Lakbayan 2016 By Jackie Comendador | 26 October 2016
What does progress and development mean for us, Filipinos? When those two words are mentioned, the most common scene we picture is a bustling metro like Manila. In economic terms, progress is measured through our Gross Domestic Product. That is why our government, for how many years, have been trying to help develop the different industries in the country to increase output. The past administrations focused on bringing in more foreign investments to further boost the continuing growth of our economy. We then associate this growth with gigantic buildings, malls, and other mega infrastructures being built at every corner of the city. A city of concrete is our idea of a developed city.
This view on progress and development, however, is not the same view that our brothers and sisters who are part of the different indigenous tribes in the country believe in. First of all, I called them our brothers and sisters because of the simple reason that they are Filipino. Before Magellan came to discover the Philippines, these people already inhabited these islands. They already established a way of life. They already had a culture of their own that eventually seeped its way to the culture we have now as Filipinos. Their blood runs in our veins as well. Second, the notion of development for them is rooted in taking care of nature.
Now, the common belief people in big cities, especially in Metro Manila, share is that rural areas are areas that have a great potential for development instead of thinking that these areas are already developed. People get the notion that development is a transition from rural to urban. Maybe that is one of the reasons why some people think they are better or “more developed” than others because they live in a “developed” city and while others, like the different cultural minorities in the country, live in far flung areas where there are less buildings, rough and rocky roads, and more of unadulterated nature. But little do we know that the indigenous peoples of our country have been developing our natural resources because for them, development is when our natural environment is protected, preserved, and sustained. For them, they are not left behind. In fact, they are far better than us when it comes to development because for how many years they are able to create an environment of sustainability. By developing nature, they can get food, water, shelter, clothing and other necessities for free! While here, we live in a city where every time we move, we need to shell out money. Here in the concrete jungle, people engage in crimes while others become victims of it because of poverty. While these cultural minorities don’t because for them, they are not poor. How can they be poor when they already have everything they need?
For my third point, let’s go back to our common idea of progress and development. Now, the continuous growth of our economy has attracted so many investors to go and invest in our country. And one of the greatest assets we have as a tropical country is the abundant natural resources which is one of the reasons why Spain, America, USA, Japan, and even Great Britain tried to colonize this archipelago. Our country is also abundant in mineral resources. That is why mining companies have been investing millions here just for them to mine. We all know that for mining companies to get those precious metals and stones, they need to dig deep under our soils which means that lands need to be cleared. As mining activities increase, the need for more land to be mined also increases. This is where the struggle of our indigenous brothers and sisters begins. Living here for hundreds of years, these people have been protecting their ancestral lands from foreign invaders. Now, they are struggling to protect it from their own Filipino brothers and sisters who are terrorizing their lands to enable these foreign mining companies to take hold of the lands that is rightfully theirs. These mining companies promise development through mining but for these cultural minorities, mining means destruction of the land of which their lives depended on. It means poisoning the waters that they drink and cutting down the trees that provide them food and shelter. These lands are not merely their source of their basic needs but these lands are their homes. As they continue to fight for their rights, the militarization becomes more intense. Now, the people who are given the duty to protect them are the same people who are killing them. Schools are burnt to the ground. Children become traumatized as their teachers are fired with guns and die in front of them. Families suffer loss as family members are taken away from them for being suspected as members of the New People’s Army. Leaders of tribes go missing and only to be found as nothing but cold and lifeless corpses. This oppression will continue until they flee their homes. You may think, what does this have to do with me? Other than these men are Filipinos just like us, these people are also the ones who have been trying to preserve our natural environment for how many years so that the future generations can still enjoy it and make the most out of it. These people are not only for fighting for themselves, they are also fighting us. They are fighting for the future generations. They are fighting against people who trying to exploit our resources dry. They are fighting against people who are trying to destroy the culture that is truly Filipino. That is why we should all stand up and fight with them. Let’s give them a voice so the whole nation will hear their pleas. Let’s not merely study their appearances, traditional clothing, traditional practices, or those other surface-level knowledge that our schools has been teaching us. Instead of settling with knowing the difference between a Maranao and a Moro, start knowing what their struggles are, what issues these people are facing. And as we start to see the world in their perspective, that is when true progress and development starts.