Before I can share with you what it’s like to grow up as a Lumad in the city, I need to first talk about my grandmother: Clara Betil Icdang, one of the smartest people I know.
Most people, they know my grandmother as teacher and a missionary. She’s one of those lucky Lumad who were able to go to school and become a professional. But to me, my grandmother was more than that. I remember the interesting conversations we had about a lot of things. But the most memorable one I had was when she shared her vision for the Bagobos in Tomayong, Calinan. She wanted to put up a school for the lumad kids there.
We never had the school physically built. But my grandmother, at the age of 76, she would travel to that lumad area and teach basic writing and English to the people there. She didn’t have any money for that so she asks for sponsorships from her friends to provide for school supplies.
It's really very "rock-en-roll", very anti-establishment. She was doing it just because she felt the need to help the lumad there.
I learned a lot about my heritage from my grandmother. Because despite me being half Bagobo, I wasn’t that close to my roots when I was growing up. I grew up in the city so I didn’t learn the Bagobo language anymore. I always visit my relatives, which made me aware that I am Lumad but I was also conscious of the divide among city people, and Lumad people. I was a child of both worlds which made me sensitive and sympathetic to the plight of both sides.
I grew up in a middle class family but I was raised on stories of how our family and our people used to be rich stewards of the land. Like most Lumad families, we used to own a lot of lands but our ancestors sold it for cheap prices because of poverty. I remember my grandmother said, she owns a piece of land in upper Tomayong, but she can’t claim it anymore because of all the armed groups that stayed there. And since we’ve been Christianized, most of my family have given up on the fight for our lands and now focused more on building a life in the city. I think that’s why my mother swore to never marry a Lumad like her because she knew how difficult it was live in the rural where the government seemed to have forgotten them.
But you really can’t run away from your heritage. My mother’s side is pure Bagobo. I remember she used to tell me stories of how they grew up very poor and how hard it was to go to school. And the irony of it all was that the closest school to them (Kidapawan City Pilot Elementary School ) was built on the land donated by their grandfather.
At first glance, you can’t really tell that I’m Lumad. If you put me in a crowd of other colegialas, I’d fit in just fine. But even though on the surface I don’t look like a typical Bagobo that doesn’t mean that I don’t feel their struggle because the struggle is real. My family is one of the few lucky ones. We’re educated and employed. But we have family members and friends who continue to struggle because they don’t experience the same rights that all Filipinos should have.
The awful side behind cheerful trending topics on social media are the unnoticed dreadful reports on Lumad’s plight. As my grandmother, a Bagobo, would put it, “Mahinumduman lang ta nila inig Kadayawan” (They only remember us during Kadayawan).
Her words reflected how Filipinos have boxed the value of Lumad to mere festival entertainments and museum decorations. However, it is not enough to only remember their aesthetic function in our society, because beyond the festivities, our Lumad brothers living in far-flung rural areas are the forgotten people whose human rights were numerously violated throughout the course of time.
They are the people who were wrongly accused by the military of being rebels or members of the New People’s Army. These ungrounded accusations were the reason why Lumad schools in Talaingod, Davao del Norte were closed—denying Lumad children access to education. The same accusation that caused the lives of a school director and two Manabo lumad residents in Lianga town and the abduction without warrant of 15 civilians from White Culaman.
City people think we are just a part of history, they are not aware that we evolve with them. We’re more than our ethnic dress, our culture, our traditions, and our land. We are people. We are friends, co-workers, college students, teachers, activists, and so much more. We, the Lumad, are not seen as people which makes it easy for others to take advantage of us. Many people believe that we don’t matter in this new generation, that's why they can freely abuse us.
I think people should understand that we are just like them. We also belong in the society; we shouldn't be discriminated against just because we look different, or we speak different languages. They have to remember this is the reason why most Lumad live in far-flung areas to begin with. We were driven away by the colonizers or by urbanization because we’re different. But just because we’re different doesn’t mean we’re less than human.
Our Lumad, our people, they need us now. Not to witness them perform, but to stand with them in their fight to protect their rights.
As of the moment, many do not know our struggle. Some may even be indifferent to it. But that doesn’t mean we’re not doing whatever we can to fight back. This is why we struggle to educate ourselves. This is why we’re making a ruckus now, so people can see us and recognize us for who we are.We Lumads are Filipinos too. We shouldn’t be marginalized and are entitled to the same human rights.
Our stories are just as important as any other story you read about on your Facebook or Twitter feed. Help us tell our stories. Ask us, listen to us, help us share them. Give us Lumad a voice. And if we can shout loud enough, everyone would have no choice but to stand up and pay attention.
Bless Barrera is the Managing Director of the DAKILA Davao Collective.