The screeching, screaming, crying Diwata from North Cotabato is discovering that the law on diminishing returns covers oppression.
A petition on Change.org is calling on the House of Representatives (HOR) to strip Rep. Nancy Catamco of her chairmanship of the Committee on Indigenous Peoples (IPs), citing her starring role in a violent raid against lumad folk huddled in a Davao City sanctuary. The petition now has over 500 signatures and is expected to have thousands signing up by the weekend.
Rights groups and support organizations of IPs staged a picket today at the gates of the HOR, calling for her ouster from the committee. Lawmakers of the Makabayan bloc are set to file a complaint on grounds of ethics. Church leaders and tribal chieftains have also filed several charges against Catamco and her police companions for the July 23 botched “rescue” of more than 700 IP refugees at their Haran mission sanctuary in Davao City.
‘Emissary of Death’
The Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas, together with the Sulong Katribu Partylist, Stop the Killings of Indigenous Peoples Network and Save Our Schools Network, have filed a letter for Catamco’s dismissal at the HOR. Protesters threw packs of mud at the image of Catamco with a backdrop of caricatures of the military and Oplan Bayanihan.
“Catamco has proven that she does not genuinely represent us. On the contrary, she is now an emissary of death for the Manobo evacuees. She used the local police and ALAMARA, a vicious paramilitary group, to instigate an unwanted rescue. She is also forcing them to return to their militarized homes, which they have escaped from due to intensified harassment by the military,” said Piya Malayao, Secretary General of KATRIBU.
The “rescue” traumatised children in the middle of their classes and injured more than 15 lumad folk.
Catamco, who for some reason calls herself a goddess – “Diwata” — left empty handed. Worse, the lumad chieftain she tried to use as justification for the violent rescue turned the tables on her in a scathing public scolding that has more than 17,000 hits on YouTube.
I was in Davao over the weekend and interviewed Bai Bibiyaon Bigkay. The frail but feisty woman chieftain, who once led a successful pangayaw that drove out the Alcantara and Sons logging concession from their lands, accused the lawmaker of working for the interests of companies interested in exploiting the mountain range called the heart of Mindanao. She also vowed to resist all attempts to force lumad folk to join the Alamara.
Following the incident, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte heaped contempt on the lawmaker. Catamco, he said, does not know the difference between legislative and executive functions.
Media across Mindanao have slammed the lawmaker for being a traitor to the IPs she purports to love. More than 100 participants in an international mining conference also issued a statement supporting the lumad and condemning Catamco.
“’Absolute power corrupts absolutely,’ so the saying goes. The action of a supposed champion for the Indigenous Peoples who later exposed her ulterior motives by her own doing was a graphic example of how power corrupts absolutely. This bogus leader deserved what she got as her all too-consuming greed for power exposed herself.”
Nobody is buying attempts by Catamco to wash her hands of the violence. Nobody is buying her plaint of being misunderstood.
It was the lawmaker, after all, who insulted the lumad twice in as many dialogues.
She insisted the IPs return home, brushing off claims of rights violations by the military. She professed ignorance of the actions of the Alamara paramilitary group — and then sat beside its leader as he pronounced war against the refugees. And she publicly vowed to wrest the IP from their sanctuary by any means.
“She has allowed herself to be the carrier of the virus for the extinction of the Lumad culture and tradition,” writes Davao-based columnist Don J. Pagusara.
“There is nothing Lumad in her looks, in her name, in her outlook, in her motives and interests. She is worse than what Franz Fanon said of the Blacks who have shunned their indigenous world outlook—‘Blacks on the outside, White on the inside’.
Catamco may have deluded herself into believing she has become untouchable. After all, despite previous links to pork scandals — including those involving pork queen Janet Napoles — she was embraced by the ruling Liberal Party. She has flaunted her closeness to resigned Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, the LP’s standard bearer for 2016, as detailed by news reports. And she obviously can command cops — who fall under the DILG’s jurisdiction — and the military even outside her district.
But as the musical, “Les Miserables” tells us, even the powerful and the ruthless can buckle when they see “what little people can do”.