Can’t wait for the Congress Lumad show

North Cotabato Representative Nancy Catamco wants a full-blown, multi-committee probe into the July 23 Haran botched rescue. That’s a good thing, a very, very good thing.

In a privilege speech Monday (August 17) at the House of Representatives, Catamco and her hero, the Magdalo representative Ashley Acedillo – bewailed what they called “personal attacks” on the self-styled diwata (goddess) of Mindanao’s lumad people.

Catamco, the chair of the House Committee on Indigenous Peoples, denied the following:

  • That she had harangued the lumad at Haran and called them “stinky”;
  • That she was responsible for the “rescue” that injured 15 lumad and church workers and four cops.

She reiterated previous statements about the lumad being exploited, accusing militant groups of discriminating against them. She and Acedillo claimed the lumad – all 700 plus of them – had been tricked into going to Davao by offers of a P5,000 cash gift, meetings with President Benigno Aquino III, Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and boxing superstar and representative Manny Pacquiao.

During interpellation by Gabriela Rep. Luz Ilagan, Catamco said militants had used the lumad’s “credulity”.

Catamco repeated her claim, — and showed a video to prove it — that Manobo chieftain Bae Bibiyaon Ligkayan Bigkay had sought the rescue. Likewise, she showed a video of a Lumad woman who “escaped” Haran in the aftermath of the raid, to prove that the indigenous folk were being held against their will.

The congresswoman also cited claims by datus from Bukidnon that the suicide (during a separate evacuation) of lumad Lito Lundia was because he was not allowed to return home. (Later, his wife, Tata also committed suicide.) She read a report from the regional Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) office to prove rescue was necessary because the datus in Haran refused to turn over their women and children.

And, to cap it all, Catamco said the Davao City mayor was the one who ordered the July 23 rescue.

No militarization

Police storming the UCCP Haran compound on July 23. Photo by Karlos Manlupig
Police storming the UCCP Haran compound on July 23. Photo by Karlos Manlupig

Catamco admitted that during the fact-finding mission organized by Save Our Schools, a resident confirmed soldiers had told their community not to send children to the Salugpungan school, an alternative education center organized by religious groups and the lumad community. But the rest of the people, she said, were silent. The residents left behind, she added, said there was no militarization in the area. (Rep. Carlos Zarate noted that soldiers were taking photographs during the mission.)

Acedillo picked up where Catamco left off, saying the evacuation was nothing but a tactic of the New People’s Army. He challenged legislators of the Makabayan bloc: “Are you sure you are not party to any activity to undermine the government?”

He urged the government to “directly interevene” and stop the use of the lumad by leftist forces, saying there was a “clear pattern.” He accused the Salugpungan school of recruiting lumad for the NPA. He said children were taught “Lupang Sinira” (a protest song from the Marcos era, and one popularized by singer Pol Galang) and anti-government thought.

I also learned something new from Acedillo. He said 70% of the NPA in Mindanao come from the lumad population. Thus, all the protests by lumad were orchestrated by the NPA, which kills or abducts pro-government lumad.

Full of holes
Ilagan stood up and, point by point, showed up her former student.

Who conducted the “probe” Catamco used as a basis for her privilege speech? Could the good lumad rescuer identify her sources? 

Catamco said she is keeping the datus’ identities because they are scared. She had blurred the face of one but other faces were clear. In fact, military officers have shown journalists those videos before.

Catamco claimed she had been talking to Ilagan, citing the smell of the lumad to show their miserable conditions.

Ilagan pointed out that Catamco’s own video showed the Gabriela rep in the background, quiet, while the North Cotabato legislator stridently sermonized at the lumad, angry because they would not go home.

Why, Ilagan asked, would Catamco get mad if the lumad were, as she claimed, eager to return to their farm? Because, Ilagan said, the lumad had finally caught up with Catamco’s tactic – telling her they would go home only if the government heeds their appeal for a pullout of the military from their schools and communities.

In this video, Catamco complains about lumad bringing up different issues when she wanted only to discuss how they could go home. She dismisses calls for dialogue, saying the lumad have been evacuating two years running.

One would think, she’d ask, “Why?” Instead she demands, “We want to stop this!”

“Minamanipulate nila... I have to raise my voice so the lumad know may tumatayo sa kanila”

No militarization?

Both Catamco and Acedillo insist there is no militarization of lumad communities, no harassment.

Ilagan showed footage where teachers explained why they were being harassed – because, lumad themselves, they were helping communities understand and resist the big development encroachments devastating the countryside. She showed this video

There is another, clearer video, showing teachers and a village official in Compostela Valley remonstrating with soldiers who had clearly taken over their school. You don’t string hammocks on a routine patrol. WATCH

Weak, pitiful lumad? Hood-winked lumad? Manipulated lumad?

