Wars of Extinction: The Lumad Killings in Mindanao, Philippines

Arnold P. Alamon

Read: Wars of Extinction: The Lumad Killings in Mindanao, Philippines. KRSEA, Issue 21, March 2017

In the dawn of September 1, 2015, hundreds of men, women, and children of Sitio Han-ayan, Diatagon, were roused from sleep by a band of armed men from the Magahat Bagani paramilitary group. They were then rounded up to witness the brutal execution of their community leaders, Dionel Campos and Juvello Sinzo, who each received a bullet in the head. School children and teachers would later discover the gutted body of Emerito Samarca whose throat had been slashed. He was the beloved Executive Director of the alternative secondary school serving indigenous Manobo children called Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development, Inc. or ALCADEV based in the community. That very same day, about 3000 residents from Han-ayan and other neighboring communities evacuated their homes and farms and descended to the gym of the municipality of Lianga, the town center (Interaksyon.com, 2015).

The incident, harrowing as it was, is not the first time that such brutal attack was waged against indigenous leaders, their alternative schools, and whole communities. However, the incident was singular in how it manifested, in one incident, the coordinated nature targeting a specific range of victims of paramilitary violence in the Southern Philippine island of Mindanao.

Narratives of displacement

Under the previous Aquino administration (2010-2015), a total of 71 indigenous leaders were killed. 95 cases of attacks against the 87 alternative schools for indigenous children were also recorded. More than 40,000 indigenous peoples, whole communities whose social, political, and economic life had been disrupted, took shelter in numerous evacuation centers because their leaders had been killed or jailed or their schools attacked. If its not government military forces encamping and sowing terror in the communities in the guise of counterinsurgency, it is their paramilitary groups that do their dirty work for them. (Manilakbayan, 2015)

The terror and mayhem perpetrated by paramilitary groups brought the “Lumad,” a term referring to Mindanao’s indigenous peoples, into the Filipino public’s consciousness gaining wide public support for the campaign #stoplumadkillings in the country and elsewhere in 2015. They staged the historic Manilakbayan of 2015, a protest caravan that saw hundreds of IP delegations from various indigenous communities of Mindanao victimized by the attack on their leaders, schools, and communities to the national capital to dramatize their plight.

The sharing of these common narratives of displacement reveal that there is a singular objective in the systemic pattern of attacks directed at indigenous leaders, schools, and communities if one were to look at the various documented cases. The purpose, it seems, is to neutralize indigenous leadership and weaken community solidarity that center around these alternative schools with the final intent of driving communities from their homes and farms. The staging of terror is deliberate and premeditated in order to force indigenous communities away from their ancestral lands. Who stands to gain when the Lumad are driven away from their land?

Header image from the MANILAKBAYAN NG MINDANAO website: http://www.manilakbayan.org/

Wars of extinction

The Southern island of the Philippines is home to a significant portion of the country’s indigenous population, all in all estimated to comprise fifteen percent of the country’s total population of about 100 million (Journal of Philippine Statistics, 2008: 92).

Similar to other indigenous peoples (IPs) worldwide, the IPs in the Philippines represent the country’s poorest sector who suffer disproportionately in terms of access to health, education, and human rights (UNDP, 2013:1). There is recognition from multilateral agencies like the United Nations that IPs worldwide are victims of a historical and systemic discrimination and exclusion. This is especially true and more acute in the context of nations that evolved with a dominant political and economic majority. National minorities in the Philippines such as the Lumad and the Moros of Mindanao reside in areas where poverty is deepest and most severe. (ADB, 2002: 33)

But more than the institutional arrangements that disadvantage the IPs and other marginal groups, the violent attack on Lumad communities present a far more troubling reality than what the term “structural discrimination” implies. What in fact has been taking place are wars of extinction waged by the military and paramilitary groups against Mindanao’s IPs. These narratives of violence and displacement are not new to Mindanao’s indigenous peoples who collectively identify under the self-ascribed identity of being “Lumad.” In fact, the progeny of the term betrays not just the history of marginalization of Mindanao, Philippines’ indigenous peoples but also their valiant resistance against these forces that sought to drive them away from their land and effect the erasure of their identity and culture.

“Lumad”” is a political term that first entered the lexicon of popular use during the period of the Marcos dictatorship when activists used it to refer to non-Moro indigenous peoples victimized by state-sponsored development aggression involving the expansion of logging, mining, and agricultural plantations into their ancestral lands. On June 26, 1986, an assembly of 15 out of the 18 of Mindanao’s indigenous tribes formally adopted the term as a self-ascribed collective identity during the founding of the Lumad Mindanao People’s Federation at the Guadalupe Formation Center, Balindog, Kidapawan, North Cotabato. (Panalipdan, 2014: 110 and Rodil, 1994: 34)

Over time, the term has evolved to refer to the collective identity and struggle of Mindanao’s non-Christian and non-Islamized indigenous groups as they faced not just historical marginalization but also various forms of development aggression from state forces fronting for foreign big businesses. This has been the shared story of Mindanao’s indigenous peoples in the context of the evolution of the Philippine nation-state as a neocolonial apparatus for resource extraction by foreign and elite interests.

