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Rough Cuts: The promise of empowering the ‘lumads’

Many candidates for local positions in the coming May 13 elections are talking about empowerment of the indigenous peoples (IPs or lumads) as long-term solution to their sordid plight in their upland communities.

Indeed the solution is long-term because it attempts to change what has been some kind of a tradition among lumads who inhabited the Davao Region and other parts of the country long before the Spanish conquistadors came in 1521. That is, on the relatively fair notion that they will remain in their present social standing because they have preferred to be subjugated by lowland “invaders” out to destroy their places of domicile; that the early inhabitants recoiled, retreated, and still continue to retreat to the fastness of what remains of the once vast jungles when the colonizers, both foreign and fellow Filipinos, came, intimidated them and took advantage of their ignorance to deprive them of their lands and other possessions. Today, most of the lumads who have stuck it out with their way of life are already out there in the farthest of Davao Region’s last frontiers.

And who are these present-day “invaders?” They are the lowlanders out to acquire low-cost farm lands; the businessmen speculating for raw materials or those undertaking land banking for their future use. They even include fellow lumads who have assimilated the culture of mainstream society by fighting off intimidation and opted to remain in the lowlands and acquired education; they who found their new status a convenient way to use their fellow natives for their own selfish interest.

But no matter how some people see the condition of the indigenous peoples out there, and how they justify such view, we fully agree with the politicians and the aspiring ones that there is a long-standing need to improve the lot of the lumads and their communities. And we fully commit to support any efforts of theirs should they make it in the forthcoming elections and pass measures intended to empower the lumads without necessarily denying them their birth right of perpetuating their culture and tradition.

The measures that we will be all out for are those that allow the natives to enjoy urban amenities without them moving out of their places of abode; measures that will showcase not just their culture and tradition but the lumads themselves as human being, not as breathing “commodities” and social outcasts.

Yes, the successful candidates this coming May 13 polls must do projects that will make the non-lumads discover their own past and present identity to be distinct yet not necessarily different from that of the lumads’ ways. And perhaps the future public servants should work on implementing projects that they alone think of but instead base it on what the lumads believe they need to improve their lives, and what their communities can offer to make the projects happen and sustainable
From where we are perched we can see clearly only two most effective ways to change the sorry state of the lives of most indigenous people as well as the condition of the communities they live in. One is education which is really a very long and expensive process. The other is by providing them skills that can be applied in jobs that may be germane in their culture when these are made available for them right in their own areas or in nearby places.

Beforehand though, the new set of elected officials should bring development projects in lumad domains that do not destroy or take out its resources but instead harness them tapping the services of the IPs or the lumad population.

And if education is indeed the best option to positively intervene in the way of life of the lumads, then it is imperative that government (and we mean the local as well as national) through the new set of leaders elected, should start getting serious with their efforts to provide the kind of education that best suits the lumads. It’s about time that they move from the “talk” level to the “do” level.

The government should build more schools in areas where there are concentration of lumads. They should also make revisions in the curriculum that will allow easy interaction between the teachers and the lumad students. The new leaders, local legislators more specifically, should come up with programs that will encourage more IPs to study college and take up education and for those who will graduate to return to their places of origin and teach there.

We also recommend that the Department of Education (DepEd) dispenses with the Licensure Examination for Teacher (LET) passing requirement for lumad graduates before getting hired in schools in their areas. They, however, should still be ordered to take the exams as condition for the continuity of their service and future promotions.

Educating the lumads, as we said, is a long and expensive process. But there is no doubt that this would mean a new generation of indigenous peoples very much the Filipinos that everybody wants to see and interact with is forthcoming.

Thus, we believe, education for the lumads and developing them and their communities into a productive society must be to the account of the government.

As to the other “colonizers” of what is left of the once indigenous peoples’ domain, the onslaught can only be mitigated if our new set of leaders can make good their commitment to protect the lumads’ domain from encroachment.

All they need to do is implement all existing laws intended to perpetuate ancestral lands for the natives to live and cultivate. They should update laws and ordinances that are already overtaken by time.

Development encroachment in the lumad communities should not be allowed just as wantonly as some leaders and economic “experts” think it should in the name of development.

And if it is indeed inevitable, it has to be planned in a way that the indigenous peoples and their communities have the first crack at its benefits and the rest of the players get second priority. After all, any development venture is likely to stay in place if it gets the support of the host communities.

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