Datu Guibang and the Ata Manobo’s struggle is a contribution to the worldwide struggle to defend the last frontiers of a critical part of the country’s environment as the world slowly disintegrates into destruction in the face of globalized plunder. Their struggle lives the very principle of defending the ancestral land and right to self- determination. Their whole lives, having been dedicated for the defense of their ancestral lands, is the concrete and highest form of defending national sovereignty.
Datu Guibang Apoga is a courageous, firm, and principled indigenous peoples’ leader. He was able to unite 83 Ata-Manobo villages within the Talaingod ancestral land as he remains to date the tribal chieftain of the Salugpongan Ta Tanu Igkanugon, the organization of Ata Manobos in Talaingod. These villages despite some inter-clan conflicts have been united under Datu Guibang’s leadership. He has led them in the rite of pangayao where datus made their sacred vow: to act as one in defending their ancestral lands and right to self-determination even at the cost of their lives.
Datu Apoga and the plight of the Ata- Manobos
The struggle of his people against Alcantara and Sons’ logging operations in Talaingod became an inspiration not only for their own people but this resounded all over Davao such that various advocacy groups and programs have been formed in response to their plight such as the Solidarity Action group for Indigenous Peoples (SAGIP) and the PASAKA Confederation of Indigenous Peoples in Southern Mindanao which now stands out as the leading force of lumad unity membering around 30 lumad peoples organizations all over Southern Mindanao.
Many times has his conviction been put to the test. But he and the Ata Manobo people never wavered. Since 1980’s Guibang along with other datus under the Salugpongan have been charged with murder of some ALSON guards. A warrant of arrest has been issued for him and the other datus delimiting his movement and threatening his life. Since then he has lived a life on the run as he maintains that defending their ancestral lands against aggressors could never be a crime.
To date, the charges have been temporarily been dropped. But threats to his leadership remain. Threat to the Ata Manobo peoples’ resistance against development aggression continues.
Talaingod has been the center of military operations this year. From August to present, the military’s 73rd IB have been hamletting the lumad communities in Talaingod. At least 17 villages in Talaingod such as Tibukag, Purok 31, Paiton, Purok 17, Dalingding, Tibugaw, Natampod, Labuo, Duryan, Tam- buko, Mahindang, Nalubas, Lasakan, Sasu, Bagang, Pongpong and Nasilaban “were gravely affected by the military operations which started on July this year.causing the displacement of more than 2,000 indviduals.
These operations are believed to be clearing operations for the looming implemementation of Nestle’s 40,000 coffee plantation within Talaingod. In the course of these operations Lt. Col Eduardo Del Rosario has been on a campaign to lure Datu Guibang to join the military forces. He publicly of fered cash reward for Datu Gubang once he joins the army. Until now Datu Guibang remains stead- fast in his resolute fight against the aggressors of his people and their ancestral lands.
The Tribe moves forward
Through the Salugpongan Ta Tanu Igkanugon led by Datu Guibang educational services by the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines -SMR have been implemented. Starting only with a pre-school and day care program, the Dep-Ed recognized program, is now offering education up to Grade 3 levels. 10 schools are now operating within these hinterlands with all its funds has not been able to do a feat that even the local government.
Sustainable agriculture has also been a significant program implemented within the Salugpungan as part of the comprehensive program of the Ata Manobos’ defense of their ancestral lands. Salugpungan is a stakeholder of the Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundations’ ACTION REPAIR program which aims to implement basic agricultural services as a response to the need to provide livelihood for the Ata Manobos – a key in sustaining the community’s opposition of mining and logging projects which promises easy money for the community members.
Were it not for Datu Guibang and the unity of the Ata Manobo people, the Central Cordilleras or the Pantaron Mountain Range will have been devastated by mining and logging operations as these ranges promise bountiful minerals eyed by foreign investors.
Their sacrifices, their resolute and united stance against ALSONS, against the Talaingod Hydro- electric Project, against the Investment Defense Force led by the military, against the looming entry of Nestle Coffee plantations has inspired many and should inspire the rest of the world to struggle with them, to fight against plunderers, to fight against institutionalized plunder.