Who's afraid of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo? Well, not this woman who swears, during my interview with her, that the president will get a mouthful from her, if ever they meet. She blames the President (and the past Presidents) for what have become of the lumad people now.

This is a special story for me as it signalled my coming back to my roots; sort of retracing of the past. What is inevitable now is for me to ask the self--Why am I meeting these people now? It feels weird. Kind of an omen.

Recently, I also interviewed another lumad leader, Datu Duloman Dawsay, an Ata-Manobo tribal leader wanted by the government after they declared pangayaw (tribal war) against the giant logging company Alcantara and Sons (Alsons)in in late 1990s.

The Pangayaw, which came after Alsons allegedly encroached into the ancestral lands of the Ata-Manobos, was led by another leader Datu Guibang Apoga, also wanted by the government. Anyone who catches them gets a million peso reward.

Bigkay, Dawsay and Apoga are my grandfather's relatives.

The war of Bae Bibiyaon Likayan Bigkay
By Jeffrey M. Tupas
Last updated 03:59am (Mla time) 10/28/2007

DAVAO CITY, Philippines—She riffled through the pages of the Inquirer, her hand steady and careful, and hurriedly flipped back to the front page and stared at the photos.

Bae Bibiyaon Likayan Bigkay recognized the images: the man was “Pek’yeo” while the woman between two Indian officials was “Ori’yeo.”

Slowly chewing a betel nut—traces of being a longtime partner evident in her lips—the Ata-Manobo chieftain from the hinterlands of Bukidnon said she admired Pek’yeo because the man fought well. Pek’yeo is Filipino boxing champion Manny Pacquiao, whom she saw on television in Davao City several months ago.

She’s not afraid of him, she said, and would even willingly face him in the ring for a match. With a bland smile, she said, Pek’yeo might have strong punches but nothing could beat her arrows.

From a bitter derision as she talked of how to beat Pek’yeo came a chafed indignation over Ori’yeo, or President Macapagal-Arroyo.


“If I get to meet her, I will confront her and tell her that she’s the reason many “lumad” (indigenous peoples) in the hinterlands do not have food, why we suffer from poverty … why many of us have lost access to our ancestral lands ... why many of us have gone into hiding … why many of us have lost their loved ones,” Bigkay said through an interpreter.

“She’s a big reason for all these sufferings,” the old woman said in an interview at a human rights center in Davao City recently. She stiffened and walked toward the glass windows.

Bigkay described the President as “limbungan” (cheater).

“She’s taken advantage of the people, especially the lumad. Look at her—she’s so rich—while we cannot even go to our farms and till the land without fear that the military will again suspect us of supporting the rebels, thus putting our lives in danger,” Bigkay said in her native tongue.

That she is dauntlessly confrontational when provoked and passionate about fighting for the rights of her people come along Bigkay’s being a bibiyaon or a woman tribal leader. It was a responsibility bequeathed to her by the Ata-Manobo elders when she was still a child. (This was the time when she convinced the elders to let her borrow a horse in behalf of her father, a negotiation carried out only by matured men.)

Now, she is one of the few women lumad leaders who is respected not only for her wisdom but also for being a fearless warrior. She punctuates this prominence by never failing to be at the forefront of her people’s opposition to government projects that are deemed destructive to their ancestral lands.

Pantaron Range

Thrice a week, Bigkay gathers the people of her small village of Natulinan in San Fernando, Bukidnon, to discuss how to keep their defenses strong against mining and plantation companies. Central topic is how to keep the Pantaron Range free from “foreign intrusion.”

“Pantaron is what is left to us. Without it, we will have nowhere to go,” she said as she described the land still rich with fauna and flora, including herbs that the people use as medicine.

Bigkay recalled how, as a little girl, she would dare go to Pantaron to hunt with her uncle. Sometimes, she said, she would stay there for many months.


But the woman warrior is also wanted by the Alamara, a paramilitary group of Ata-Manobos allegedly funded by the military and other tribal leaders who do not share her stand. She said she often moved around the community and into the forest, where she is most protected.

The Alamara has also become a ruthless group going after suspected supporters of communist rebels.

