THERE is a history of writers who work with government, those who are paid by politicians for PR and speeches, who become spokespersons and communications secretaries. Certainly one cannot fault writers who decide to work for government. But one would hope for an amount of self-reflexivity, a sense of the compromised position they hold. At the very least the ability to see that their positions of power imbue words with power as well, making it more dangerous.
Not for them who speak, whose words are now protected by the State, but for those they speak about, officially or unofficially, on social media especially.
UCCP-Haran and media access
Before the Lumad Camp even came to Manila, before I even met Michelle Campos, before I even sat down and listened to the Lumad and their stories about their land and lives, the narrative of the bakwit in UCCP-Haran had already taken over mainstream media.
This is why it’s surprising that it is now being claimed by someone from the Palace – yes, Malacañang – that the media is being kept from entering UCCP-Haran, by what they call “marshals” who they also call “NPA handlers,” who are holding the Lumad as “hostages, actually.”
Mindanao Times. SunStar Davao. MindaNews. Rappler. Mindanao Examiner. Philippine Star. The Manila Times. The Philippine Daily Inquirer. ABS-CBN News. GMA News. Interaksyon.com. These are some of the media sites that have carried stories about the UCCP-Haran bakwit since June this year. While one might say that this does not necessarily mean we are getting the truth about the situation in the compound, certainly 11 media sites cannot mean the media is disallowed from entering the compound?
Ah, but it seems the other problem of Malacañang is what they call “the lazy lazy media <who> would rather get statements from NPA fronts like Karapatan, than actually try and get into the the compound to interview the Lumad there.”
So we’re saying that the media have not only underreported or misreported the case of the bakwit in UCCP-Haran; we’re also saying that the media do not even want to enter the compound and speak with the Lumad?
In effect, are we saying that the media are complicit in what is being called a hostage situation? Are we saying that the media are accessories to the crime that the Palace believes is being committed as we speak?
The conditions of the Lumad
For a place that no one can access, the people of Malacañang are certain about UCCP-Haran’s “deplorable living conditions.” They ask: why have the DSWD been disallowed from distributing relief goods? Why are counselors blocked at the gate?
These questions echo the July 18 Press Release of Rep. Nancy Catamco, about her failed dialogue with the bakwit: “<…> after seeing a disgraceful condition of IPs in the supposed evacuation center, Catamco instantly called up the attention of DSWD; DepEd; NCIP and CHR officials. But to her surprise [when]officials told her militant groups did not allow them to get inside the compound hence they cannot come up with a situation report and provide necessary assistance.”
A bit of context, a sense of the conditions of the Lumad, would explain exactly why the DepEd and the NCIP wouldn’t be welcome at all: DepEd refused to stand with Lumad schools that were being closed down by the (para-)military; NCIP (the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples) is the government agency that has failed at protecting indigenous peoples and their ancestral lands from big capitalists and mining companies.
Now if the social welfare department truly cared, they would bring relief goods to evacuation centers, never mind that they won’t be the ones to distribute these.
Certainly the Lumad have the right to refuse help as well, if only because they’d rather not be indebted to the same government whose military had caused them to leave their homes?
Context is also crucial if one is to understand why it is that when Rep. Catamco asked the Lumad: “’Sino ang gustong umuwi?’ Everyone raised their hands. Anyone who has spoken to the Lumad would know that every Lumad wants to go home.
It’s a question of whether or not they can. It’s a question of whether or not it is dangerous for them to do so.
In lieu of answers
The more important question to ask is this: who stands to gain when the Lumad leave their homes? Who stands to gain by quashing resistance against mining companies and the plunder of indigenous peoples’ lands?
Certainly we must know that the context of any bakwit is the entry of mining and big plantations in the Lumad’s ancestral lands, and the contingent intrusion of military and paramilitary in their communities?
Certainly we must know that the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, Chaloka Beyani, had said about the case of the UCCP-Haran evacuees: “I travelled to Davao to consult the national and local authorities and the indigenous peoples themselves on this situation. I heard from the AFP its assertion that it is seeking to protect the communities and provide services to them in conflict regions; however the displaced IPs made it clear that it is their presence and that of the paramilitary groups in their communities that continues to create anxiety amongst the indigenous communities. The community wishes to return to its lands but stressed to me that they will only feel safe to do so if the long-term militarization of their region comes to an end and they can return with guarantees of safety, dignity and protection.” (UNHR website, July 2015)
Certainly we must know that when we use words to redtag those who are helping the Lumad, when we tag organizations as NPA fronts, when we muddle this conversation with the purported lack of media access to an evacuation center, that we ultimately end up serving the mining companies that are taking over Lumad lands?
Certainly we must know that the power of words can and will be used in favor of the powerful, in order to continue to render the weak powerless?
Every writer worth his salt would know that.