ON Tuesday afternoon, I made a visit to the encampment of the Lumad people, who until today have been occupying the Liwasang Bonifacio across from the main Post Office in Manila, both as a form of protest and a plea for help.
Their protest, to describe it in the simplest possible terms, is against what has every appearance of being a systematic, government-sanctioned effort to eradicate them. Their plea, of course, is for someone, anyone, to help them convince the government and the business interests it serves to stop trying to kill them all and erase their unique culture from the national fabric.
“Lumad,” as I understand it, is sort of catch-all name for the indigenous people who are members of a number of distinct tribes—a generic designation not unlike referring to the natives of the US and Canada as “Indians,” or native Australians as “Aborigines,” although “Lumad” is presumably considered a bit more polite, given the pride with which the Lumads wear the name. The people I met were from different parts of Mindanao, although there are others; my guide, an attractive, articulate young woman named ZhaZha, said they were expecting to be joined by a contingent from the Cordilleras later in the day.
Whatever their geographical and subtle cultural differences, all the Lumads have the same problem in common: They happen to occupy parts of the country that contain rich natural resources; in most places, mineral resources, in others, timber, excellent soil for farming, or simply open space for commercial development. The history of the Lumads is sadly typical of the native peoples in dozens of other countries around the world: Not wishing to be assimilated by the colonial culture—the Lumads have had to contend with at least three – they are continually pushed into the hinterlands, until there’s nowhere left to flee from the “civilized” world’s appetite for natural wealth.
The unsavory details about what is being done to remove the Lumads as an obstacle to progress, by whom and for what reason, are relatively easy to figure out. The large number of actors in the conspiracy—politicians at every level all the way up to the national leadership, business interests both inside and outside the country, police and military officers who long ago figured out how to live with the moral dilemma presented by the choice between duty and material opportunity—have little fear of exposure. This is in part thanks to natural prejudices that encourage the public to take at best a paternalistic view of indigenous peoples, and in part because the general lawlessness of the Philippines makes it easy to apply the same unstylish brutality inflicted on the Lumads to nosy journalists and bleeding-heart social activists.
The struggle of the Philippines to come to terms with its native population is a problem that goes right to the very heart of the country’s prospects for productive growth, both in the immediate terms taking advantage of its natural wealth in an ethical way, and in the longer-term goal of building an equitable and productive sociopo litical framework. Putting a stop to the pogrom being carried out against the Lumads is but a crude first step, one that avoiding out of fear of retaliation by unprincipled thugs is hardly justifiable.
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My previous column this week addressing the likely real cost of next week’s APEC summit requires a bit of correction, thanks to some information shared with me by IBON Foundation director Sonny Africa. The government’s budget for the affair was originally P4.6 billion, but was increased by Congress to P7.9 billion—which was, despite some arguments to the contrary circulating on social media, implicitly intended for this coming week’s event by the wording of the bill, and not for an entire year’s worth of activities.
That drives the estimated actual cost of the summit up to P18.5 billion, or about $391.45 million, nearly twice as costly as 2009’s Typhoon Ondoy. While we, in the media, are preparing with great anticipation to describe for you what happens during the APEC summit, and what significance it has to world and Philippine affairs, it will be up to you to decide if it’s worth it.