Manobo women and youth build strong foundations

by Marife Magbanua  |

The lumads of Surigao del Sur banded together to take action against an oppressive situation caused by government neglect and large mining companies.

The operation of big resource extraction companies from the 50′s until the 90′s and the approval of the 1995 mining act were ominous for lumad communities. Mining applicants rushes to apply for permits to mine mountainous areas of Lianga, San Agustin ,Tago, Tandag, San Miguel and Marihatag of Surigao del Sur province. At its peak, intense militarization affected Manobo inhabitants particularly in the Andap Valley Complex.

Mining has resulted in severe human rights violations , environmental degradation and disintegration of the Manobos’ lives. Companies did not address the food security aspect amidst obvious agricultural backwardness. Instead, they prohibited the people from tilling their own lands. In effect, Lumads were prevented from exercising their capacity to lead and participate in the food production process. Women are the most vulnerable in coping with such conditions. They also bear the burden of acquiring of basic education that allows the the younger generation entry into the literate world. These complexities serve as barriers that prevent indigenous women and youth from economic, political and cultural empowerment.

Peoples’ organization sprouted to fight against the problems caused by mining and government neglect. In the municipalities of Lianga, San Agustin, Marihatag and Tago Lumad communities were united under Malahuyayong Pakigbisog Alang sa Sumusunod or MAPASU organization in the 90′s. Inspired by MAPASU, TIPDUNGAN, Organization of San Miguel,Sustinidong Ipalambo ug Depensahan ang Lumadnong Kahiusahan or SIDLAKOrganization of Tandag and KAYAPAN-AMIHAN of Surigao del Norte of Mamanwa communities followed. The Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur Schools for children’s literacy was established. This led to the foundation of the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV) in 2004.These efforts are the starting point of Lumad communities to be united in an organization with a common interest in advancing a program on self-sufficient economy. Majority of ALCADEV graduates are now serving these communities with deeper emphasis in addressing food insecurity issues.

Complementing new knowledge and skills

ALCADEV started its food security project in partnership with New World Philippines in 2008. ALCADEV introduced additional skills and knowledge on scientific sustainable agriculture to parents, community members and leaders. Communities under the MAPASU Organization were the first implementation areas. During trainings, women’s interest and participation were quite noticeable. “I was amused seeing women carrying their babies along with them to the training venue. While listening and joining discussions,they managed feeding and attending their kids besides. Things I considered unique realities during conduct of our trainings”, said Jolito Pagaran, one of the ALCADEV food security staff.

As the food security project continued, the community’s agricultural aspect progressed. Women are partners of the men in ensuring the practice of new knowledge and skills learned from the trainings. They contributed in leading the practice of not burning wedge and crop residues, encouragement of sedentary farming using multi and inter-cropping systems and applying natural pests control. All of these led to farm expansion of different communities in MAPASU areas.

The food security staff of ALCADEV also reported that women are watchful every time farms were attacked by pests. Those with adjoining farms automatically discussed alternatives for pest prevention. They are also active in the farm tutorials initiated by the food security staff of ALCADEV

Converging efforts

Leadership trainings and education strengthened peoples’ organizations. It improved women’s organizational capacities, which can be shown in their active participations during community meetings, consultations and planning. They are more aware in addressing food security issues when outlining organizational plans. They conducted individual farm surveys to ensure that every family have implemented organizational program for planting food and cash crops. To hasten work and conserve expenses, they propagated the hungosay (cooperative labor) method to help each other in establishing farms.

Women formed a group in every community. The quantity of membership and organization of working hours depends on every community. In a scheduled manner, the group will work for the identified host farm owner. Farm work will be based on actual specification of the owner. Aside from bringing individual food stuff during hungosay, every member is required to carry planting materials. Sometimes,planting materials depend on the specified request of the host.

Hungosay lightens laborious farm work. Exchanging labor reinforces strong bonding of unity in the Lumad communities of MAPASU. Datu Tayadan, the Tribal Chieftain of Han-ayan describes the evident community participation of women today as leaders in mobilizing community people in cultivating farms. When he saw group of women all heading to farms,he was inspired to chant his favorite tud-um ( Manobo chant) lines.”Magdayupa ki’t pawa dapinluan ta kit pawa dow sibuyakan tu monu,” which translates as “Everybody, lets all get ready, go to farm and plant food crops”. Hearing his chant, all the women laughed gaily and teased Datu Tayadan back to join them for work.

