KIDAPAWAN CITY- Lumads from Maguindanao called on the national government to exercise its "democratic mandate" to protect them from all forms of harassment and defend their ancestral lands now being "invaded" by armed Moro groups.
The Tedurays, Lambangians, and Dulangan Manuvus, all settlers from conflict areas in Maguindanao province, have become 'collateral damage' or victims of the ongoing armed fighting between government forces and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), who, according to the lumads, have both used Mount Firiz as their battleground.
The fighting that started August 6 displaced more than 40 thousand villagers from at least five towns in Maguindanao and three towns in North Cotabato.
Many of the evacuees, reports said, were lumads.
The lumads, in a statement issued to media yesterday, said the recent conflict "has done indescribable harm not only upon the warring groups but most especially to the peace-loving non-Islamized indigenous peoples of the Mount Firiz Complex."
The mountain is sacred ground, they said.
"Mount Firiz holds among the lumads a revered history that has been handed down the generations through oral traditions," the group said.
The mountain, they said, was where their god, Lagey Firiz, practiced his tribal spiritual leadership.
This was also the place where Lagey Firiz ascended onto heaven without dying (demniyat in Teduray) from an exact spot known as 'Batew'.
They said the place was where their last chieftain, Gogon Ignacio, was buried.
The lumads or the "non-Islamized indigenous peoples" regularly visit Mount Firiz for pilgrimage and spiritual nourishment, the statement said.
But on July 27, a week before the Army-BIFF fighting took place, the group said that many of the lumads had to leave Mount Firiz after armed men claimed the land where they established their camp.
Since Monday, government forces, backed by aerial support, have been bombarding Mount Firiz and overrun at least three BIFF camps.
Troops from the 6th Infantry Division now control the area, reports said.
"We have become strangers in our own land and we have been victims to countless and recurring conflicts, since then," it said.
For the lumads, land is life. "We cannot be separated from the land because it is what gives us life. It is our source of food and medicine, our home, burial ground, recreation, and our place of worship," they stressed.
To "systematically" remove the lumads from their land, they said, is tantamount to "annihilating" their identity.
The unified statement is signed by nine groups that included Teduray, Lambangian Youth and Student Association; Mamalo Descendants Organization; Organization of Teduray Lambangian Women's Organization, Inc.; Kena Manuwa (Dulangan Manobo Governance); Timuay Justice and Governance; Lumad Development Center, Inc.; and Mindanao Peoples' Peace Movement Katawhang Lumad.