04-05 August 2016, Davao City. The Dulangan Manobo Tribe participated in a two-day Mindanao Environment Summit that culminated in a strategic planning between the civil society organizations (CSO) and a number of key government agencies. The Dulangan Manobos took this opportunity to express before Secretary Gina Lopez of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), and also before the military and the police, their grievances against a giant corporation who has been oppressing their Dulangan people and has been destroying their ancestral land.
For Datu Meliton C. Blag, Pastor Florencio A. Apang, Datu Joel C. Apang, Sr., Mr. Nowie M. Blag, and for the PBCI workers who volunteered to accompany them in this struggle, the coming of Secretary Lopez to listen to the people of Mindanao was like a divinely-appointed time for this kind of dialogue.
Day One. At the start of the day, Secretary Lopez spoke with much passion like an advocate of creation care and social justice:
- She expressed her lamentations against the greedy mining corporations who oppress the people and destroy the land.
- She showed her commitment to clean up DENR from corruption.
- She listened to tribal leaders with her heart.
- She immediately deployed her staff to attend to the concerns of the tribal communities and other local environmental and social justice concerns.
- She invited the people to join her ‘advocacy of love’ — for God, for the people, for the land, for the future of all the people of Mindanaw and of the Philippines
Datu Blag was among the first ones who went to the microphone and responded to Ms. Lopez’s speech. He narrated the story of the Dulangan Manobo tribe and how a giant corporation, known to Ms. Lopez and the CSOs in Mindanao, has taken over their land, their livelihood, and committed acts of injustices against them as an indigenous people. Immediately, Ms. Lopez ordered her chief legal counsel, Atty. Ipat Luna-Severino, to cancel the contract between the government and the said corporation that became an oppressive bondage over the lives of thousands of Dulangan Manobos.
The action-oriented leadership approach of Secretary Gina Lopez was evident when she introduced the civil society segment of her team. These civil society leaders, like Nicanor Perlas and Atty. Ipat Luna-Severino, represent the best technical and legal minds to implement her vision of making social justice and creation care as the foundations of her new DENR.
Day Two. This day was spent on strategic environmental planning between DENR and civil society organizations in Mindanao. For every project on the ground, Secretary Lopez appoints an ‘Action Team’ made up of a DENR official, a civil society leader (preference for indigenous leaders), and a social entrepreneur or local business owner. All projects are also done in strategic cooperation with other government line agencies, including the military and police — hopefully this time, to protect the people and not the mining corporations.
Our staff noticed that during the workshops, the DENR facilitators still controlled much of the discussions, did not listen well to the legitimate concerns of the people on the ground, and gave preferences to NGOs and civil society organizations they have been working with for the past few decades. For example, at the ‘Mindanao River Basin’ strategic planning workshop, the Bangsamoro representatives from around Ligawasan Marsh walked out because the facilitator, an assistant secretary from Manila, did not listen well to their concern. The Bangsamoro group wanted to include the issue of the proliferation of banana plantation around Ligawasan Marsh but were not entertained by the DENR bureaucrat because it’s not in his agenda. Our common understanding, based on Secretary Lopez’s mandate the day before, was that, this strategic planning will be primarily a listening process to the end that the people on the ground can actually bring their agenda before the DENR.
To us, this smells like perpetuation of the old corrupt system that, in the first place, brought the destruction of the natural resources in Mindanao and caused so much sufferings among the common people, especially the indigenous peoples or the Lumads.
Sunset regional bosses,
Transformed at the top,
Culture deep in corruption.
Leader of real change,
Will rank-and-file change?
Gina’s transformed heart,
She was placed in dark structure.
A Blessed Surprise. At the end of the second day, while we were having an informal chat with DENR adviser Nicanor Perlas, we were surprised and were blessed to see Secretary Ernesto Abella, the official spokesperson of President Rodrigo Duterte. Secretary Abella has been a long-time friend of PBCI. He asked us about our involvement in this DENR event. We said we were accompanying the Dulangan Manobo leaders in their struggle to get back their ancestral lands. We told him the story of one of our Dulangan Manobo Peace and Reconciliation (PAR) Volunteers, John Calaba, who has been missing and feared murdered. He also spent some time listening to Datu Blag and his team. We’re so touched by his sincere and active listening and he assured us of his personal support to the Dulangan Manobo struggle for justice and peace.