“He reserves the use of his slippers for when he needs to go out,” said Gerry Lipande.
Datu Mandayhon Han-ayan, the person he was referring to, sat cross-legged and bare-footed on a chair in a corner. Unable to speak any language other than their own, he instead gave toothless smiles to the people around him.
“I am Datu Mandayhon from Balaudo,” he said as a simple introduction. “I am here because our community has a problem which I can no longer solve. Maybe the people from the city can help me.”
Lipande, one of his companions translating for him, explained that as their leader, Datu Mandayhon arbitrated between conflicting parties, determining penalties and offerings to reconcile them. For so many decades, this has been so as their community structure does not have a council of elders. Datu Mandayhon was their respected leader who performed all political, judicial and spiritual roles.
‘But they would not listen to me’
“But they would not listen to me,” Datu Mandayhon lamented. He was referring to the brothers Mankolobi and Manlumakad Bocalas, their community members who killed three other Lumad the previous year. The last victim had been Mankombete Mariano, a renowned hunter in their community.
“Mankombete’s baits and traps always caught an animal,” Datu Mandayhon recalled of his fallen companion. “He was able to hunt a wild boar when none of us had been able to get one in the last three years. His hunting skills had been incomparable.”
On October 27, 2015, Mankombete, with around 16 companions that included his grandchildren, went to Dulmatong in the town of Cabanglasan, Bukidnon. Dulmatong was a forested area that had a lot of fruit trees and it had been the community’s tradition to go there at that time of the year to bring back food to their families.
Always brave and looking for action, Mankombete had been at the front of the group. But as they approached a large durian tree, they were met with gunfire. Mankombete was immediately hit and was unable to run. His two grandchildren were also wounded. The girl was able to run while the boy rolled off the incline they were on and hid behind some abaca plants. From his position, he saw Manlumakad Bocalas approach his grandfather and hack him with a machete. The boy was found behind some bushes by the search team from the community the following day, weak and scared.
The gruesome death of Mankombete had been preceded by the killing of Obet Pabiana, a Banwaon who had been passing through Sitio Balaudo with five companions. The other was a boy, Olaking Olinan, only 15 years of age, who had been on his way to gather abaca leaves with his brother.
“It is beyond our minds why they were killed and why they threaten to kill us,” said Arlene Han-ayan, the granddaughter of Datu Mandayhon. Even heavily pregnant, she had accompanied her grandfather to the city to help him communicate their plight. “We have not committed anything against them. Why are they targeting us?”
When the killing of Mankombete occurred, Datu Mandayhon had taken refuge in the forest with the family of his youngest son as he is no longer capable of fighting nor of quick escapes. When the community decided to leave their homes and journey to Mahayag, he had been left.
“We made makeshift houses in the forest made out of banana leaves and fallen branches,” he recounted. “We had to rebuild them everyday because they are not sturdy and the rain would get in.” It was cold and uncomfortable but it was safer than having to face the guns of the Bocalas brothers.
Eventually, his eldest son who had been with the community when they evacuated, came back with some companions to bring him safely to Mahayag. There they sought help from their relatives and were allowed to set up temporary shelters on a basketball court.
The mandatory representatives of the indigenous peoples in the government of Bukidnon had told them to return to their homes because they had supposedly settled the situation. “But when some of our companions went to check, they found that our houses had been broken in, our harvested abaca had been thrown, many of our things were destroyed or stolen,” said Datu Mandayhon. They decided to remain in their temporary shelters and at the same time bring their issue to the city where other government institutions and officials might hear of their problem and provide them with better solutions.
“We believe that the Bocalas brothers want to claim the lands in Balaudo and Sitio Kinuaw,” said Lipande. “They have allied themselves with the Dela Mance paramilitary group, claiming that the individuals they killed were members of the New People’s Army.”
The community of the Talaandig in Sitio Balaudo had been living peacefully for decades. Conflicts are easily settled following their traditional processes. “Even encounters between the military and the rebel group do not take place in our community,” Datu Mandayhon said. “We ask both the armed groups to just pass our communities, to camp somewhere else. For a long time now also, we have not trained baganis (traditional warriors) because there had been no reason – our community had not declared a pangayao (tribal war) for decades. This is the first time that our peace is disturbed.”
Very far from the city centers, their community is reached by at least a day’s worth of walking from the farthest sitio a motorcycle can reach. “We all farm to feed ourselves,” said Datu Mandayhon. “We do not sell them because we are too far that our products would rot on the way to the market.”
Without external influences, they have relatively intact traditions. They perform the rituals that accompany the growing of their crops. They give offerings to the owners of the land, the waters, and everything around them. For the Talaandig community, the land is their source of life, but they only borrow the land from the gods that have blessed them and their forefathers. And to continue receiving their blessings, they have to be one with the land – nurturing it, protecting it.
“We do not have any papers for our ancestral lands,” said Datu Mandayhon. “We have not applied for these. We have been there for generations. My forefathers had been living on these lands. It will be there for my grandchildren and the future generations.”
The feet of Datu Mandayhon are flat, more sure-footed on rocks and mud when bare. He does not need protection from the land that has nurtured him and given him and his community their life.
[Datu Mandayhon is the tribal chieftain of the displaced 70 Talaandig families of Balaudo and Kinuaw in St. Peter, Malaybalay, Bukidnon. He is now in the city to bring into the attention of the urban populace the violence they have suffered from the hands of a bandit group currently affiliated with the notorious paramilitary band Alamara. Want to know more about their plight? Organize a forum in your schools, churches, and wherever possible. Contact the ‘Higala sa Lumad’ Network at email@example.com]