Critical Theory

Marginalization of the Indigenous Peoples in the Philippines

As most Filipino anthropologists and historians  know by now, most of the Lumads have been occupying not just the uplands but along coastal and riverine areas of Mindanao, as well as around the lakes and marshes.  Through the years of migration and historical movements of conquest and tribal wars, many of them began to feel much safer in or around the forests in the uplands.[1]  By the time the 1960s arrived, most Lumad communities were already in the periphery of towns and settlements either on the plains but most especially in the upland areas where primal forests still existed.

Mindanao had seen the onslaught of the oppressive incursions into Lumad territories. First were the Spanish missionaries whose policy decisions vis-à-vis the indios forced them to live in the reduccions and initiated all kinds of programs in the hope of “evangelizing” the natives (Scott 1994, Eder 1993, Gaspar 2011, Tabak n.d.). The rise of the Regalian doctrine provided the legal basis for the beginning of four centuries of Spanish vandalizing of indigenous lives and cultures (Gaspar 2011: 50). This worsened during the American occupation when not only the hinterlands of the Visayas and Luzon became the site of colonial repressive conquest, but the interior locations of Mindanao became fair game for their colonial agenda involving the entry of corporate firms converting the vast fertile plains of the island into plantations and cattle ranches (Gaspar 2011, Tiu 2003, Tawagon 2008, May 1992).  This paralleled the wave upon wave of migration of land-hungry peasants from mainly the Visayas but also parts of Luzon as Mindanao became the much heralded – Land of Promise (Ibid).

The end of the American occupation and the rise of the Philippine Republic further worsened what already was a disturbing phenomenon of the colonization of the Lumads’ lifeworld (Gaspar 2011: 45 ff.)  Appropriating further the Regalian doctrine, successions of the drafting of the Constitution and the formulation of laws related to land rights would have harrowing impact on the lives of both Moro and Lumad communities, as land became the site of intense contestations resulting in the eruption of violence leading to the loss of lives and homeland territories. (Rodil 1994, Hayaze 2004, Lynch 1982, Tabak n.d).  The land laws passed during the Commonwealth times were reinforced further in Congress which had no regard for the IPs rights to their ancestral domain as it perpetuated the Regalian doctrine’s limited two-term definition of land, namely that of public and private. In fact the notion of the IPs’ ancestral domain would enter into government vocabulary only after the end of the Marcos martial rule. Those with titles to what formerly were Lumad territories were the ones who benefited from these schemes as the Lumads discovered more and more that they had become “squatters of their own lands” (Rodil 1992, Bennagen 2007, Agbayani 1994, Tabak n.d.).

A new development arose immediately after the Second World War, although this phenomenon had started much earlier but its massive operations only took place after the war. Owing to the need for wood to rebuild towns and cities devastated by the bombings that took place during that war, especially in Japan, there arose the need for massive logging (Vitug 1993, Tadem 1992, Gaspar 2017).  As Mindanao still had vast forested areas in the uplands, one major industry that arose which would make a number of businessman amass wealth from the bountiful resources of Mindanao were those who got involved in logging which ranged from large scale to what was known in the Agusan area as “carabao logging” (Gaspar et al, 1971).

In the pre-conquest era in some parts of the country, there were already small-scale indigenous mining activities which resulted in the processing of gold which explains the gold jewelry made in those years. In the Cordillera, the katutubo bartered these minerals with those in the lowlands producing food. After the Republic was established, a few corporate firms with mining interests began to explore the mining sites of various parts of the country, from the north to the south.  This would become one of the most intense socio-ecological issue confronting the Lumads in the contemporary times.

By the time Marcos begun his term as President after winning his first Presidential election in 1965, the landscape involving the IPs would change considerably.  Part of the reasons would be because of Madame Imelda Marcos and the setting up of the office of the  Presidential Assistant for the National Minorities (PANAMIN) which for a long time was headed by Manda Elizalde, a scion of one of the elite oligarchs of the country.  The former, in her drive to promote “the true, the good and the beautiful” began to “mine” (that is to extract) the beauty of the IPs for her cultural showcases (when the Folk Arts Theatre and the Cultural Center were constructed, she needed to stage extravaganzas needing thousands of extras for events such as the Miss Universe contest) that needed the presence of the IPs with their “exotic” showcases.

