NGO Conference Notes | Ang Lupa ay Buhay at Sagrado(Land is life and sacred): The Tumandok’s Struggle for Self-Determination

September 26, 2023

by MASIPAG National Office

MASIPAG recently held its three-day National NGO Conference with the theme “Cultivating Synergy: Strengthening Farmers’ Organizations and Their Communities for Genuine Rural Development” in the University of the Philippines Los Baños, Laguna, Philippines. MASIPAG owes its success and continuous strength in further forwarding the network’s vision and mission to its partner NGOs, working hand-in-hand with its member farmers and scientists. With farmers already equipped with knowledge and experience in agriculture and scientists with their academic experimentation and research skills, MASIPAG partner NGOs in return further elevate it through their expertise in organizing skills–becoming united to collectively and holistically confront the challenges of the failure of the Green Revolution and its lasting impact which hinders farmer empowerment up until today.

The conference was attended by 17 member and partner non-government organizations of MASIPAG from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, where one of which, namely the Organic Farming Field Experimental Research Station (OFFERS) Panay, shared about their long-time development work with the Tumandok.

The Tumandok are indigenous peoples historically situated along  the major water systems in the island of Panay in the Visayas region. They are only a few of at least 15 million indigenous peoples in the country. The Tumandok already existed even before the Spanish colonizers took control of our country. Since then, they have defended their resource-rich ancestral lands from different entities attempting to steal it from them. 

For hundreds of years, they have served as stewards leading the conservation and development of their land and biodiversity as it is their source of food, water, shelter, among others, not just for them but for the future generations. Moreover, the communities are self-governed by customary laws grounded on local, traditional and long-standing beliefs. Their lives and culture centers in their land. It is sacred as it has been passed on to them for generations. For the Tumandok, they believe that their land should not be sold, rather, it should always be with and serve the community as it is the community, themselves, who collectively cares for and benefits from the land. No one person owns anything. All work and resources are communal in nature in terms of ownership, work and utilization.

Kahambugan ang pag-angkin sa lupa sapagkat tayo ay pag-aari ng lupa. Paano natin aariin ang isang bagay na mananatiling nariyan kahit tayo ay wala na? Ang lahi lamang ang nagmamay-ari ng lupa dahil ang lahi lamang ang nabubuhay magpakailanman. (Such arrogance to speak of owning the land when we instead are owned by it. How can you own that which will outlive you? Only the race owns the land because the race lives forever)” said Macli-ing Dulag, Kalinga Chief Defender of the Cordillera.

The  Tumandok people’s farming systems include “kaingin” or the slash-and-burn strategy to pave the way for the cultivation of primary crops such as rice, ginger, corn, banana, legumes, among others. In order to further support their local production, OFFERS Panay immersed themselves in their communities, learned about their culture, and provided education and training on sustainable agricultural practices. Eventually, the Tumandok and its allies, along with other farmers organizations and partners of MASIPAG, initiated the formation of the Provincial Coordinating Body, MASIPAG’s basic unit in its structure, in the province of Capiz.

MASIPAG’s technical programs and other interventions inculcated the importance of collective work in the community. Working from the existing practices in the community, OFFERS was able to craft apt and relevant programs supporting the development of their organization and production. The strengthened organizational unity and resolve of the Tumandok to protect their land, sovereignty and rights has proven to be integral in facing threats and challenges brought about by the entry of destructive infrastructure projects and political repression instigated by state forces and foreign corporations.

In 2011, the Tumandok became  aware that there was an ongoing mega-dam project by a Korean construction company in the Jalaur River without their free, prior and informed consent (FPIC). Through their active and militant collective action, the construction of the megadam was delayed for almost eight years. . It was in 2019, that the dam  construction began, still, without their consent.  A broad opposition was  built through the relentless advocacy campaigning of the Tumandok. Their situation and demands reached various national and international platforms, especially when 9 members of their community were killed by military forces protecting the mega-dam projects. Since then, they have been calling for justice. Now, their fight continues alongside other development works in their community and assertions addressing various issues. Moreover, they have expressed and sought solidarity from other indigenous peoples in the country facing similar repressions such as in the provinces of Rizal, Quezon, Apayao, and in Central Mindanao.

Mas matam-is para kanamun nga mapatay sa bala sangsa mapatay sa gutom sa lain nga kalupaan. (It is sweeter for us to be felled by bullets rather than to perish of hunger in a strange land.)” said Elena Gardoce of the Tumandok.###

Organic Farming Field Experimental Research Station (OFFERS) Panay is a member non-government organization of MASIPAG in its provincial consultative bodies (PCB) of Capiz, Antique and Iloilo. OFFERS Panay was established in 1985. It served as a demonstration station of a peasant farmer institution, BINHI. In the 1990s, OFFERS lost its funding, but OFFERS Panay continued to work independently with its own legal identity. It now serves as a learning and advocacy center for small farmers and indigenous peoples for sustainable agriculture and other relevant advocacy campaigns. 

This Article is part of a series called “Mula, Kasama at Para sa mga Magsasaka (For, With and By the Farmers): A series of experiences of MASIPAG’s member non-government organizations (NGOs) on farmer empowerment and genuine rural development