Primarily, women are in charge of feeding their direct families. But there is still room for them to think bigger. In order to feed bigger family, they were encouraged to form communal farms. Communal farms also address the food needs of other community members. In another concerted effort, men do the heavy work to establish the communal farm, such as farm clearing, scything the grass, uprooting big roots and plowing. The rest of the work will all be done by women. Proceeds of communal farm is maximized according to community’s actual needs. The women’s communal farm in Han-ayan is mainly to support TRIFPPSS and ALCADEV schools for the community’s food counterpart responsibility. Same with the women’s communal farm in Simowao and Emerald communities. The rest of the harvest is used for community meetings and hosting of visitors.

The most remote communities have limitations in quickly doing farm work due to to the inaccessibility of basic needs like sugar, salt, soap and oil. Acquiring these necessities became a burden to women since it cost them a lot to pay for transportation every time they went down to the town center. This led the women of Upper Oregon to establish a communal vegetable farm. During this time, ALCADEV also conducted sustainable agriculture trainings together with seeds and farm tools dispersal. The women planted petchay, okra, hot pepper, ampalaya and eggplant in their communal garden. They sold the vegetables that they harvested and earned P1,050. They used the money as start-up capital in opening a small cooperative store. The store now has P30,000 in capital. It ensures that the community’s need for basic goods are met. The store also reinforced the development of both the individual and communal farms. This year, the women’s harvest in their communal farms were set aside for the school’s food counterpart and other community activities.

In times of unstable peace and order, women assert their issue with government officials. They conducted and strongly faced in dialogues with the military and joined media campaigns to ensure that food security activities in every community will not be affected. They are confident when confronting military if their rights are violated. During the protest of MAPASU Organization to 29th IB Community Organizing for Peace in and Development in October 29, 2011, women leaders crowded the session hall of Lianga municipality to attend the dialogue. They impressed upon government officials of the need for the urgent returns of evacuees to their communities. This urged the 29th IB Battalion Commander to signed an agreement to respect human rights and to give in to the lumad’s demands and respect of human rights.”The military presence in our communities hampered our economic activities and so we always demand the government to stop military operations so that we can better exercises our plans for development based on our own perspective like the food security we are nurturing now. We don’t want to lose this opportunity because this project contributed a lot in developing our capacities” said community member Vivian Perez.

Youth participation

Lumad youth also organized themselves through launching hungos system and establishing communal farms in their communities. ALCADEV students spearheaded the activities through maximizing Saturdays and Sundays and vacation time. Like women, youth are also partners of the organization in all community affairs. “Before, the youth just listened to the community’s decision but now, they are very involved organizationally in advancing food security activities”, said Jalandoni Campos the MAPASU Chairperson.

The youth are also determined to addressing food security issues in every community. Last December 17-18 , 2011, the ALCADEV Agricultural Extension Workers , an organization composed of ALCADEV graduates, launched its second assembly at the ALCADEV compound. The workshop enables everyone to hear a report of achievements and challenges experienced by each group. Full of enthusiasm, they committed to further intensify advancing food security in the communities they are serving. The assembly was highlighted by the ratification of their organizational policies. During the assembly, they pointed out how intense militarization has violated their rights to food security and education.

In the municipality of San Miguel, Surigao del Sur, communities under the TIPDUNGAN Organization started its full program of agricultural trainings and dispersal this year. People expressed their desire of improving their food security status since they were encouraged by the achievement reached by MAPASU Organization. Women and youth in these areas worked enthusiastically together with ALCADEV graduates assigned as community development workers.

The MAPASU experience in working for food security depicted simplicity in obtaining sustainable development within the region. It encourages other peoples’ organizations in following their developments. This is development that emerges from their own economic, political and cultural world view where women and youth capacities are considered vital.

This inherent characteristic possessed by the Lumads shows proof that they have the capacity to do community development.

*first published on the website of New World Philippines

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