DAVAO CITY: A dialogue meant to address the militarization in Talaingod collapsed after North Cotabato 2nd district Rep. Nancy Catamco, who called for the dialogue, turned emotional and confronted the Lumads.
Catamco, chairperson of the House committee on National Cultural Communities, and a Manobo, called for the dialogue with the Talaingod Manobos at the evacuation center in UCCP Haran, Davao City, on Wednesday, July 15.
Heightened military operations pushed some 700 Lumad “bakwets” (evacuees) to leave their communities in Talaingod and Kapalong towns in Davao del Norte, and San Fernando in Bukidnon. They have sought refuge in Davao City since May.
Present in the dialogue were regional representatives of the Department of Education, National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, Commission on Human Rights and Department of Social Welfare and Development.
Also present were partylist representatives Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna and Luz Ilagan of Gabriela Women’s Partylist.
However, military officials of the 1003rd Brigade, 10th Infantry Division, and Eastern Mindanao Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines arrived at the evacuation center upon Catamco’s invitation, which surprised the evacuees.
The presence of the soldiers prompted Zarate to call for the talks to transfer to Apo View Hotel to diffuse tension from the Lumads.
During the dialogue, the Manobo leaders of the Salugpongan Ta’Tanu Igkanugon (Unity in Defense of Ancestral Land) said that soldiers encamped in their houses and schools, which made them leave their villages.
They demanded that the soldiers pull out of their villages.
But Catamco urged the Manobos to return to their homes immediately, and told their leaders that the soldiers should be present for protection of the communities.
Zarate, who cautioned Catamco not to impose her decision, walked out of the dialogue along with the Lumad leaders.
Salugpongan leader Datu Kailo Bantulan said they felt “insulted” by Catamco’s impositions.
“Kung gusto niyang mutabang maminaw siya kanamo kay kami ang nakasinati sa maong abuso (If she wants to help, she should listen to us, because we experienced these abuses).” Bantulan said.
Bantulan said they want a written agreement with the military that soldiers would stay away from their houses, farms and schools.
Zarate, in an interview, said they walked out because the talks were “not healthy.” He said Catamco kept interrupting the Lumads and imposed her demands.
“I already cautioned her, this is not a dialogue but a monologue. If you’re facilitating and you’re emotional, you can’t be objective anymore.”
Ilagan said she and the Lumads were surprised that military officials arrived at the dialogue, since there was an agreement that only NCIP representatives will hear the plight of the Manobos.
Ilagan said it was Catamco who initiated the talks, and was not an official task related to her committee.
Still, she expressed dismay over the conduct of the dialogue.
Pedro Arnado, chairperson of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas-Southern Mindanao, said in a statement, that Catamco “displayed lack of tact and ignorance of the issue,” specially, the protection of civilians during military operations under the international humanitarian law.
He said that instead of hearing out the victims, the solon “silenced the Lumads from speaking the horrors they experienced from the 68th Infantry Battalion.”
“She kept on cutting the Lumad victims off. It would seem that she was siding with the military. Every time one of the victims starts to talk, she shifts the issue to something trivial,” Arnado said.
Arnado said Catamco also “commented on the foul smell in the camp, and questioned the legitimacy of the Lumad leaders.”
“These indigenous peoples have been driven to near death… Before uttering a single word, perhaps Cong. Catamco should first educate herself by reading pertinent documents protecting the rights of the people, and by immersing herself with people in areas affected by the conflict,” Arnado said.
In a text message, Catamco denied she meant to insult the lumads.
“It was not alluded to anyone but it was the place that going smelly (sic),” Catamco said. “They can call me arrogant or anything they want, I don’t care.”
Kilab Multimedia with Jefry Tupas