CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Indigenous solidarity

HONG KONG (SE): The annual Filipino Tribal Sunday festival was held in Edinburgh Place in Central on October 29, but this year’s event showed an important expansion, as for the first time a tribal group from Mindanao was also represented.
Running under the theme of Tribal Filipino Migrants Unite! Defend our Land, Life and Resources! Fight for a Just Peace! the festival day witnessed the launch of the Defend Land, Life and Resources Coalition Hong Kong, which is being set up by the Abra Tinguian Ilocano Society, the Cordillera Alliance and the United Filipinos in Hong Kong.
The guest speaker for the day, Eufemia Cullamat, from the Manobo people in Surigao del Sur in Mindanao, stressed the need for a greater solidarity among all tribal people in The Philippines saying that in effect, her people have been at war with the government since 1980.
A council member from the group, Persevering in the Struggle for the Next Generation, Cullamat related how tribal people in her area have frequently been forced to evacuate from their homes and farmlands in the face of aerial bombing conducted by the Armed Forces of The Philippines.
Cullamat explained that people, especially the women are frightened, with many afraid to go outside, as they have all witnessed the brutality of the soldiers who, while they claim to be searching for members of the New People’s Army are actually targeting civilians in order to defend the invasions of their real employers, the mining companies.
“They have seen people getting killed, tortured or harassed,” Cullamat related to the open air gathering. “That was in the 1980s, but nothing has changed,” she continued, “and we are still neglected by the government.”
However, Cullamat says that the people remain defiant and recognise that since the government is their enemy, they have to devise ways of helping themselves.
She added that through the Tribal Filipino Programme of Surigao del Sur she believes the one effective way has been widespread literacy programmes, both in numeracy and reading and writing skills, in addition to teaching a comprehensive sustainable agricultural method to develop the sometimes hit and miss ways of the past.
Cullamat claims that by widening these programmes and making them accessible to all, the people have grown in courage and come to the realisation that there is a lot they can do themselves in order to defend their culture, identity and way of life.
The fact that the centre is open to people from all and any tribal group has seen the Alternative Learning Centre for Agriculture and Livelihood Development opened in 1998, give people the confidence to form a solidarity in unity and five tribal groups have now combined in the fight against the destructive mining companies.
However, Cullamat stressed the attacks from the army have not gone away, as the aerial bombings continue and the harassment goes on, as evidenced on 1 September 2015 when the director of the Alternative Learning Centre was viciously assasinated.
The current president of The Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, has put the centre specifically in his sights and threatened to bomb it, persisting in the accusation that it is just a place to breed Communist rebels.
Such threats do not leave the harassed indigenous peoples of the nation much choice.
“There is nothing we can do but fight! We share with you our dreams and aspirations. Our dreams of the right to education, right to self-determination, a democratic government and a just society,” she said.
“As much as you, migrant workers all around the world are dreaming of coming back home to be with your families, we are also sharing with you all our struggles, back home and overseas!” Cullamat concluded.
Over 700 migrant workers from tribal communities in The Philippines gathered for the day’s festival representing a number of local organisations, each of which represents a particular people who are struggling with specific challenges in their homelands.
The Abra people are running a Save the Abra River Campaign, those from Kalinga are running one to stop the building of a hydro-electric dam, which they believe will strangle their water supply.
Cordillera and Ilocos are working to save farming land and natural resources and a programme launched earlier this year, No to Mining Exploration in Cervantes, was presented during the day.
A succession of songs from various ethnic groups as well as pattong, creative dancing of the Kalingafornians, filled out an enjoyable day.

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