A Look at Lumad's Struggle
Project info

On October 20, hundreds of lumad—the collective term for 17 ethnolinguistic groups in the island of Mindanao—started a more than six hundred mile journey to the Philippine capital, Manila. Their protest caravan aimed to raise awareness on the struggle of indigenous peoples (IPs) in Mindanao and seek justice for the victims of human rights violations, which include killings and attacks on indigenous communities and their alternative schools. According to the local IP group Katribu, 53 lumad have been killed under the administration of President Benigno Aquino III. Cases of torture, vilification, and other forms of harassment have also been documented in various parts of the region. Though the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) have denied the allegations, witnesses state that military and paramilitary groups are behind the killings.

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz and Michel Forst—United Nations special rapporteurs on IP rights and on human rights defenders, respectively—have already urged the Philippine government to investigate the killings of lumad. According to a statement issued by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, "military occupation of civilian institutions and killing of civilians, particularly in places such as schools which should remain safe havens for children from this type of violence, are unacceptable, deplorable, and contrary to international human rights and international humanitarian standards." Local organizations, including the Catholic Bishop Conference of the Philippines, have likewise demanded the Aquino administration to probe and stop the killings of lumad.

The Philippine archipelago is populated by indigenous peoples from north to south. Like the IPs in other parts of the world, "native" populations in the country have historical struggles in relation to their ancestral lands. While the IPs in the country deal with similar problems, Filipino anthropologist Michael Tan said in a Philippine Daily Inquirer article that "the situation of the lumad has been more precarious... because Mindanao is so rich in natural resources." For decades, the lumad communities have been struggling against the exploitation of their ancestral lands by local and foreign companies that deal with agribusiness plantations, logging concessions, and mining. Consequently, past and present governments have adopted military tactics to suppress the resistance of lumad against the operation of these companies that affect their livelihood, culture, and environment.

The martial law regime of Ferdinand Marcos created the Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Units (CAFGU) while previous administration of Gloria Arroyo formed the Investment Defense Force (IDF) which both aimed to put IP communities under surveillance and protect business interest and infrastructures. Under the Aquino administration, the AFP is said to have forcibly recruited lumad men into paramilitary groups which engage in actual combats and are believed to be behind the killing of Italian priest Fausto Tentorio in 2011 and Manobo tribe leader Henry Alameda in 2014. One of these groups is Magahat Bagani Force which, according to Surigao del Sur governor Johnny Pimental, was created and controlled by the military.

Military encampment in various communities in Mindanao—which the army refers to as anti-insurgency activities—have so far displaced about 3,000 IPs, according to the International Organization for Migration. Last May, more than 700 lumad evacuated from Talaingod, Davao del Norte after alleged government forces and anti-communist paramilitary group occupied their villages and committed harassment, vilification, and indiscriminate firing. Four months later, two thousand residents from Lianga, Surigao del Sur were displaced after a leader of an alternative school was found hog-tied with stab wounds in a classroom. Similar incidences have happened in Bukidnon and other parts of Davao del Norte where military and paramilitary operations are said to be concentrated.

This series of portraits was taken from different places in Manila where the lumad held protests, discussions, and other activities to advance their cause. Now back in Mindanao, the lumad who joined the protest caravan vowed to continue their struggle for their ancestral land and for justice for victims of human rights violations.