Salupongan International Voices - Teresita Endosa
VOICES – Teresita Endosa
Please tell us about yourself. Where are you from, age, etc.
My name is Teresita, 23 years old, from Nor Cal, Seattle and NYC. I’m a member of Anakbayan NY and Kinding Sindaw. Filipina-American. This is my first time ever coming home to the Philippines!
What communities have you integrated with?
In November, I was fortunate enough to integrate with the Matigsalug Manobo in Compostela Valley, Davao del Norte, as well as Manobo communities from Surigao del Sur. I am still living amongst the Manobo communities from Surigao del Sur. They are member communities of Maluhutayong Pakigbisog Alang Sumusunod (MAPASU or “Preserving Struggle for the Next Generation) which is an inter-municipality Lumad-led organization aiming to create economic and food stability programs. I’m writing to you from the bakwit in a Tandag City sports stadium of 26 MAPASU communities totaling about 3,000 individuals.
Although my experiences with the Manobo community in Compostela Valley, especially witnessing militarization and evacuation firsthand, were profound learning experiences, I will focus in this newsletter on my time in the Tandag City bakwit. I arrived here on December 3rd and have twice extended my stay, as I cannot bear to leave the Lumad just yet. I am primarily integrating with staff and students of the Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV) who have continued schooling in the bakwit. ALCADEV is a community based learning center which provides secondary education for Lumad youth. The core subject of this culturally specific curriculum is agriculture and livelihood training to ensure economic empowerment and food security for the communities. I have also learned much about the situation of the Lumad from teachers of the Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur (TRIFPSS) which provides primary education for Lumad children. My integration in the last two months has involved many sharing experiences with community leaders, datus, children, parents, youth, students, and teachers. My everyday life in bakwit has allowed me to integrate more naturally with the people and to form genuine relationships.
Why did you want to visit the Lumad communities? What were your expectations and goals?
In college, I studied Interdisciplinary Studies with a focus on Cultural Anthropology because I was concerned about the obscene impacts that capitalism and globalization have on indigenous communities and communities of color worldwide. After graduating, I moved to NYC where I joined Anakbayan NY through which I learned about the plight of the Lumad. I wanted to integrate with the Lumad in order to learn firsthand about their cultures, history, struggle, strategies of resistance, and their goals for the future. I wanted to visit this bakwit specifically in the hopes of offering moral support to the students and staff of ALCADEV.
Have these expectations been met? Please explain.
Yes! My expectations of what I wanted to learn are exceedingly met, especially the longer I am here. My reflections and responses to the following interview questions will hopefully explain just how.
What are some things you've learned during your integration that may have surprised you?
One of the things that first surprised me was the existence of nationalism in Lumad communities. The Filipino flag flies over the bakwit and the students sing “Lupang Hinirang” in the morning. Not all indigenous communities around the world salute to the flag of the nations they often prefer separation from. Despite the oppression Lumad face from the Philippine government, they identify as Filipino citizens just the same and it is their hope that non-Lumad Filipinos begin to embrace them and recognize them as deserving of the same rights and as valued members of the Philippines.
I am constantly blown away by how genuinely the Lumad children are concerned about the next generation. We often hold this expectation to elders, but for children to be so invested in the well-being of the land and future generation is incredible. In drastic contrast to Western values and socialized ideas of success, the children’s aspirations center on community empowerment, as opposed to individual gain. These principles are inherently embedded in the cultural fabric, but are especially encouraged in the community schools.
I was surprised to see the bakwit’s urban gardens, a refreshing sight in an otherwise dismal, green-less environment. I should not have been surprised though, to find such skillfully tended gardens thriving in an unlikely place. Despite the harsh conditions here like overbearing heat, insufficient water supply, and congested air, the urban gardens of each community including ALCADEV have provided some of the only greens in the evacuees’ diets.