Bai Bigcay accused Catamco of manipulating their statements to justify the violent storming of their Haran sanctuary on July 23.
Bai Bigcay accused Catamco of manipulating their statements to justify the violent storming of their Haran sanctuary on July 23.

Ilagan read portions of UN Special Rapporteur Chaloka Beyani’s exit statement. After narrating how the Armed Forces tried to twist the UN expert’s words, she read the second statement of Beyani, which slammed the “gross distortion” of his statements.

Beyani said the lumad were in Haran of their free will; they know why they were there. He recommended holding dialogues with the lumad datus to resolve their problem. (Commission on Human Rights Chair Chito Gaston says he shares Beyani’s conclusion that the Haran lumad are not victims of human trafficking.)

Yes, Ilagan said, Bai Bigkay longed for home, longed for her farm, the free, open spaces, the fresh air her grandkids needed. But if Catamco was righteous in her rescue attempts, why did the elderly chieftain publicly berate her for misrepresenting the lumad, for insulting them? And then she showed that now-famous video of an outrage Bai Bigkay putting the diwata in her place. Here is the full footage of Bai Bigcay scolding Catamco after July 23 botched rescue 


Catamco tried to wriggle out of that one, implying that Bai Bigkay may have been under duress. Anyone on the floor would have seen the Manobo chieftain is no one to push around. Ilagan didn’t even have to tell peers that Bai Bigkay had earned her reputation as one of the leaders of the drive to rid their mountains of a major logging concern.

Full-blown probe

Duterte, who had previously slammed Catamco for usurping executive functions, will be tickled to know he is now the instigator of the ‘rescue’. In the aftermath of the Haran raid, social workers and cops pointed at each other. Ilagan stressed that cops could not show any arrest warrant.

It took the AFP leak of a recording of their exit briefing with Bayani to reveal the truth: as the UN expert noted, both cops and soldiers had practically pointed to Catamco as the one responsible because she had given a false picture of the Haran situation. That, as Beyani noted in his second statement, was what he meant by “manipulated”.

A post on Rep. Nan
A post on Rep. Nancy Catamco’s Facebook page, claiming proof that alternative schools are used to recruit lumad.

That’s what the cops and soldiers told him. But it’s hard to imagine the security forces were taken for a ride, given that the same and Catamco were already jointly hammering on the “human trafficking” angle. Certainly not with their push – echoed by Acedillo – claiming everything is a conspiracy to strengthen the NPA

In this report, for example, Davao City Police Office (DCPO) Director Sr. Supt Vicente Danao Jr. displays the mindset that led to the Haran raid. He cited reports of three other lumad deaths aside from the documented suicide during a separate evacuation.

“The purpose of the (July 23) operation is not to force them out but to rescue those people because of the reported four deaths,” said the police officer. There were no official reports, no blotters, unlike the suicide case.

“Yung [The] report came from the tribal leaders and the relatives of the lumads, it was reported to the military until it reached us,” Danao said.

Then the police officer goes on, saying he has nothing to prove because it is the duty of the support groups to prove that the reports of three other deaths in Haran are not at all true.

Catamco, at least, has done one good thing. A full-blown probe would allow all the actors their day before legislators. Duterte and Bai Bigkay will draw a standing-room only crowd, though there are many colorful characters also on the other side.

Dawn comes to the mountains of Talaingod, Davao del Norte, home of lumad defending ancestral lands from encoraching developers.  (Photo by Clemente Bautista of Kalikasan)
Dawn comes to the mountains of Talaingod, Davao del Norte, home of lumad defending ancestral lands from encoraching developers. (Photo by Clemente Bautista of Kalikasan)

We will then hear from the teachers and students, find out the truth about a young man who claims he was made to act as spotter for the NPA, find out the real truth about Lito and Tata, and their recently “abducted” kin.

Most of all, we will hear why the lumad are restive; why – as Acedillo claims – they have formed an alliance with the NPA.

We will hear about all the lumad slain defending their lands from miners, loggers, operators of plantations – 40 plus lumad dead by last count, including ten from the Tampakan mine areas. We will hear of a priest murdered in defense of the lumad and hear of how Catamco, the great rescuer, allegedly protected the suspects.

Acedillo’s number ought to make us think. Are the NPA so good and the lumad so credulous? At the very least, we’ll know why the heartland of Mindanao is once more filled with days of disquiet and rage.

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