Lumad women | ‘Our place is in the struggle’

(Photo by Kilab Multimedia)
(Photo by Kilab Multimedia)

This story is one of the three articles in Marching against monsters
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These three Lumad women are among the many who face militarization in their communities as they stand pat against the infringement of foreign companies into their ancestral territories.


For the indigenous peoples, being stewards of the land is a duty taken seriously, by both men and women, young and old. It’s what they risk their lives for, to defend that which their tribes have nurtured for centuries.

In recent years, government had tried to force its way into the ancestral territories of the Lumads in Mindanao, lusting after the rich mineral and forest resources cradled within the Lumad domains. Military and paramilitary operations have resulted to human rights violations and repeated forcible evacuation of Lumad communities.

Documentation by the Alliance for the Advancement of Peoples’ Rights (Karapatan) shows that the indigenous peoples sector has the second most number of victims of extrajudicial killings (EJK) under the Aquino government, with 54 victims, second only to the 136 killed among the peasantry.

The regions of Southern Mindanao and Caraga rank second and fourth in the number of EJK victims. Many of those killed were indigenous peoples who opposed mining in their areas.

Bulatlat talked to three women Lumad leaders whose own lives are threatened as they fight the threat to their ancestral lands.


“Our place is beautiful, the forest is green, and we know that mining companies have long wanted to get their hands on it.”

Manobo woman leader Josephine Pagalan, 36, of Surigao del Sur, said simply of her ancestral lands in Andap Valley Complex in Surigao del Sur.

Pagalan, who is from Diatagon village, Lianga, learned that she was being sought by paramilitary groups just hours before talking to Bulatlat. It was her first time to be harassed and threatened.

“I’ve been so long in the organization but it’s only today, on March 5,” Pagalan said. She learned that the Bagani Force have been conducting surveillance at her home, looking for her.

Pagalan, a mother of four, is a council member of the intermunicipal organization Malahutayong Pakigbisog alang sa Sumusunod (Mapasu), and the Lumad group Kasalo in the Caraga region.

The Bagani Force is the Lumad paramilitary group suspected in various human rights violations, including last year’s killing of Mapasu leader Henry Alameda of San Isidro village, Lianga.

(Photo by D. Ayroso)
(Photo by D. Ayroso)


Pagalan recalled that even as a child, she had experienced repeated evacuations. This continues up to now that she has her own children.

“We have repeatedly evacuated because of the human rights violations, the abductions, the killings, the encampment in our homes and schools,” she said.

“It has been part of our life to evacuate, but we do it to show we are united, not just because we are scared, but as a form of protest, because they are violating our rights, and by way of fighting for our ancestral lands,” she said.

Mapasu was formed in 1996. Pagalan’s elders became organized, and were active in the community.
“We became active, because of our experience, because of the militarization,” said Pagalan.

She was able to study only up to Grade 3, already something of a feat in the Manobo community at that time. When the Tribal Filipino Program for Surigao del Sur (Trifpss) opened an alternative primary school, she trained and became a parateacher. Later, a secondary school was established, the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (Alcadev).

“It is this development that they (military) continue to attack, they want to destroy, because they said the NPA is behind all these,” she said.

Because of the schools, more Manobo youths were able to finish secondary education, eventually becoming parateachers. Pagalan decided to leave the school, to take care of her growing family.

(Photo by D. Ayroso)
(Photo by D. Ayroso)

B’laans of SMR

In the Southern Mindanao Region, Blaan women leaders Bai Mercy Dejos and Lorna Mora are no strangers to military harassment.

Dejos, 51, chair of the Sabokahan Tomo Kamalintandan is a widow. Her husband Rudy, 50, and their son Rody Rick, 26, were killed by suspected members of the Army’s 39th Infantry Battalion on Feb. 27, 2011 at their home. She found their bodies upon returning home from the market.

Rudy was the vice chair of the Zone 1 Farmers Association of Zone 1 village, Sta. Cruz, Davao del Sur, and had opposed the community organizing for peace and development.

“Nobody was charged, there is no justice,” Dejos said.

Mora, 32, another B’laan, is from Upper Suyan village, Malapatan, Sarangani province. Mora is general secretary of the Kahugpungan ng mga Lumad sa Halayong Habagatan ng Mindanao (Kaluhamin). She started joining protest actions as an education major student at the Mindanao State University in General Santos City. She decided to work fulltime in the organization in 2007.

“What motivated me was the discrimination against indigenous peoples, such as in the delivery of services. It’s not equal,” she said. “I had thought that it’s better to be an organizer among indigenous peoples to help them know their rights,” she said.

“Education should be free, but it’s not. On the other hand, schools put up by people’s organizations are being attacked by the military,” Mora said. She cited the Center for Lumad Advocacy and Services (Clans), which was targeted in 2011 by soldiers who encamped in the communities in her village.

Mora noted the human rights violations against Lumads who opposed the intrusion of mining companies. She cited the case of the families of the Capion,
Freays, and the 2014 killings of activists Arnel Tanduyan and Tony Bago.

“These inspire me to be strong,” she said. “I am being branded an NPA, ‘financier of the NPA.’ On Feb. 16, there was a clash near my home. Then the soldiers told the media that the NPAs were led by a commander named ‘Lorna.’”

“I know that what I’m doing is defending the ancestral domain and the right of the people, I am not afraid,” she said.

Women carry on

Most of the time, men are the first ones to get organized because they are not tied down to domestic life. But the time for the women eventually comes.

Dejos became even more active in the organization with the death of her husband. When asked if she plans to remarry, said: “Not anymore, because I have an organization to manage. I already sent my heart to the grave with my husband,” she said.

Pagalan said women are now in the forefront of the organizations. “When it’s the men, the military won’t think twice about torturing them, while they would most times spare women.”

Pagalan cited the harassment on Kasalo general secretary Genasque Enriquez and Mapasu chair Jalandoni Campos who were arrested and detained based on trumped-up cases in separate incidents.

“This is also a challenge to me, that if our leaders are being limited, we are here to continue, carry on what they started. Those who still have no charges will be the ones to carry on,” she said.

Pagalan said that she is a bit afraid when she heard about the threat from the paramilitary. “I have only one life, but I rely (saludo) on the organization, that it will help me because what I’m doing is not for myself but for the organization,” she said.

Her husband Ian is “focused on farming,” while she is “focused on the organization.” Pagalan said they cannot both be fulltime in the organization. ”If an activity lasts more than three days, the pot will be empty,” she said.

Her youngest child is four years old, while her eldest is 21, and now works as a teacher with a church-based group.

“Even if there are threats to my life, even if I feel perplexed right now, I will face it. I would never think of leaving the struggle. I could only move forward, because I know for whom, for what I am doing this. Specially because I have seen the fruits of what I have contributed in since I started as a parateacher. That is what pushes me to keep holding on, never letting go, to defend that which had been accomplished. To defend the ancestral lands which foreign companies wanted to grab. That is what I have been telling my children, that I hope that they will take the same path,” Pagalan said.

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