Mandaya Peace Volunteers Ready to Defend Ancestral Land From Threats

Situated several kilometers away from the town proper, the remote sub-village of Sitio Batiano in Barangay San Pedro in Caraga town is the venue of the latest Peace Volunteers Training.

CARAGA, DAVAO ORIENTAL – Refusing to back down from fear of intruders and armed rebels, the peace-loving Mandaya tribe are gearing up to defend and protect their ancestral lands against those that threaten its peace.

Some 150 Mandaya natives of Caraga town have recently become full-fledged advocates of peace as they completed the five-day training and seminar for Peace Volunteers in a graduation ceremony held at the remote sub-village of Batiano in Barangay San Pedro in Caraga town.

67th Infantry Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Jake Obligado and Caraga Mayor Alicia Mori lead the graduation rites for Peace Volunteers in Sitio Batiano, Caraga. 

Mostly composed of men ranging from the ages of 18 to 70 years old, the participants also included women leaders who are equally passionate about preserving their community’s peace.

The third wave of Mandaya Indigenous Peoples who completed the course, these participants will soon be part of 3,000-strong peace volunteers in the entire province, a powerful force committed to protect their ancestral lands.

During the training, the participants have come up with a Village Defense Plan, a strategy that guides them on how to deploy and position people in case of outside threats – among them the New People’s Army rebels who for years repeatedly committed atrocities against ordinary citizens especially the indigenous peoples.

Graduates of the Peace Volunteers Training stage at tactical simulation during the graduation rites.

Armed with the indigenous weapon called “bukakang”, an improvised firearm which the Mandaya tribe use for hunting wild animals for food, the Mandaya tribesmen say they are also ready to use this weapon in defending and securing their ancestral domain against these threats.

The Mandaya, historically known as tribe of warriors, are allowed under its customary laws to bear arms for protection for as long as it is only used inside the ancestral domain, says the tribal leaders.

A Mandaya Peace Volunteer holds the indigenous weapon called “bukakang”.

Many years ago, the Mandaya uses spears and arrows for hunting within the dense forests of their ancestral lands and in defending themselves from intruders. But as technology evolves, the IPs who are still clinging to their customs have also adopted with the change by improving weaponry with the use of this home-made firearms.

An IP leader shares his insights on the significance of the Peace Volunteers Training in protecting their ancestral lands.

“As part of the Mandaya tribe, we will not allow them (NPAs) to step on our rights. We are thankful that we have this training as it taught us how to defend ourselves,” said Barangay Tribal Chieftain Augusto Diano, adding that the tribe has the right to punish those that violate the customary law which is protected under the Indigenous People’s Rights Act (IPRA).

IPMR of the Municipality of Caraga Rican Calig-onan said that “The training also essentially aims to produce leaders who can become the community’s linkage to the government agencies.”

Aerial photo of the Mandaya community in the far-flung Sitio Batiano, San Pedro, Caraga

Aside from basic tactical training, the participants also learned about various crucial topics such as government programs on livelihood opportunities for IP communities, functions of the local government and government agencies, how to respond during disasters as well as their proactive role in terms of preparedness, and lectures on good citizenship.

Topics of the training are divided into four modules which are Livelihood Programs, Government in Action, People Empowerment, and Responsibility Awareness.

Armed with volunteerism and strong passion to protect their ancestral lands, the peace volunteers now have developed a deep sense of ownership over their community’s plan.

STRENGTHENING GOVERNANCE

Facilitated and organized by the Philippine Army’s 67th Infantry Battalion in partnership with the 701st Brigade, Local Government Unit of Caraga, the Provincial Government, the barangay and the IP Mandatory Representatives, the training aims at strengthening the already laid indigenous political structure of the IP communities using a total participatory approach while recognizing the customary laws and respect to culture.

Lt. Col. Jake Thaddeus Obligado

Commanding Officer of the 67th Infantry Battalion, Lt. Col. Jake Thaddeus Obligado, said that it is the military’s advocacy to help further strengthen these customary laws.

“By empowering them, we are essentially building stronger communities – empowered communities who are able to defend themselves, able to implement the IPRA law and able to implement their customary laws,” he said, adding that “The IPRA Law recognizes the IPs autonomy over their ancestral land. This also respects the culture with the decision of the tribal council.”

“Where there is strong governance, the enemy is weak and nowhere to be found,” says Lt. Col. Obligado, adding that the Province of Davao Oriental is fortunate to have political leaders who are united in their strong advocacy for peace. He cited the leadership of Governor Nelson Dayanghirang and the entire officialdom of the Provincial Government for their commitment in creating peaceful and developed communities.

WEAKENED ENEMY FORCE

According to Lt. Col. Obligado, the strength of the NPA has been significantly dropped by almost 80 percent in his area of operation. “From more than 200 NPAs way back in February 2017, they are less than 100 in March 2018,” he said, emphasizing that there is a huge reduction not only in terms of manpower but as well as firearms.

He also mentioned that there had been zero NPA atrocities since July of last year in his area of responsibility, attributing it to the strong unity of IPs and collaboration with the military and the efforts of the local and Provincial Government. 

He said that the IPs massive force has already outnumbered the enemy forces and there is no reason to fear them. He said that the people here are already awakened; saying that if this is done by the Mandaya here, this can also be done in other tribes elsewhere.

Started last year in the towns of Linging in Surigao del Sur; Boston; Cateel and now in Caraga, Davao Oriental, Lt. Col. Obligado plans to start the next wave of Peace Volunteers’ training in the towns of Manay and Baganga.  

“The output of this training is not only for the people now but also our gift for the next generation,” said Obligado. By Karen Lou Deloso/Photo by Eden Jhan Licayan

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