April 23, 2011
Exactly four weeks ago the whole Caraga region came to a standstill with surprise episode of a short lived hostage taking. News of the incident caught the attention of the national leadership that is sensitive to a hostage situation that it tries to avoid and handle like a plaque or virus. This time it involved a tribal group of young Manobo’s from the Municipality of Prosperidad in Agusan del Sur. All of the hostage perpetrators were minors. The hostage victims were teachers, parents and innocent elementary school students who were attending a public school graduation in a remote uptown Barangay.
The reason was an offshoot to a government none fulfillment to a previous agreement of land property dispute and inter tribal violent conflagration that incarcerated a tribal leader “for another crime that also resulted to a previous hostage taking of 79 persons in the year 2009”. Legally, there should have been no agreement at all in the first place if there was a crime committed unless innocence is established and resolved by the court.
After a marathon negotiation and nerve trading that sidelines our national government and police officials from their busy schedules in the national capital region, the crisis was resolved without a bloodshed and violence. Not after some concessions and government assurance were signed. All hungry and sickly hostages were released unharmed.
But the incident hugs the headlines for five days and captured the anxiety of the public and the foreign community on the peace and order situation of this country. The national leadership breathed fresh air from the peaceful resolution of the conflict. Never mind if time and government resources were wasted as long as loss of lives were prevented. It was lesson No. 2 for the Aquino government in handling a hostage situation.
What are the concessions agreed and promised? Only those that who signed the documents and received copies really knows until a next hostage taking takes place shall the content of the agreement be made public. Those agreements must either be legal or fulfilled?
But there is logic and reasons that meets the public eye on the background of the issues and treatment of the cultural minorities in Agusan del Sur. The incident could have been prevented if and when the equal protection to our laws and respect to tribal ancestral domain has been resolved in accordance with Article X11, Section 5, of the Philippine Constitution that provides that “the state subject to the provisions of the Constitution and national development policies and progress shall protect the rights of indigenous cultural communities to their ancestral lands to ensure their economic, social and cultural well being”. The implementation of the laws under Republic Act No. 8371, otherwise known as the “Indigenous Peoples Right s Act of 1997” is not clear and resolved in favor of the cultural minorities.
Many of the vast tracts of forest land in Mindanao are awarded to illegal loggers, ranchers and industrial agricultural planters. It has displaced the minorities and left a protracted struggle and agitation for discontent over the deprivation of many of our tribes that lives in the mountains of Mindanao from their ancestral lands. Exploitation of the natural resources and land grabbing often displaced the cultural minorities from their community dwellings and affects their livelihood. A situation most welcomed by the left to expound their cause and gain sympathy and foothold in the countryside.
The Manobo’s are the biggest of the ethnic groups in the Philippines in terms of their relationships and name of groups that belongs to this family of more than 749,042 in population from the 1994 census of the National Statistics Office occupying the areas from Sarangani to the Mindanao mainland in the provinces of Surigao, Agusan del Sur, Davao and Bukidnon.
They have adapted to the various ecological niches in the interiors of Mindanao. Their orientation is upland farming, hunting, handicrafts and gathering of trees for industrial use. Their rich culture in weaving and tapestry are arts to behold and helps connect the present generation of Filipinos to the past. It is a great source of eco-tourism and pride. Ped T. Quiamjot.