(Second of three parts)
THE news, as expected, is rife with government and military press releases, now informing the public that: “The Philippine Army has formed a task force to hunt down a paramilitary group blamed for the killing of an executive director of a school for lumads and two lumad leaders in Lianga town, Surigao del Sur.” (SunStarCDO, 18 Sept)
That’s after a short stretch of time when we might have been successfully distracted from the urgency of Lumad killings. Because you know, the President had these strange baseless proclamations about “alternative truths,” which he has since taken back; and the Poe-Escudero tandem has done exactly what we expected them to do.
Karl Castro has written a great piece that contextualizes, and implores us all to go beyond, the hashtag #StopLumadKillings:
“There is a need to emphasize: Lumad people are neither docile nor helpless. That they can evacuate together hundreds of families at a time speaks of how they are organized, tight-knit, and decisive. They possess individual agency as much as any other Filipino citizen, perhaps even more. The history of Mindanao is one of resistance, and paradoxically, coexistence; this is not something that happened by accident. The Lumad, along with the rest of our indigenous groups, have struggled to keep colonial powers largely at bay, and in a world continuously rampaged by Western cultural hegemony, they have managed to maintain their traditions and culture and remain attuned to their environment—something that cannot be so easily said for their lowland brothers.” (PinoyWeekly, Sept 2015)
Poverty as context
The history and individual agency of the Lumads, and the killings in Surigao del Sur are also intricately interwoven into the story of CARAGA as a region: its problems and crises, its importance and value to national government and beyond.
CARAGA ties together four provinces: Agusan del Sur and del Norte, Surigao del Sur and del Norte, as well as the Dinagat Islands. Since 2006, CARAGA was considered as the poorest region in the country. The Aquino government’s statistics and economic numbers of course would like to prove otherwise, and its National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) declared in 2012 that CARAGA region was poor no more. (NEDA Website, 2013).
Reporting on the first semester 2012 data from the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB), NEDA declared that “the region’s poverty incidence among families significantly improved from 43 percent in 2009 to 34 percent despite an increasing per capita poverty threshold <…> among the provinces in the region, Agusan del Sur is still the poorest based on the survey with almost 39 percent of its families falling below the poverty threshold. Surigao del Sur came out the least poor with 31.8 percent.”
Yet in September 2014, it would be this government’s Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) that would prove NEDA declarations false. According to the DSWD’s own records, “nearly one million people or about 232,301 households in the Caraga region remained the poorest of the poor in the country. <…> With Caraga’s total population at 2,293,356 based on the latest National Statistics Office census, it means 40.47 percent of its residents are living in poverty.” (Philippine Star, 25 Sept 2014)
That’s even as government has played around with poverty numbers, lowering the poverty line in order to claim less poverty in the country. In 2012, government pegged the poverty line at P46 pesos per day; which is to say that anyone who earns more than that per day is not poor.
The numbers of course are different for the regions – if we’d like to believe in numbers at all.
Because the reality of poverty is beyond government statistics and spin, and is born as well of a history of neglect and abandonment by the national government. That part of this story isn’t so hard to understand.
Wealth as context
What is hard to wrap one’s head around is the truth that this poor region is home to a wealth of natural resources.
Based on a 2009 CARAGA Watch study on mining in the region, these natural resources cut across agriculture of “452,600 hectares cultivated with rice, corn, coconut, bananas, mango and root crops for local consumption” and “more than 100 square kilometers of palm oil in Agusan del Sur” that are for export. Rubber, abaca, coffee and pineapple are also export products of the region, while Surigao provinces “that face the Pacific Ocean are the main source of fish in the region and in Northern Mindanao.”
CARAGA forests are also its source of wealth. “71.2% or 1,339,800 hectares of its total land area is forested, its dipterocarp coverage the third most extensive in the country. Caraga provides 70% of the country’s wood needs with 236,288 hectares of its forests covered by 105 Integrated Forest Management Agreements (IFMA). It hosts five large logging companies, the largest of which was PICOP Resources Incorporated (PRI) that was once one of the largest paper milling companies in Asia <until 2007>.”
Beyond agriculture, its seas, and its forests, CARAGA is also considered to have “the biggest iron ore deposit in the world, the largest nickel and gold deposits in the country, and large reserves of copper, chromite and coal.” This, according to DENR’s Mines and Geosciences Bureau. “Surigao Sur, Surigao Norte and Agusan del Norte are the principal gold-producing provinces in what is called the Barobo Gold Corridor and the Surigao Gold District. Deposits of metallurgical grade chromite are found in the islands of Dinagat. Vast nickel laterites are found in Surigao Norte and Sur. Extensive deposits of aluminum bauxite are in Bucas Grande Island. Coal, the country’s major lignite reserve, can be found in three of its provinces: Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur.” (InsideMindanao.com, Feb 2010)
In the April-June 2012 issue of CARAGA Today by the CARAGA Regional Development Council, in 2013, “mineral exports were valued at PhP29.84 billion” <…and> “mining and quarrying generated PhP596.88 million in excise tax and PhP1.2 billion in royalties” <… and> “one notable accomplishment in the mining sector is the start of the full production of mixed sulfides of the Taganito High Pressure Acid Leaching (THPAL) Nickel Corporation Mineral Processing Plant (MPP) in Claver, Surigao del Norte <which> produced 8,000 MT of mixed sulfides with a total gross value of US$48,025,628.28 equivalent to PhP 2,092,324,065.04.”
CARAGA Today of course does not mention Lumad communities and their continued struggle against displacement and disenfranchisement, poverty and need, in the face of these billions that are “earned” from their lands and seas.
This proves that the picture is far bigger, the story much deeper, with regards the Surigao del Sur Lumad killings of late. And there is absolutely no reason to believe government spin or military press releases. There is every reason to demand that the discussion be better contextualized in the narrative of life and death, land and resources, ancestral domain and cultural heritage, capitalism and government collusion, militarization and paramilitarization of the CARAGA region.
Anything less will be a dismissal of the plight of the Lumad.