Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 19 September 2015


There seems to be confusion on the number of indigenous peoples (IPs), or lumad, in the Philippines. According to the International Labor Organization, we have anywhere from 15 million to 20 million IPs. It got this number from the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, from whom we also get the information that 61 percent (9-12 million) of these people live in Mindanao, with 33 percent in Luzon and 6 percent in the Visayas.

However, the census conducted in 1993 shows a different picture: 6.5 million IPs, 2.1 million of whom are in Mindanao (that’s about 33 percent). This means, if we are to reconcile these two sets of figures, that in the 20 years from then to now, the lumad in Mindanao must have bred like rabbits if their number rose from 2.1 million to 9-12 million. And the IPs in Luzon and the Visayas must have practiced responsible parenthood, or were disease-ridden, as their number rose from 4.4 million in 1993 to only 6-8 million in 20 years.

There is another potential source of confusion: Apparently, the terms “lumad” and “IP” are not synonymous. “Lumad” is used only for those IPs in Mindanao. Thus, all lumad are IPs, but not all IPs are lumad.

The foregoing introduction is important, because we want to know how many are affected by the current lumad crisis. So we must have an idea of how many they are in the first place, don’t you agree?

Who are the protagonists in this controversy? Well, on one side, the way I see it, are the leftist groups—not just left-wing, but hard Left: Bayan Muna, the Makabayan bloc (in Congress), Karapatan. If there is any on this side who is not of the persuasion, please don’t hesitate to correct me. Since they are hard Left, they are pro-NPA (New People’s Army), and anti-military. And obviously, on the other side of this controversy, we have the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

And let me announce that in this instance, I am definitely pro-army. Now the army of today is a whole different kettle of fish than the army of martial law days. The last remnants of the martial law days have either retired or are dead, and today’s army cut its teeth on human rights, on people-centered and whole-of-nation approaches to internal peace and security. It has multisectoral advisory groups that it consults regularly (I have been a member since 2010), not only at the national level, but also at the regional, and even provincial, levels. It has an Army Transformation Roadmap, which it takes very seriously.

And I think most of the Filipino people who have met up with this new army are also on its side. Except the members of the hard Left, who seem to be frozen in time and are still living in the 1970s, and still see any member of the military as the “enemy of the people.” The times, they are a-changing, folks. I am not saying that members of the military are all saints, but they are trying their best, and if they slip up, there are ways to seek redress.

What is the issue in this controversy? The spate of extrajudicial killings of the lumad. Here are the numbers thrown. The Left says that in P-Noy’s term, there have been at least 50 lumad who were killed, by paramilitary forces. Other estimates bring that up to 90. And “massive” evacuation has taken place—at least 3,000 evacuees (or 0.03 percent of the lumad).

And who are the paramilitary forces? Well, they could be the forces organized by major corporations operating in the areas, or private armies, or NPA members, or Cafgu (Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit). It’s anybody’s guess. But since it is the Left that is accusing, only one suspect fills the bill: The army must have trained and armed these paramilitary forces.

The Left builds up its case by talking about the arms and weapons used by these forces which could only be military-supplied because they are so expensive. Good heavens! What about captured weapons? (These, apparently, can be easily checked, because the AFP systems account for every single weapon.) What about the mining and logging companies, which can easily afford expensive weaponry? What about the NPA and the private armies? But no, only the military is to blame.

Our military denies the charges in no uncertain terms. The AFP chief of staff, Gen. Hernando Iriberri, who is from Surigao del Sur, says that the 36th Infantry Battalion has no paramilitary group attached to it. But he is figuratively shouted down.

What is the military version? That it is not the military, but the NPA, that is exploiting the lumad. It has divided the lumad into pro-NPA (remember, the NPA offers alternative livelihoods) and anti-NPA. If the military has killed lumad, it is not because they are lumad, but because they are NPA. How does the military know the lumad are NPA? Simple. If they have guns, they must be NPA.

Iriberri tells me (watch my TV show on Monday night) that the military also has intelligence supplied by rebel returnees (three out every four NPA in the area are lumad) or surrenderees.

And some of the so-called lumad “evacuees” that have made headlines recently were actually brought there and kept there under false pretenses.

The military throws in its own numbers: In the period 1998-2008, the NPA killed 357 lumad. Where did this information come from? The lumad themselves, at a conference held by the lumad datus sometime in 2008.

It looks to me, folks, like the lumad are being taken advantage of, and not by the army. They have an age-old culture, and style of governance. Their datus can certainly hold their own. They can speak for themselves. So why do these leftist groups insist on talking for them?