an indigenous Filipino, the threat to maintaining strong roots with their culture begins from a young age: children are being raised to resent their heritage. It is no surprise that indigenous traditions are vanishing.
“Development aggression” is a term used by indigenous people to refer to land development projects that violate their human and judicial rights.
Since the beginning of time, indigenous Filipinos have thrived on their ancestral lands. However, during the Spanish colonial period, all Filipino territory became state-owned without regard to those who originally lived on it. Since then, indigenous Filipinos have been struggling against the government and infiltrating firms for ownership over their ancestral lands.
A series of laws aiming to protect the rights of the indigenous Filipinos began in 1909, the most notable one being the Indigenous People’s Rights Act of 1997. Embedded in these laws were their land rights – however, laws are only as effective as inequitable societies let them be. In 1988, a dispute over a 118-hectare hillside of land arose between a group of 349 indigenous Filipino subsistence farmers and two large businesses (Aznar Enterprises and the Santa Lucia Realty Development Corporation) who planned to develop the land into a golf course. Though the businesses claimed that the indigenous Filipinos were merely long-time squatters,the farmers claimed to have owned it since the 1930s with proper documentation on hand. However, the involved government agencies abstained from any action due to the pressure of the business’ interests and personal relations. The businesses continued to use the land.
This was not an isolated case. In Bukidnon, a Talaandig woman reported that their ancestral domain was taken despite their fight through legal means. The violent resistance which came after resulted in two community members killed, and the rest of the community fleeing to jobs in the city as domestic workers and farmers. In Surigao del Sur, a Manobo teacher reported illegal logging and mining which had caused him a loss of farmland and crop-killing flash floods. This pushed him and his tribe members to lose their land and seek labour abroad. In Boracay, an Ati leader was murdered, fighting for his community’s ancestral domain which was being claimed by an international hotel development. The injustice of development aggression is a recurring theme for indigenous Filipinos throughout the country. Time and time again, businesses seem to be exploiting their power over the government, violating human rights for profit.
The Threat of the Government and Military
A culmination of the problems from education and land ownership is the threat of the government and military itself.
Due to new militarisation tactics, soldiers have began occupying indigenous land, shutting down schools, forcefully conscripting men and harassing women in the Lumad community. In fear, the IF’s have constantly fled, waiting in makeshift bamboo and tarp shelters to return home without knowing if they ever will.
But the pressure hasn’t stopped there. In a statement by President Duterte in July 2017, the Lumad schools were threatened to be bombed due to their “socialist indoctrination”, that they “illegally operated against the mores of the government” and were “teaching children to rebel”. Action was taken with this force when six Lumad students were tricked into what seemed like a TESDA training opportunity, but were actually detained and forced to surrender to the military. Similarly, in the Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur, teachers were taken by soldiers during a PTA meeting and, though innocent, were brought to talk to more military officers.
During times of injustice, most would look to the government or law enforcement system for a solution. But in this case, they seem to provide quite the opposite.
Indigenous Filipinos are often overlooked and taken advantage of. Yet they continue to fight for equality and freedom, be it through education, ancestral property, the government, the military or students in school. In addition to this, others have helped integrate their culture and troubles into modern society such as the international award recognition of indigenous Filipino activists and Miss Philippine’s representation of their traditional tribal wear. If their rights violations and culture are kept under the public eye, I believe that society and the justice system will pay more attention and respect. It is this wave of attention that will shed light upon the reality of the indigenous tribes, proving a strong step towards equality.
Santos, Jonathan De. “For Lumad Schools, Even Holding Class Is a Struggle.” Philstar.com. The Philippine Star, 26 Sept. 2018. Web. 19 Feb. 2019.
Eder, James F. “Indigenous Peoples, Ancestral Lands and Human Rights in the Philippines.” Cultural Survival. N.p., June 1994. Web. 19 Feb. 2019.
Chandran, Rina. “Driven from Home, Philippine Indigenous People Long for Their Land.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 19 Apr. 2018. Web. 19 Feb. 2019.
ress, Associated. “Philippines: Duterte Threatens to Bomb Indigenous Schools.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 26 July 2017. Web. 19 Feb. 2019.