They called him “Father”.
Gleeza Joy Belandres, 14, and 13-year-old Bandam Dumanglay danced and declaimed onstage as they presented a wishlist for President Rodrigo Duterte’s first state of the nation address (SONA) last year.
“Send us home,” the children of Lianga, Surigao del Sur appealed. “Give us back our lands.”
A little more than a month after, Gleeza and Bandam wept as they stared at dirtballs whirling around what used to be lush farms. Within a few months, their community had made the land bloom again.
On Monday, the two Lumad Manobo youth were among tens of thousands shouting down Duterte as he appeared before protesters and tried to reframe the curses and threats that filled his second SONA.
They just went through another evacuation. Three of their teachers were being hunted down. Soldiers invaded their schools again.
Duterte had just won an extension for a Mindanao-wide martial law until end of year. And he had just threatened to train the Armed Forces on the Lumad.
Braced for bad news
Even before the SONA, Dumanglay talked in a mixture of fear and rage.
“I am afraid,” the survivor of two traumatic events told ABS-CBN News.
“It is too painful,” he said in the fluent Tagalog learned from his alternative school. “Martial law is not the solution. Many more people will die.”
Belandres, now 15, did not expect anything positive from Duterte’s speech.
The President had told a delegation of activists two days before that he would do nothing if 10,000 Lumad die in “a civil war”.
He gave them some theater, reading through a file of “intelligence” reports that claim the Lumad make up the bulk of recruits for the communist New People’s Army (NPA).
“He said we could save ourselves by surrendering,” said Belandres, an honor student of Alcadev, the award-winning Lumad high school threatened with closure.
“Why should we surrender? We have done nothing wrong. These are our ancestral lands they want to take away,” said Belandres who, with a hundred other kids, had witnessed the murder of her best friend’s father.
Nothing prepared the two youth for what happened next after Duterte wheedled for militants “to give me time” to institute his promise of sweeping reforms.
Stung by what he claimed was a display of disrespect, the President at a press conference parotted the military line: Lumad alternative schools lacked registration papers from the education department; they taught dissent and sedition, and churned out new guerrillas for the communists.
He then threatened to bomb their communities, their schools and other infrastructure.
More than 87 Lumad were killed under former President Benigno Aquino III’s government. The former leader ignored the complaints. His aides and congressional allies said “brainwashing” of indigenous peoples was the root cause of the killings. His social welfare secretary, Corazon Soliman, offered “resettlement” as solution; it would have
The series of massacres and attacks on schools roused residents of the national capital and had students, professionals, artists and celebrities flocking to provide aid for the Lumad.
Even Duterte, then mayor of Davao, posed with a “Stop Lumad Killings” sign.
In June 2016, Duterte told the National Democratic Front (NDF) that he would prioritize the return of the Lumad.
In Duterte’s first year of rule, however, five Lumad leaders have been shot dead. Activists have recorded 68 “military attacks” on 89 Lumad schools. The attacks have continued whether relations between the President and leftist leaders blow warm or cold.
The AFP has been posted “wanted” signs for teachers. Their local government allies have offered rewards.
Twenty primary schools have been forced to close because of stepped-up threats of murder and arson.
“Kinakabahan ako. Hindi solusyon ang martial law,” said Dumanglay. “Ang sakit. Paulit-ulit ko sinasabi na kinakabahan na kami. Dahil maraming mabibiktima ang martial law.”
The morning after Duterte’s threat, Dumanglay had to gnaw at his knuckles to stop cursing.
“Ayokong tumulad sa kanya,” the teenager said.
“No Lumad will ever believe him now,” he said, “except those who want to be slaves.”
“Openly threatening to bomb Lumad schools is as monstrous as it can get. First you distorted human rights, now you taunt international humanitarian law. Stop the madness already,” said Edre Olalia of the National Union of People’s Lawyers, which defends threatened Lumad.
Duterte, however, sneers that his popularity will render inutile any attempts to seek international sanctions for his human rights abuses
‘You will not have our land’
If the Lumad are easy recruits for the NPA, it is because of neglect and injustice, said Apad Enriquez, 15, son of a threatened Lumad environmentalist.
“You (Duterte) say you will stop the miners. What you don’t say is, that the soldiers who drive us away demand that we give our land to the coal miners,” Enriquez said.
Alcadev is the center of a thriving Lumad community that sprawls over most of the 59,000-hectared Andap Valley, said to host the world’s biggest reserve to prime coal deposits, as well as gold.
Most schools with a non-traditional program offer purely technical skills. Despite a curriculum geared to agriculture, Alcadev's students consistently pass the high school equivalency exams.
Its role in improving agriculture practices and showing consistently high academic standards have earned regional awards. Their host in exile, Tandag City, witnessed how they managed to farm for surplus food levels on five hectares of borrowed land.
Michelle Campos, the oldest child of slain Lumad leader Dionel Campos has spoken before the United Nations on behalf of her people.
"We are not taught to hate the government,” she told ABS-CBN News. “Life teaches us to hate some things the government does."
Without the pride fanned by education and better standards of living, the Lumad of Lianga would be like sheep,” said Campos, citing other swathes of Mindanao where indigenous folk have bartered ancestral lands for promises that have done little but lay waste to farmlands and coastal waters.
Belandres said she would keep Duterte’s threat in mind, “to give me strength.”
Every morning, Belandres said, will dawn with a vow: “you will not have our land.”
Dumanglay said the coming months and years would teach Duterte a hard lesson.
“Kailan pa natalo ng martial law ang NPA? Kung patuloy ang martial law, lalong mas maraming tao ang sasapi sa NPA,” he said
“No father kills his children,” Gleeza said. “Those who try will see their children rise against them.”
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.