Elizalde was her most willing accomplice. It was up to him – riding on his helicopter and though other means – to penetrate the hinterlands and identify the ones who could be mobilized for Madame’s extravaganzas.  Before long, Lumads were airlifted to Manila for those showcases where the Lumads serve as “Exhibit A”. But among other things, PANAMIN became a government agency which served as conduit for corporate interests. As plantations needed to expand, new mining locations to be explored, and development projects for purposes of generating energy to put up, PANAMIN began to serve as intermediary between corporations -government initiatives vis-à-vis tribal chieftains. The displacement and dislocations of Lumads began to intensify with little resistance both at the level of the Lumads themselves as well as civil society which was still generally involved more in social lowland issues (e.g. land reform, housing, education, birth control and the like) with little interest in what was taking place in Moro and Lumad communities.

PANAMIN became a most controversial agency when word in mass media started to cover its activities in the uplands. It was even referred to as PanaMine.  The Lumads then were labeled as national minorities; its political incorrectness was still not problematized at that time. IPs were minorities and had to be labeled as such. Earlier, other pejorative labels had been used to refer to Lumads, namely highlanders or in the local language nitibo (for natives).  For a while the label shifted to national minorities and later be changed to cultural communities. (The more politically correct label – indigenous peoples or IPs – arose only with the move of the United Nations to pay attention to the IPs across the world.[2]  But despite all the controversies, PANAMIN – fully backed up by the conjugal dictators – continued to remain in power despite all the negative reactions against Elizalde from what allegedly took place in his mansion with the under-age Lumad girls up to the occurrence of the Tasaday controversy.[3]

Were there resistance from the Lumad themselves to these incursions apart from flight further into the interior?  From their bagani tradition to the practice of pangayaw (tribal war), some of the Lumads do not take their oppression sitting down. There have been some of them who have asserted their agency in this regard. (Rodil 1994, Tiu 2003, Gaspar 2011, Tabak n.d).

The Incursion of Church groups into Lumad territories

The range of Christian missionaries penetrating the interior which began during the Spanish regime persisted through the American occupation.  At the turn of the 20th century until today, the more aggressive campaigns were waged by Protestant missionaries, many of whom represent the evangelical-fundamentalist theological mindset from the interpretation of the Bible texts to approaches in proselytization (Mendoza 1985, Gaspar 2017). The persistence of such evangelizing campaigns can be gauged through the presence of Protestant chapels in the uplands, representing a hundred streams of Protestant sects.

Along with their evangelizing efforts were projects in adult literacy, health and even food relief during times of calamities. One of the major thrust of the Protestant incursion is the setting up of the Summer Institute of Linguistics with its central headquarters just outside Malaybalay in Bukidnon where until the `970s-80s. A hundred American linguists, archaeologists and even pilots where their families resided in some kind of an American colony. At the center of this colony was the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) whose main tasks was to decode the Lumads’ languages, transforming the sounds into the Roman alphabet.  This way adult literacy materials could be produced, but also the Bible translators will find a way to translate at least the New Testament into the Lumad languages they had decoded through the help of local chieftains and shamans.[4]

It was a different scene for Catholic missionaries. Owing to the debacle that came with the Philippine Revolution, the proselytization of the Roman Catholic church in the uplands was in a standstill. The remaining Catholic priests (outside of those who joined the La Iglesia Filipina Independiente or the Philippine Independent Church) were so few that they could only concentrate in the lowland areas.  When Mindanao was opened up to lowland Christian migrants, there was need for the Catholic Church to make sure there were priests to administer to their sacramental and liturgical needs.  Thus when many of the religious congregations had to depart from China owing to the Mao Tse Tung-led revolution, they found themselves searching for mission areas in the Philippines. As Mindanao’s Catholic population was growing with the waves of migration, many of these congregations decided to establish parishes in the newly-established lowland parishes across Mindanao. Very few would dare go up to the uplands.

It was only in the 1960s when a few foreign missionaries – the Passionists in the Diocese of Marbel especially Rex Mansmann who pioneered the work among Tbolis, the Maryknoll missionaries in the Prelature of Tagum with the Mandaya and Mansaka, the Columbans in the Zamboanga peninsula and Misamis Occidental with the Subanen,  the Jesuits in Bukidnon with Talaandigs and Higaonons and the MSC missionaries in the Caraga area, especially the mountain areas of the Diocese of Butuan where Dibabawons, Manobos and Higaonons resided. The Claretians in Basilan also made contacts with the Lumads while the Oblates of Mary Immaculate set up missions among the Manobo across the Archdiocese of Cotabato and the PME missionaries with the Tagakulo in Davao del Sur (Gaspar1997: 13-14).

The terrain was most difficult as infrastructure have not penetrated the uplands; there were no roads or bridges, only trails going up the Lumad isolated villages. There were but a few choices, if they were lucky there were horses available. Otherwise, this meant hiking for hours on steep hills going up to these hinterland areas where oftentimes there was no potable water,  toilet facilities and electricity. Learning the Lumad language was one of the first hindrances. Fortunately, most of the Lumads themselves were learning the lowland languages of Cebuano-Bisaya and Ilonggo-Hiligaynon, so these served as intermediary languages.