There is a history to this story of violence and displacement. Mindanao has been belatedly sutured into the national narrative by virtue of its state as an unconquered island at the crucial point of the birth of the nation at the turn of the last century, its Moro and Lumad population relatively insulated from the effects that colonialism brought to the local economy (Rodil, 1994).

The American colonial period brought in massive transformations to Mindanao’s social and economic landscape by way of a successful resettlement program that achieved in a relatively short period of time what the Spaniards were not able to realize for more than three hundred years – the colonization of Mindanao’s economy and its people. (Rodil,1994:37) This systemic appropriation of land and resources that followed thereafter is at the root of the conflict that continues to plague the Southern island.

The logging, cattle raising, agricultural plantations, and finally mining, established in various parts of Mindanao first by American business interests then later assumed by sections of the Filipino elite caused the integration of the Mindanao economy to the demands of the global economic order. (Gaspar, 2000: 52) In all these changes, the constant feature is the displacement of the original inhabitants of the island, the Lumad and the Moro populations. This is the historical and political economic context of their marginalization in favor of a dominant migrant population all made possible through the state-military-business nexus of the Philippine nation-state (see Harvey, 2003: 167).

The tactic of coopting indigenous leadership and culture through bribery and brute force has endured from the time of colonialism up to the present in the contemporary state-military-business nexus because of the singular logic of resource extraction both periods share. The paramilitary groups that wreak havoc in indigenous communities also come from among their ranks coopted and corrupted to push for the appropriation of ancestral lands in favor of big logging, mining, and agricultural expansion. The Philippine military plays a big role in the establishment of these militias with many of them armed and conscripted under the legal mandate of Executive Order 264 issued during the time of former President Cory Aquino that sought the formation of a Citizen’s Armed Force Geographic Unit (CAFGU) against a persistent armed insurgency in the Philippine countryside.

Documentary video from Southern Mindanao’s Save Our School network, which was formed by indigenous peoples’ groups, educators and support groups to combine efforts to address the need to advocate and mobilize resources to serve the indigenous and children’s rights to education. This documentary presents the experiences of Lumad children living in communities that are under attack due to resistance against militarization and resource extraction activities such as foreign large-scale mining, plantation and the like.

Andap Valley, where the ALCADEV school is located, is part of the areas offered for coal operating contracts under the Department of Energy’s Philippine Energy Contracting Round program. Coal blocks at the Andap Valley have been on offer since 2005, 2006, and 2009 coinciding with the incidences of intense militarization in the area. As of 2009, a total of 70,000 hectares have been offered for coal mining in the province of Caraga alone (Caraga Watch, 2009: 9). Dionel Campos one of those killed by the Magahat Bagani paramiliary group a Lumad leader of MAPASU (Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang sa Sumusunod), an anti-mining group.

It is in this light that the gruesome killings of the Lumad leaders and teacher in Sitio Han-ayan last September 1, 2015 should be interpreted. The systemic attacks against indigenous leaders, schools, and communities should also be seen in the light of the economic value of the IP’s ancestral lands for prospective interests in the field of resource extraction. Half a million hectares of land in Mindanao is covered by mining concessions eager to tap into valuable mineral reserves of the Southern island that estimates place to be 4th in copper, 3rd in gold, 5th in nickel, and 6th in chromite reserves in the world. (Manilakbayan 2015)

Accumulation by dispossession: Lumad

 The violence and displacement currently taking place in the Southern Philippine island of Mindanao against its’ indigenous Lumad population is not exclusive or unique to the country. Similar cases of attacks against indigenous peoples all over the world have also been taking place with equal if not much heightened ferocity. The continuing experience of the West Papuans under various Indonesian regimes as well as the victimization of IPs in Latin America and the Native Americans in North America point to a larger global political economic reality that provide context for this violence and displacement.

David Harvey provides a possible theoretical insight as to why these incidents are taking place arguing that Marx’s formulation on the process of primitive accumulation has not ended and even extends to contemporary times. What the Lumad and indigenous groups experience all over the world are instances of “accumulation by dispossession.”

In the face of stagnant demand, capital will find ways to reinvest and make profit by lowering the costs of production via the process of what Harvey calls as “accumulation by dispossession.” There is, he says, “an organic relation between expanded reproduction on the one hand and the often violent processes of dispossession on the other…” (Harvey, 2003: 141-142) These new frontiers are opened up for the free and unmitigated exploitation of still untapped resources in what is revealed to be a continuing process of contemporary primitive accumulation through dispossession.  

“What accumulation by dispossession does is to release a set of assets (including labour power) at very low (and in some instances zero) cost. Overaccummulated capital can seize hold of such assets and immediately turn them to profitable use.” (Harvey, 2003: 147)

Such valuable assets in the form of minerals and other natural resources happen to be located in Lumad or indigenous peoples’ ancestral lands thus fuelling the wars of extinction being waged by the Philippine nation-state and similar state-military-business nexuses against minority groups.

Arnold P. Alamon
Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology


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