Saturday, December 6, 2014

Two young voices: protest and celebration

Note: This photo-essay appeared in a slightly different format in the 05-11 December 2014 issue of FilAm Star, the weekly 'newspaper for Filipinos in mainstream America', published in San Francisco, CA. This author/blogger is the Special News/Photo Correspondent in the Philippines of the paper.

Protest. We listened to the voice of protest from young Manobos during two occasions: the Manilakbayan ng Mindanao Para sa Pagkain at Kapayapaan demonstration at Gate 2 of Camp Aguinaldo on 26 November, and the Annual Honoring of Martyrs and Heroes at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Center two days later.

According to reports, the Manilakbayan, a contingent of around 800 peasants, indigenous peoples and urban poor from Mindanao, travelled by foot and by caravan for 14 days, and arrived in Metro Manila on 21 November. 

Young Manobo girls in the Manilakbayan rally.
They are here to inform the public of the human rights situation in the different regions of Mindanao, and to press for action on their urgent demands for food and peace there.  They will be here for protect actions until 10 December, International Human Rights Day.

The young Manobos, who are of high school age, explained that they are from the federation of villages called Salugpungan Ta Tanu Igkanugon, which means “unity in defense of ancestral land”, specifically from Talaingod, Davao del Norte.   One of them is a young datu, which is explained by his beaded head covering.

“We want green farmlands,” one protest placard read, “not the [green] camouflage uniform of the soldiers.”  They want the military to stop camping in their schools and communities.   They’ve added their voices to the call to resist Oplan Bayanihan, the counterinsurgency program of the government aimed at all the internal security threats to the nation being implemented by the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

“Save our Schools” is their urgent call. They explained that ever since army troops occupied their Salugpungan Ta Tanu Igkanugon Learning Center (STTILC), they have stopped schooling.  They stressed that “Edukasyon ang aming kailangan, hindi mga sundalo sa aming eskwelahan (education is what we need, not soldiers in our school).”

Presentation of grievances using Manobo cultural
forms: chant and dance.
The young Talaingod Manobos have learned to draw public attention to the plight of their lumad through theatrical presentations, which incorporate elements from their traditional culture, on the street and on stage.

In the 26 November rally, for example, they dipped their feet in a thick blood-red liquid before doing a traditional round dance at the conclusion of the program. 

At the Bantayog ng mga Bayani, they recited, chanted and presented in dance the violation of their human rights using both their traditional cultural and the modern theatrical idioms.  They presented in song and dance the diaspora of the Manobos from their ancestral domains, harassment of women and killings that they attribute to the militarization of their villages.
Some social media reporters posted pictures of mass actions in Liwasang Bonifacio and Mendiola to commemorate Bonifacio Day. The Manillakbayan contingent participated too and the young Manobos in their traditional attire also used this protest platform to call attention to their demands.

The battle is for the hearts and minds of Filipinos in the countryside, which include indigenous peoples comprising diverse ethno-linguistic groups. In Mindanao, the ancestral lands of the lumads like the Manobos are in the mineable forested mountainous areas. Displacement from their homes breeds contempt for authorities because they attribute this to the protection of vested interests of big business, local and foreign, like the mining companies, who are thought to be after the rich mineral resources there.

Manobo round dance with feet dipped in blood-red liquid.
The AFP Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) dated 2010 with an implementation timeframe until 2016, available from the internet, includes military environment as one of the ‘significant characteristics of the area of operations’.

 “The greatest hindrance to stronger civilian-military cooperation,” it says, “is the continued perception of human rights violations allegedly committed by military personnel. Also needing to be addressed are perceptions and allegations that some misguided members of the military are embroiled in political and even parochial concerns in localities they are assigned to.”

How the military carries out the IPSP’s strategic courses of actions should overcome these negative perceptions and eventually win the hearts and minds of people in their areas of operation.

Celebration. The date was 30 November, the 151st anniversary of Andres Bonifacio.  It was also the Annual Pawikan Festival, the ninth since its inception in 2006, in barangay Nagbalayong in Morong, Bataan.

Body painting competition with pawikan as motif.

The village was in fiesta mood and the majority of celebrators were young. There were no protest banners, no demonstration, nothing political. There was a parade that ended at the celebration venue, the pawikan conservation center where turtle eggs are re-nested for hatching. The center has released about 70,000 hatchlings through the years. During the opening program, the provincial governor spoke of environment protection, in general, and the pawikan conservation, in particular, in relation to the Bataan economic development plan. 

A very well-trained choral group of Ayta schoolchildren from Abucay town sang the national anthem and another musical number during the opening program.

Well-trained choral group of Ayta schoolchildren of Abucay, Bataan

There were twelve contingents of elementary and high school students in colorful costumes for the street dancing competition with the theme of pawikan conservation.  Some groups were garbed as marine turtles and danced the ritual of laying eggs. There were poachers too who come to steal them for the market and the dining table, but their efforts are thwarted by the protectors who collect them for the hatching in the conservation center.

Streetdancing with pawikan conservation as choreographic theme.
While the street dancing was going on, another competition was in progress: body painting with marine turtles again as motif. Young ladies served as the canvasses of the artists.

It was evident that environmental protection and pawikan conservation has become part of the consciousness of the young citizenry of Bataan province. In this instance, they understand why it is important to protect an endangered wildlife species.

Protest and celebration -- two diverse portraits of young Filipinos today: the young Manobos representing the youth participants in street parliaments, and the young from Bataan representing those who declare their advocacy for other causes through street dancing. May lasting peace be achieved within their lifetimes.

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