Friday, 25 June 2021. We rejoice with the Bagobo Tagabawa Indigenous People for the completion of their cultural village and peace memorial complex. This was originally envisioned by Bai Jerlina Owok, the local chieftain at Barangay Binaton in Digos City, Davao del Sur. They started building their local village to make their community more visible and to tell their story beyond their tribal community. Because of their initiative, various sectors—government, business, civil society, and media—responded and helped concretize their vision. While celebrating with the tribe about these developments, we also reflect on issues regarding encroachment of certain powerful forces into the ancestral domain of the Bagobo Tagabawa.

“This is how the Monument and the Hall of Peace came to be. We remember those who were massacred through the dead leaf that is bigger than all of us. It looms above all and invites us to walk under it and see the cross beneath this giant dead leaf. The names are there to be known and remembered by all, and the words of anger and grief are immortalized. But out here, as we walk toward the cultural village, we are welcomed by a new leaf sprouting, symbolizing new life. Then, as we look up to this leaf, we see it forming the shape of a dove — the symbol of peace. It’s an invitation to all those who come over to experience the culture of the Bagobo Tagabawa to bring peace in their hearts.”  Kublai Millan(National Artist who designed the landscape architecture of this cultural village), 25 June 2021.

Our journey with the Bagobo Tagabawa communities around Mount Apo

14-16 November 2015.  The Managa Tribal Council (MTC) and the Balutakay Coffee Farmers Association (BaCoFA) invited PeaceBuilders Community, Inc.(PBCI) and Coffee For Peace (CFP) for a series of consultations. With the guidance of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), the discussion revolved around the socio-cultural procedures and legal steps towards an inclusive development initiative that would be sustainable and community-supported. This inclusive development initiative would be established in the ancestral domain of the Bagobo tribe in a specific location on Mount Apo.

12 April 2016. PeaceBuilders Community, Inc. (PBCI) received the Certificate of Compliance to the FPIC Process from the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples – Region XI (NCIP-XI) with the corresponding resolution signed by the Bagobo Tagabawa cultural communities / indigenous peoples.

17 September 2016. Joji ‘Lakambini’ Pantoja, executive vice president of PBCI and concurrent chief executive officer of CFP, reported that the construction of the PeaceBuilders Community Post-Harvest Processing Plant within the Ancestral Domain of the Bagobo Tagabawa Tribe had began and was going smoothly according to schedule. 

03 November 2016. The Barangay Tribal Council here invited PeaceBuilders Community, Inc. (PBCI) to facilitate a one day seminar and workshop on Conflict Transformation framed on Peace and Reconciliation principles and practice.

In July 2018, Coffee for Peace introduced the Bagobo Tagabawa to a wider segment of the coffee industry through a video produced by Asian Development Bank. There, Bai Jerlina Owok — the Tribal Chieftain in Barangay Binaton, Digos City — publicly expressed her dream to be one of the excellent producing communities of ‘fine Robusta coffee.’ 

24 August 2018. We sent Aiza Wanay as PBCI-CFP official representative to the Sinub’badan Festival of Binaton. The festivities gathered all the Bagobo-Tagabawa tribal communities of Mount Apo and surrounding areas. Eventually, Wanay was ritually adopted by the Bagobo Tagabawa Tribe.

In October 2019, we were so inspired by the initiative of the clan members of the Bagobo Tagabawa Tribe. Each clan within the tribe built their model indigenous house in one village. This ‘cultural village’ became their way to teach the next generation to revive and sustain their indigenous culture in the midst of modernity. This also became their approach to make their people become more visible among the Settlers passing through and building their homes and businesses in their Ancestral Land. 

Between October 2019 and January 2020, South and Central Mindanao were hit by a series of devastating earthquakes. With our limited resources, we did waves of relief distribution around Mt. Apo as a way of bonding and solidarity with our long-term inclusive development partners. We focused on our farming partners among a Settler’s community, among Obo Manobo communities, and among the Bagobo Tagabawa communities around Mt. Apo.

In 08-17 January 2020, we invited our Canadian Impact Investing Partners to Mindanao. One of the highlights of the visit of these 12 Canadian partners was the acquaintance fellowship and listening sessions with the Bagobo Tagabawa in Binaton.

Since February 2020, we have been facilitating a series of consultations and seminars on Inclusive Development and Social Entrepreneurship among the Bagobo Tagabawa community in Binaton.