What concerns Bigkay more than herself is that her people might shed blood again as what happened to her niece who died several months ago when Alamara members looking for her fired at a hinterland school in Bukidnon.

People close to Bigkay claim that she is in the military’s battle list on suspicion of supporting the New People’s Army, along with other lumad leaders Datu Guibang Apoga and Datu Duloman Dawsay.

Bigkay said that the presence of soldiers had always been the community’s problem as they prevent residents from doing their usual farming and other activities.

And because her farm is spacious, she said, the military would always regard her as “farming to feed the rebels.”

Logging days

The government has been watching her, she admitted, being one of the few remaining lumad leaders who are critical of its “development” projects.

She cited the experience of the Ata-Manobos at the time of the giant logging company, Alcantara and Sons (Alsons). “They’ve (company owners) abused the mountains, leaving us with almost nothing at all. They have abused the land, our ancestral home. What they have already destroyed can no longer be restored. Now, look at us … look at our children,” she said.

Mining and other agricultural development projects are “maruot” (ugly), she said. Despite their many faces, these will never get her approval or that of the people who have already seen the destruction they have brought to them.

“I will die fighting for our land against those who only desire to get its resources and destroy it. If I, as bibiyaon, will allow them to desecrate the mountain again, it will mean that I have also allowed the destruction of my people because the mountain is our home, it is our life,” Bigkay said.


She cited as an example how the government sold out lumad land to investors using the legal instrument that is supposed to protect their rights—the Indigenous People’s Rights Act (Ipra). The development thrusts are packaged as the Ancestral Domain Sustainable Development Priorities Plan (ADSDPP).

The law, signed on Oct. 29, 1997, by then President Fidel V. Ramos, facilitated government interventions when ancestral lands have already been formally titled, Bigkay said. Government representatives have convinced other lumad leaders to enter into agreements with businessmen interested in turning their areas into banana and pineapple plantations or mining sites.

“This is the very reason I hate this law. It never served its purpose but instead it facilitated the oppression of the indigenous people,” she said.

Now, Bigkay is among the tribal leaders in Bukidnon, Talaingod and other areas in the Davao provinces, North Cotabato and Agusan who are blocking moves to include their lands into areas whose formal titling is being processed by the National Commission for the Indigenous Peoples (NCIP).

Tribal leaders, who met in Davao City recently, stormed the office of the NCIP-Southern Mindanao and lodged their complaints over the inutility of Ipra and how it had actually worked against them.

Roque Agton, director of NCIP-Southern Mindanao, said his office aimed to deliver to the lumad their lands by issuing titles to them. “Their lands are very vulnerable to the same developments that they are opposing if their lands are not titled,” he said.


john be anonymous said...

wow, that was so cool, tracing your ancestors, I know I have like Ibanag blood, I'm not sure what it is but I'm very curious to find out. coolness. :)

bananas said...

hi john...ibanag? yan yong nasa batanes diba? wow...been there na ba?

chase / chubz said...

i don't know my ancestors..
it would be cool to trace that.

i totally agree with you.
they as the people and their ancestral land should be protected.
dami kasing mag tatake opportunity as innocence nila.
bad people!

Kiks said...

parang si nanay mameng. nakakainspire.

sana umabot ako sa idad nila para me baklang matandang chumochova sa mga nasa gubyerno.

lolas always inspire me.

ruff nurse-du-jour said...

who's afraid of PGMA? Hmm. I guess no one. But that's just me. ;-)

kawawa naman ang mga natives/ethnic groups dito sa pinas. lagi silang nagiging victims of oppression and discrimination.

nice, informative post bananas. i feel like i'm having an education or something. ;)

ruff nurse-du-jour said...

who's afraid of PGMA? Hmm. I guess no one. But that's just me. ;-)

kawawa naman ang mga natives/ethnic groups dito sa pinas. lagi silang nagiging victims of oppression and discrimination.

nice, informative post bananas. i feel like i'm having an education or something. ;)

Lyka Bergen said...

Maruot si Gloria! Yun lang!

Anonymous said...

this is a very well-written piece. cheers to you.

maria said...

we must fight for the rights of our indigenous people...