In the early years, the Catholic missionaries were no different from their Protestant counterparts; their main driving force being to proselytize and convert the Lumads into Catholics. However a number of ecclesial and social realities unfolded which challenged this theological perspective from proselytization to inculturation (Arbuckle 2010, CBCP-PCP II, Gaspar 2017). First was the conduct of the Second Vatican Council from 1962 to 1965 which led to a radical shift in the Church’s perception of its role in the world today considering “the signs of the times.”  This meant, the Church began to not only look into the spiritual needs of the flock, but all their other needs arising from concrete social realities of poverty, inequality and injustices (Gaspar 2005, 2017). The unfolding realities of the Church of Latin America – where there vast sections of the continent’s population are indigenous – would impact on other countries in Asia and Africa. Through the Confederacion Episcopal de Latina America (CELAM), the Latin American church became militant in its mission in the world. It gave birth to and popularized liberation theology.  Its option to become Church of the Poor, further fueled the Church’s interest to be on the side of the poor, marginalized and disenfranchised.

While the impact of Vatican II and CELAM on the mindset of the local bishop and parish priests may only be at the surface level, nonetheless through the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and the Association of Major Religious Superiors (AMRSP), there arose stirrings in the church circles that would then connect with the emerging Lumad Social Movement. The forerunner of this movement were the efforts initiated by the National Secretariat of Social Action, Justice and Peace (NASSA). In the late 1960s, it sponsored two Rural Congresses that dealt with the problems of the landless peasants in the country as well as pushed for the setting up of the local diocesan Social Action Centers (SACs). Funds and personnel were then allocated by NASSA and the bishops to set up the SACs.

NASSA’s Mindanao office – the Mindanao-Sulu Secretariat for Social for Social Action (MISSSAS) – was the most active of the three regional offices.  Apart from peasants/fisherfolk, urban poor and plantation workers, MISSSAS began to be very concerned with the plight of the IPs. This was especially owing to the problems encountered by the Lumads as agricultural plantations expanded along with the government-scheme to take over land for rice production. Then there were the problems owing to the incursion of PANAMIN personnel in the hinterlands.

In Luzon, there was the issue of the Chico River project, which became cause celebre for the katutubo generating the first wave of civil society support for IPs’ cause.[5] When the Marcos government planned to construct a dam at this River in the Cordilleras, the IPs resisted this incursion.  Mariflor Parpan, the noted UP-Diliman anthropologist began a mobilization in Metro Manila that ultimately would help the people’s resistance which ultimately stopped this construction. But in the process, the katutubo’s heroic leader, Macliing Dulag was murdered by the military.

[1] There is a rich literature – both written from the perspective of history and anthropology – that provides data as to these incursions into Lumad earlier settlements by outsiders including those that took place owing to the trade linking the Jolo Sultanate with China and the United Kingdom. See Warren 1981. Movements of original Lumad in Central Mindanao were included in the oral history related to the narrative of Mamalu and Tabunaway. See Hilario n.d.

[2] This arose as the United Nations declared 1995-204 as the first First International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People as proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in its resolution 48/163 of 21 December 1993. With this resolution, the General Assembly committed itself to seeking improvements in the situation of the more than 300 million indigenous people worldwide between 1995 and 2004. The UN’s goal for the Decade was “to strengthen international co-operation to solve the problems faced by indigenous people in such areas as human rights, the environment, development, education and health”. (accessed 3 August 2017).

[3] The Tasaday controversy gave rise to an immense literature. See Readings on the Tasaday in the  Bibliography.

[4] When I was Regional Manager of PBSP from 1974-1976, I and my staff interacted with the SIL staff as we were procuring their literacy materials for the literacy projects we were funding at that time. Thus, I was familiar with the whole operations of the SIL.

[5] In February 1975, President Ferdinand E. Marcos decided to proceed with construction of the Chico River dam despite opposition from minority tribes that stand to be displaced. About 15,000 families of the Bontoc and Kalinga Mountain tribes in extreme northern Luzon would be uprooted by the damming of the river. Mariflor Parpan, an anthropologist working with these tribes, said …that the Chico, which would be the biggest dam in Asia, would uproot tribal homes and disturb burial sites. One phase of construction, it is estimated, would destroy farmland now producing $2‐million in fruits and vegetables annually. The two tribes derive their livelihood from this agriculture. See: (accessed 3 August 2017).