Tabada: On the ground

Mayette Q. Tabada
·2 min read

MISTAKING one jeepney for another, I once took a route that took the passengers past the old stud farm at the University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman.

Same trees, same abandoned air. The sight of what used to be the National Stud Farm created during the Marcos administration made me remember 2017, when a professor gave our class a choice to either write a paper on martial law or visit the “lumad” visitors hosted by the UP Diliman community at the old stud farm.

I chose convenience; I wrote the paper. I wondered what I could “teach” in the informal classes being held for the lumad youths, who joined their parents and other elders in the annual Lakbayan ng Pambansang Minorya.

“Lumad” is Bisayan for “of the earth,” a term chosen by 15 of more than 18 indigenous cultural communities (ICC) in Mindanao during the Cotobato Congress in June 1986.

From grade school references in Social Studies, I thought of them as a generic collective, “cultural minorities.” Alienating and politically incorrect, the term is still apt; the “minorities” remain at the margins of power, deposed from lands, waters and other tribal spaces inherited from ancestors effaced by a succession of colonizers.

I know arguably more about the Dole and Del Monte products than the lumad displaced by their plantations: the B’laan of Tupi and Polomolok in South Cotobato, the Higaonon and the Talaandig in Bukidnon. The wars of colonization were replaced by other wars: corporate plunder by multinational companies, “modernization” and “development” financed by foreign loans, culture of impunity targeting dissidence and community lockdowns to quell coronavirus disease.

Since 2012, the lumad, joined by other “minority” peoples, undertake the Lakbayan to focus on their plight and search for social justice. If the center will not go the peripheries, the marginalized will go to us. Are we listening?

Journalism is essential for our democracy. Writing for deadline, sound bites and live streaming metrics can take us only to a point. The lumad is more complex than the “bakwit” (Bisayan for “evacuee”) and the IDPs (internally displaced persons) constructed by narratives of conflict and war.

These are not the only stories. We are not the only storytellers on the ground. As a people deprived of visibility and intelligibility, the lumad best tell their stories.

When I stayed away from the Lakbayan sojourners sheltering in a center Ferdinand Marcos created in 1965 to improve horse breeding and discourage the local elite from illegally importing horses for racing, I was blind to the conceit of my “teaching” the lumad.

In or out of classrooms, the only activity worth doing is learning.