It was the year 1993 when Datu Guibang Apoga gained prominence in Mindanao as an indigenous leader of the Lumad tribe of Talaingod Manobo of Talaingod town in Davao del Norte. The Lumad datu led a fierce resistance against one of the largest commercial logging companies in the country, Alcantara & Sons (Alsons). Datu Guibang united the many Manobo datu in Talaingod-Pantaron to decisively put an end to logging operations that threatened their ancestral land and the environment.
By the next year, when several army battalions forced 500 Lumad to evacuate to Davao City, Datu Guibang and some Manobo leaders stayed in Talaingod and used their native weapons, including bows-and-arrows, to force Alsons’ loggers off the land. They succeeded; Alsons backed off Talaingod. But as a consequence of their active resistance, Datu Guibang and 25 other datu were issued arrest warrants. Until today, military continues to hunt Datu Guibang down, but he remains defiant.
Led by the organization Salugpungan ‘Ta Igkanugon (Unity for the Defense of Ancestral Land) that Datu Guibang and other datu founded, the Manobo of Talaingod once again actively resisted militarization and intrusion into their lands.
Recently, Pinoy Weekly’s Kenneth Guda joined a select group of journalists who interviewed Datu Guibang somewhere in the Davao del Norte hinterlands. Datu Guibang was joined by Datu Doluman Dawsay, the articulate Salugpungan spokesman, as well as other datu.
PINOY WEEKLY: How did Salugpungan begin as an organization fighting for the right to ancestral domain of the Manobo in Talaingod?
Datu Doluman Dawsay: Salugpungan was formed in 1994 to defend our ancestral land for the next generations in Talaingod. Then, Alcantara and Sons (Alsons) began attempting to take our land through its logging operations. We resisted it and won; it failed to take Pantaron Range.
During that time, it has been said that your tribe declared a pangayaw or tribal war to fight Alsons and the military. What is pangayaw and why did you declare it?
Datu Guibang Apoga: Before we declared pangayaw, I traveled to Manila to inform the government that it should stop the massive logging by Alsons in Talaingod and Pantaron Range. Nobody listened to our group, Salugpungan. So we declared pangayaw. This is part of our culture as Lumad to resist our enemies, or whoever tries to take our land from us. It is our tribe’s expression of pride; nobody can take away our land and our future from us.
Datu Doluman: When we declared pangayaw, we gathered everyone in all the villages, men and women, to fight. We warned our enemies, we taught a lesson to Alsons. It is part of our defense of our land, not only against Alcantara but also against militarization here in Talaingod.
What can you say about the recent militarization in Talaingod and the military’s occupation of your communities?
Datu Guibang: If ever the mining companies enter our land, we will surely resist. We will not allow foreign powers to enter here and take the resources. We will protect it, we will offer our lives for our tribe and our future. The future generations must benefit from the land’s wealth and not the foreigners.
Datu Doluman: We want peace here in Talaingod. Why do they bother us with military occupation and mining operations, when we do not bother anybody outside our community. We long for peace and quite in our land.
Are you ready to once again declare pangayaw if the intrusions continue?
Datu Doluman: Even the small ant fights back when threatened. More so us, the indigenous people. We will fight as long as we can to protect our ancestral land.
Datu Guibang: Part of our struggle are our efforts to establish schools for our children. I was able to reach Manila for the permits for our schools, both in high school and elementary, so that our children can have the opportunity to study. If the mining operations enter our land and destroy Pantaron Range, we have no recourse but to fight the capitalists and the military operations. Our weapons may be ancient, but we will use these to defend our land and our future to our last breath.
What is your message to President Aquino who implements a mining policy that gives way to big commercial mining operations on ancestral lands?
Datu Doluman: Our call is to junk Noynoy Aquino himself. Stop militarization and the planned large-scale mining here in Pantaron Range. This land is our life as indigenous people. So our call is to junk the policies of PNoy, but also junk PNoy.
What can you, Datu Guibang, say about the reports that the military continues to hunt you down and put a price on your head after leading the resistance against commercial logging of Alsons? What can you say about the government’s counter-insurgency plan, Oplan Bayanihan, that largely targets Southern Mindanao, especially Talaingod?
Datu Guibang: Why does the military continue to hunt me down when all I did was protect our land? They should have hunted Alcantara and Sons instead because this is our land. As for Oplan Bayanihan, why does the military continue to harass us, what is our crime? We demand for them to put a stop to the militarization of Talaingod.