By March 2021, the Binaton Bagobo Tagabawa Farmers Livelihood Association (BBTAFLA) in Digos City proceeded into a six- month Social Entrepreneurial training. This is the initial segment of a long-term Inclusive Development Program in partnership with Kapiid Ka Banua, Inc. They warmly welcomed us with their Coffee Maddiger. We were also privileged to get a visit from Kublai Millan, a National Artist based in Mindanao; and, Datu Rogelio Manapol, the provincial tribal chieftain of Davao del Sur. They introduced the planned construction of the Rimpong Peace Memorial to the tribe. The plan was to build a big monument, a peace hall, and expanded cultural village.

The Construction of the Memorial Complex

The vision of the Bagobo Tagabawa tribe was concretized. Leaders and representatives from various sectors took notice of their humble ‘cultural village’ and their story. Soon, the national government, the military, and the national police picked up a particular story that they found useful for their anti-insurgency campaign. The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) immediately released millions of pesos to fund the construction of a memorial complex right at the site where the ‘cultural village’ is located.

The complex was to commemorate a massacre that happened 32 years ago.

On a Sunday morning, 25 June 1989 at 0900 PHT, people were gathered for worship at the United Church of Christ in the Philippines in Sitio Rano, Barangay Binaton, Digos City in Davao del Sur. There were about 73 people who were members of the Bagobo-Tagabawa tribe inside the church building. The heavily armed New People’s Army (NPA), headed by ‘Kumander Bensar,’ gunned down 39 people — 22 children, 10 women, and 7 men. Before this fateful day, this Bagobo Tagabawa community made a decision to stop their support and adherence to the NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). 

That gruesome massacre is forever engraved in the hearts and minds of the survivors, the victims’ families, and of the whole tribe. It was almost forgotten. The tribe have learned to bear the pain and the trauma all by themselves. Then, through a process of trauma intervention and justice-based journey towards holistic reconciliation, they realized they can continue telling their stories and that there are people and communities who are willing to listen — as first act of love — to their voices. They became more confident to share and amplify their stories and their voices in a systematic and sustained way.

Then, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) heard their stories and their cry for justice. They commissioned Kublai Millan, a National Artist from Mindanaw, to design the landscape architecture of the expanded cultural village, featuring Rano Memorial and the Bale Kasunayan. Rano Memorial is a monument for the 39 who were massacred. Bale Kasunayan is a peace hall — where the Bagobo Tagabawa would initiate various transformative justice, cultural celebrations, and peacebuilding processes based on their spirituality and identity.

Last Friday, 25 June 2021, we attended the dedication ceremony of the new peace memorial complex. This event marked the 32nd year of that tragic massacre. National personalities, local officials, tribal leaders, and other VIPs took turns in giving speeches praising the government for finally hearing the voice of the Bagobo Tagabawa and for responding for their cries for justice. A video blog condemning the NPA as “terrorists” gained lots of views.

The funding for this project came from the NTF-ELCAC’s PHP19 billion total budget. PhP16.44 billion is allocated to the Barangay Development Program (BDP), the biggest project which the Duterte government successfully convinced Philippine Congress to fund. The BDP rewards successful efforts and acts as a preventive measure to discourage the return of communists to cleared barangays. PhP12.42 billion out of BDP’s PhP16.44 billion, or 75.55%, is going to Mindanao. The Davao Region is getting a total of PhP4.3 billion.

Spiritual Reflection and Discernment Journal

Friday, 25 June 2021, at around 0815PHT, I enjoyed the existential embrace of Manama—the Creator, while walking around this cultural village of the Bagobo Tagabawa. As usual, the Spirit of Peace was embracing this sacred space. I sensed all the spirits entrusted with the many aspects of creation were all joining the Spirit of Peace.

Hours later, the ‘principalities and powers’ from the outside came with various agenda and intentions. They came with war trucks and heavily armed personnel at their command. Their various voices, with loud speakers, temporarily filled the air.

Meanwhile, the Indigenous People continued to listen to Manama and they commemorated and celebrated within themselves and around their clan houses. No rehearsals. No waiting for the supposedly ‘very important persons.’ 

Their expressions of commemoration and celebration were instantaneously flowing out of their hearts.

This morning, Saturday, 26 June 2021, I believe that the Spirit of Peace and the guardian spirits of the Bagobo Tagabawa Ancestral Domain continue to embrace the Indigenous People—their homes, their farms, their forests, their mountains, their being as a community. 

This sustainable and regenerative indigenous reality will continue even as they struggle with the present principalities and powers from the outside, encroaching into their ancestral domain.

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