I also should not have been surprised to learn that most locals in Tandag City are aware of the bakwit being here, but are misinformed or totally uninformed about why. A local radio emcee had been slandering the Lumad evacuees, accusing them not only of being a nuisance to the city, but of enjoying evacuation because of the free food. In general, it is overwhelming how much lack of education most Filipinos have about the Lumad, their history, cultures, and current situation. The MAPASU leaders handled the situation like champs, by the way. They invited local media to the bakwit for a press conference where they educated on their reasons for being here and the actual living conditions. Props!
Maybe most surprising has been the attitude of every individual in bakwit. In the U.S., especially NYC, a culture of complaining and self-victimizing is what people feed off and bond over, in my opinion. But amongst Lumad, I have never heard a single complaint and I say this not to diminish or romanticize their suffering or reality of victimization, but to uplift their chosen positivity. They are vocal about the struggles, but are productive and creative at that, when it comes to bettering the conditions in any way they can.
Describe the conditions of the people and locations you've visited. What resources are most needed?
There is not enough food. The people are hungry. Illnesses are rampant. Most meals consist only of rice and occasionally a very small portion of dried fish or a vegetable. The bulad (dried fish), though, is causing many allergic reactions, but the people have no option but to eat it. Occasionally evacuees receive instant noodles which are the culprit of one of the most prominent illnesses here: UTI’s. The children are malnourished and have developed chronic coughs and asthma because of the change in climate and the unclean air. The Lumad are used to cool air and so the intense heat is a challenge. Basic medicines, vitamins, and baby formula are always needed!
There is not enough water. Most days, the public water supply (needed especially for cleaning the public bathroom and washing away waste) runs out first thing in the morning after being rationed amongst families. So, there is not enough to meet all the needs of bathing, drinking, washing clothes, washing dishes, cooking, and bathroom use. The bakwit is overcrowded which makes cooking, sleeping, studying, and teaching very difficult.
The bakwit does not have enough tarps and the ones they do have are wearing. The heavy rainfall collects quickly and evacuees have told me that having to regularly release these puddles so their makeshift balays (homes) don’t collapse is exhausting. The rain also makes for muddy grounds and because they are living on a track-and-field, there is a lack of proper, natural drainage systems which makes it impossible to stay clean. The insufficient supply of soaps and chlorine don’t help either.
The efforts of parents to build classrooms out of limited bamboo supply are impressive, but due to overcrowding, learning is a struggle. The classrooms are very cramped and uncomfortable. Each classroom is only separated by a chalkboard and so the lack of walls makes it difficult to hear the teachers, even when they’re yelling, because 3 or 4 classes are in session at the same time. It is a challenge to keep classrooms clean. The students do not have enough supplies like paper, pencils, pens, and notebooks. Back in the mountains, families are able to buy school supplies by selling excess produce and abaca fibers in town. Here, they are forced to rely completely on donations. The same goes for other needs like baby formula, clothing, and toiletries.
While they’re not the most needed items, small beads for making traditional jewelry and balls to play with bring relief to the evacuees.
Why are the evacuees in their current situation? What are their reasons for evacuating their homes?
The communities in this bakwit were forced to flee their homes on the day of the Lianga Massacre on September 1, 2015. Members of the Magahat-Bagani, a paramilitary group created and paid by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to harass and displace Lumad communities so that the land can be grabbed by mining companies. The paramilitary murdered 3 community leaders: Dionel Campos, chairperson of MAPASU; his cousin and tribal chieftain, Datu Bello Sinzo, and Executive Director of ALCADEV, Emererito Samarca. The community members were forced to watch the shootings of Campos and Sinzo and when Han-Ayan residents returned home, they found the tortured corpse of Samarca and that their cooperative store had burned to the ground. The paramilitary told the people that if they did not flee, they would face the same fate.
