Development, killings, and the lumads

In October 2013, we went for a one-month immersion to a Manobo tribe in San Luis, Agusan del Sur as part of the Order's postulancy program. When we arrived in the area, we could feel the excitement, but apparently the highly charged atmosphere was not because of our arrival but because of the arrival of electricity in the area. Development is catching up on them. Already they have wide roads used for transporting logs planted in their ancestral land by logging capitalists, but other than that they were still able to preserve most of their way of life.

Many of the lumads sold their rights to their ancestral lands preferring the temporary happiness of fast money over the long-term security that they'd get from caring for their land. But they are also proud that they are "protecting" their tribe. But how could they be protecting their tribe if they are selling their rights to their land?

In his encyclical, Laudato Si', Pope Francis said:
"They (local individuals and groups, e.g. indigenous peoples) are able to instil a greater sense of responsibility, a strong sense of community, a readiness to protect others, a spirit of creativity and a deep love for the land. They are also concerned about what they will eventually leave to their children and grandchildren." (LS, 179).

These are values that one would find in the lumad communities. In fact, if not for their own effort they'd have no school for their children. Their concern for their future, for the future of their tribe, for their children is topmost in the community's priority. But the fact remains, that they are also feeling the pressure of development and the need to be attuned with the kind of development proposed by the Western culture espoused by government.

Recently, I went to an elite Catholic university in Quezon City together with church workers and three lumad leaders from Mindanao to finalize their student council's participation in the upcoming ManiLakbayan2015.

We went their believing that we will be talking with the core group of the student council alone, but when we arrived there were several other students representing various in-campus organizations, faculty, and priests who wanted to hear from the lumads who were with us. It became an instant forum, how it came to be, we did not know, considering that in ordinary circumstances requesting to hold a forum in such a prestigious university can be very tasking. Surely we were not prepared for such.

A well-known priest-anthropologist was already briefing the participants when we arrived, but what really disturbed me were his insinuations, linking the lumads with the armed people's revolutionary movement. He was technically, although subtly, justifying the killings of the lumads, particularly lumad school administrator Emerito Samarca, community organizer Jionel Campos, and his cousin Aurelio Sinzo, more like in line with the military's accusation that they were NPAs and that was why they were killed.

It is really disconcerting to hear from a person who publicly professed his desire to follow Christ, words that marginalizes and condemns people who are already experiencing injustice. It is like rubbing hot chili pepper on an open wound. Oh, how appropriate the gospel for that day was, as Jesus said:

"Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, that is, their hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops." (Luke 12:1-3). 

When the Ladakhis of the Northern Himalayas welcomed Western development into their what was once isolated paradise, they also welcomed what the 2011 documentary, Economics of Happiness, referred to as the inconvenient truths of globalization, namely: unhappiness, insecurity, waste of natural resources, acceleration of climate change, destruction of livelihood, increasing conflicts, hand-outs to big businesses, and false measure of growth or false accounting.

The experience of the Ladakhis is a concrete manifestation of the ills of global capitalism, of greed coming into play, of putting profits first before people. This is reflective of our society as a whole, and the sad thing is most of the world equate democracy to that of the Western concept, which is in no way a reflection of true democracy. For where is democracy in a country that is imprisoned in debt? Where is the freedom of its people, whose day to day life is dictated by their need to fatten the pockets of greedy capitalists?

Datu Hapao, a Manobo tribe leader, prepares with his grandson an offering for a thanksgiving ritual.
Pope Francis adds in Laudato Si': 
"It is essential to show special care for indigenous communities and their cultural traditions. They are not merely one minority among others, but should be the principal dialogue partners, especially when large projects affecting their land are proposed." (LS, 146). 

He adds: 
"For them, land is not a commodity but rather a gift from God and from their ancestors who rest there, a sacred space with which they need to interact if they are to maintain their identity and values."

But then what do we do?

Society has driven them out of their land, forcibly, most of the time, whether intentionally or unintentionally as a consequence of development. We abandon them and we force them to abandon their roots and give in to the consumeristic attitude of Western capitalistic culture.

While in the 70's the Ladakhis enjoyed freedom, today, they suffer from the consequences of Western freedom – the impact of globalization, mostly negative, deeply felt.

In our society, this is just as true, but because we have been so accustomed with the Western concept of freedom we have come to believe that this is true freedom. The freedom to do whatever we want to do, the freedom to be rich, should we choose to be, the only problem is we can't get rich instantly and mostly riches can only be had through one form of exploitation or injustice, or the other. Injustice of varying degrees, whether unconsciously or consciously made.

And so what is it that we should do then? How then could we promote justice in the world? How could we oppose the root of evil in society which is greed as manifested by global capitalism?

Pope Francis statement, "Nevertheless, in various parts of the world, pressure is being put on them to abandon their homelands to make room for agricultural or mining projects which are undertaken without regard for the degradation of nature and culture," (LS, 146) could never be more true with the experience of our lumad brethren, but what is deeply sad with our reality is that many of the very people whom our lumad brothers thought they could depend on, whom they believed to be Christ's commissioners, are the very people who endangers their life through vilification and malicious accusations, literally justifying the unjust actions of state thugs. They are the ones putting pressure on our lumad brothers to abandon their land in favor of big mining corporations or massive agricultural projects.

True development is that which brings total human growth.

"Authentic development includes efforts to bring about an integral improvement in the quality of human life, and this entails considering the setting in which people live their lives," Pope Francis reiterates in Laudato Si' (LS, 147). 

That should be our direction, and as Christians we should be at the forefront of this development, by first being in solidarity with the poor, oppressed, exploited, and marginalized. Battling big corporations whose inhumane actions are justified by self-serving men in clerical garbs is near to impossible to win, but we don't expect to win this battle now. In fact, this is a battle that is not ours to win, but we can do our share to help fight it by simply becoming more Christian as only Christ can be. ###


  1. Sadly the Church is full of tares as in Christ's parable of the tares and wheat.

    Some tares are supported by the agents of an extreme global lassez faire capitalism and other tares by a syndicate of global Neo-Marxists.

    Both would see the world run by a totalitarian elite- a super capitalist and banker elite or a global Politburo.

    Both are tares sown by the Devil in what he sees as a Heads I Win, Tails Humanity Loses situation.

    1. Yes.... the challenge is how to be a healthy wheat despite the many destructive weeds surrounding us...


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