When the sun lowers beyond the horizon and night falls, families are deciding whether to stay up or to lie down in their beds. Across the road under the roof of an outdoor gym, many families are gathered together. Unlike you or I, they do not have any walls to protect them from mosquitos; they do not have any beds, not even any mats or ‘banig’ to lie on. Instead, mothers spread out whatever cardboard they have, whatever cardboard donated to serve as a small layer of comfort between their husbands, their children and the rough cement of the basketball court.
One month ago, their lives were a little different, in a different place, in their ancestral home. Even though they constantly faced trials and tribulations that we only read about, they could still enjoy the small comfort of their own homes. A testament to a resilient people the Lumad-Mamanwas of the Caraga region of Mindanao, Philippines have taken the brunt of the intensifying war between the armed forces of the National Democratic Front Party (NDFP) and the Government of the Philippines (GPH.)
(Photo: Rea de Castro)
Since 2011, their ancestral domain, near the tri boundary of Agusan del Norte and Surgao del Sur&Norte has been used as a highway for armed forces – either passing through or in pursuit. One side always causes more havoc, the other next to none. But one must ask why they choose to cross so close to the Mamanwa lands–in order to entice an aggressive response from the other? The Mamanwa and other Lumads would rather they pass as far away as possible, leaving them to tend to their animals, their farms and their children, embracing and living the lives that their forefathers lived before them, in the very same mountains for generation upon generation.
Injustices and rights violations were a common occurrence in 2011, but one that could be born for awhile in the hope that the conflict of two worlds would fade, leaving the Lumads once again in peace. When one side accuses your animals of belonging to the other side, what words of protest matter when facing the barrel of a gun? When one side tramples your fields calling it ‘punishment’ for letting the others pass by unchallenged, what do you say? What do you say when your familes are threatened with affiliation? What do you say when the army that is supposed to protect you is destroying your livelihood not just once but again and again…and again. The Lumads did nothing. The Lumads, aside from words of protest and denial did nothing. They endured. They placed their faith in their government, knowing that they would halt the injustices. They continued to struggle and try to make ends meet for their families and their children. They tried to protect the childhoods of their young.
March 2012 saw the bombing of their lands and the injuring of their loved ones by undisciplined forces of their government. Faced with the overwhelming violence upon their communities, the Lumad Mamanwas made an exodus, from the homeland of their mountains to the valley below, to protest- to appeal to the local government units to control their armed forces. Their story was not met with an outpouring of support. Their story was met, much like Joseph and Mary were met in Bethlehem, with closed doors, with the shake of heads. Only a few groups stood with them.
(Photo: Rea de Castro)
An appeal to the Commission on Human Rights Office–Rejected.
Words fail when an institution whose SOLE purpose is to “ Protect and Monitor” the rights of all humans under the International Commission of Human Rights. It is very hard to protect and monitor from behind the military, from behind the government and from deep down in pockets of those who would seek to possess Lumad mineral rich lands illegally. It is even harder to protect and to monitor when ignoring and refusing gets you a brand new Toyota, gets your family a nice 3D TV and gets your children through the most expensive schools. Regardless of difficulty, if a tool does not fulfill purpose it was designed for, should it not be recycled and overhauled? Should it not be taken back to the drawing board?
When the military fails the faith in them.
When patience and endurance fail.
When the government fails the faith of the people.
When institutions fail.
When the system fails.
When tools fail.
(Photo: Rea de Castro)
Who will stand for the Lumad-Mamanwas? Who will stand with the Lumads when all else fails? Hope won’t fail. Faith will not fail. Love. Will. Never. Fail.
Even though the task set before us is just as great as Goliath was for the nation of Israel…we will not fail even when our words fail, because God doesn’t move in the words of mankind, but with the presence of the Holy Spirit. A Spirit who hears a people crying for justice, who feels them trampled underfoot and cast aside, a Spirit who will send those who are called to live in the Kingdom of God to listen to the calls for help, to act for their justice and their rights…even when words fail.