Because the MAPASU communities are so strongly organized and empowered and especially because they oppose mining on their ancestral lands, they are strategically targeted by the military through President Aquino’s “Oplan Bayanihan” counter-insurgency program. ALCADEV and TRIFPSS have been deemed terrorist training grounds by the AFP only as an excuse to attack the schools. It is because they teach Lumad youth how to care for and defend the ancestral lands that the government is trying to eliminate them. Oplan Bayanihan claims to have intentions of national peace, meaning the suppression of the resistance of the oppressed masses, the New People’s Army (NPA). However, it is a manipulative and calculated strategy to kill with extrajudicial force, displace, and attempt to weaken the Lumad resistance.
The communities here have not returned home since September 1st because the military is still occupying their land, mining companies are beginning to set up their machinery, and the paramilitary murders are still free.
What makes it possible for the Lumad to press on despite their plight?
The strength in unity! Just in speaking about surviving the struggles of bakwit, within communities and between different communities, collectivity is tight, efficient, and uplifting. The bakwit is incredibly organized, another factor that surprised me. Just like in their communities in the mountains, everyone has a role, responsibilities that contribute to the collective, which not only keeps evacuees occupied, but helps build relationships. Holding cultural programs and having visitors also boosts morale within the bakwit.
In speaking about how the Lumads here are able to continue the struggle for self-determination despite the traumas and atrocities they’ve been forced to undergo, I would like to quote the Lumad individuals who I asked this same question to yesterday, since they can speak for themselves better than I should try to.
“Dili ko magsurrender kay para makabot ang hustisya.” - An ALCADEV student
Translation: I don’t want to surrender so that we can achieve justice.
“We will not give up because we are very organized and the leaders always think about the future and what will happen to their kids. They know that what they do is necessary, and if they don’t, who will? So, they need to stay strong.” - A teacher and graduate of ALCADEV
Genuine love of the land and one’s tribe is what drives them to choose hope, to choose resistance every day in evacuation. They miss their farms and schools so deeply and long to return home. But until they are assured safety and peace, they cannot leave the bakwit.
How can the international community help?
Donation money almost always goes to feeding the people first! But things like school supplies and toiletries can also be sent here too of course. If you would like to donate, please contact:
Maricres Pagaran, Officer in Charge at ALCADEV at firstname.lastname@example.org for information on how to do so.
You can also contact me at email@example.com with inquiries.
Keep up with updates from MAPASU, Save Our Schools Network, Karapatan, and Caraga Watch. Also follow bakwit updates on the Facebook page of “ALCADEV Lumad Caraga Region”. Even when the communities do return home, they will be in need of urgent assistance. Their farms, schools, and homes have been destroyed by the military. Monetary, material, and moral support will be crucial to #helprebuildLumadschoolsandcommunities.
Recommended actions from Karapatan:
“Send letters, emails or fax messages calling on the BS Aquino government to:
1. Immediately pull-out the 36th, 75th IB-PA and Special Forces from the Lumad community and dismantle the paramilitary group Magahat/Bagani Force.
2. Create an independent body to investigate on the killings and other human rights violations perpetrated by the 36th and 75th IB-PA and its paramilitary forces, the Magahat/Bagani Force.
3. Persecute the perpetrators of the extrajudicial killing and other human rights violations committed against the residents of Han-ayan and Km. 16 in Bgy. Diatagon, Lianga, Surigao del Sur.
4. To withdraw its counterinsurgency program Oplan Bayanihan, which continues to victimize innocent and unarmed civilians.
5. Remind the Philippine government that it is bound to observe, promote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as it is a signatory to and a party to all the major Human Rights instruments.
We also call on all human rights advocates to extend humanitarian support to the 2,000 evacuees who are now in Tandag City, Surigao del Sur.
You may send your communications to:
1. H.E. Benigno C. Aquino III
President of the Republic of the Philippines
Malacañang Palace, JP Laurel St., San Miguel, Manila Philippines
Voice: (+632) 564 1451 to 80
Fax: (+632) 742-1641 / 929-3968
2. Ret. Lt. Gen. Voltaire T. Gazmin
Secretary, Department of National Defense
Room 301 DND Building, Camp Emilio Aguinaldo, E. de los Santos Avenue, Quezon City
Voice:+63(2) 911-9281 / 911-0488
Fax:+63(2) 911 6213
3. Atty. Leila De Lima
Secretary, Department of Justice Philippines
Padre Faura St., Manila, Philippines
Direct Line 521-1908
Trunkline 523-84-81 loc.211/214
Fax: (+632) 523-9548
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
4. Hon. Jose Luis Martin Gascon
Chairperson, Commission on Human Rights
SAAC Bldg., UP Complex, Commonwealth Avenue, Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines
Fax: (+632) 929 0102
Please send us a copy of your email/mail/fax to the above-named government officials, to our address below:
URGENT ACTION Prepared by:
KARAPATAN Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights
2/F Erythrina Bldg., #1 Maaralin cor Matatag Sts., Brgy. Central,
Diliman, Quezon City 1100 PHILIPPINES
Voice/Fax: (+632) 435 4146
Email: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
PROPAGANDA & ACTION.
Find a Filipino organization in your area if you aren’t already a member of one. See what work they’re doing for the #StopLumadkillings and #SaveOurSchools campaign and ask how you can participate! Join protests and public actions. Hold community “situationers” and educational discussions about the Lumad plight. If you have access to media, Prop for the Lumad! Express your objection to the displacement and killings of Lumad at Philippine consulates and embassies especially.
Even social media is a useful propaganda tool. Inform others about the situation and assert your solidarity with Lumad #standfortheLumad. Pressure the Aquino regime to #endOplanBayanihan, #disbandparamilitarygroups, #bringtheLumadhome, #scrapMiningActof1995, #scrapDepEdMemo221.
What role does education play for these communities?
The schools are the heart, the glue, the foundation of the communities, even in bakwit. In addition to providing necessary skills of literacy, agriculture, languages, mathematics, science, and history, the schools are sources of joy, cultural integrity, and hope for the future. The academic knowledge prevents a generation of Lumad from being deceived by the government into signing away land titles. The keen understanding the children have of the political and economic systems oppressing them are astounding. Because ALCADEV and TRIFPSS integrate this education into the curriculum of every subject, the children are well prepared to defend their rights.
The sustainable agriculture as well as values education create a lasting bond between Lumad children and their land and communities, which are inextricably tied to one another. They allow children to be empowered by their cultures and instill great pride in each individual of their Lumad identity. You’ll often hear a graduate say, “I’m a proud product of ALCADEV.” It is difficult for me to imagine any of these students growing up, rejecting their Lumad identity and culture, and turning on their communities for money, as has tragically happened to those Lumad bought out by the AFP to join paramilitaries. Not to mention, the knowledge the students have of sustainable agricultural practices creates food security for not only themselves, but their entire communities as well as future generations. The livelihood education teaches Lumad how to be self-sufficient. I am still amazed by how disciplined the students are when it comes to cooking, cleaning, and tending to their garden. The self-sufficiency training also involves practices of income generation, such as wood-carving, beads-making, dress-making, and other crafts.
The TRIFPSS and ALCADEV teachers, almost all in their 20s, have become my good friends, so familiar to me. But, they are also heroes, true role models, and I am in awe of their commitment. It is the vision of the schools that its graduates will continue their educations through college, but for the purpose of returning to their communities to serve as a teacher or organizer. Some of the teachers in this bakwit are from campuses outside the area that evacuated, but classes were suspended there as well. They joined the bakwit voluntarily to continue to support the people. The teachers who witnessed the Lianga massacre stay strong and continue to work tirelessly to maintain a sense of normalcy for the students and their parents. They emit such positivity and it is infectious.
It is because of the courage, selflessness, and ingenuity of the Lumad students that mining companies and the military feel their imperial interests are threatened and why they are facing such obscene violence. But, it is because of the courage, selflessness, and ingenuity of the Lumad students that I believe the Lumad will win this fight for their ancestral domain. They will need international support to achieve justice and peace now and for the next generation. I #standfortheLumad, do you?