Hailing from the lush peaks of Pantaron Mountain Range in the Davao region, Abiok Ligkaian Bigkay, or “Bai Bibiaon”, is known as the only living woman warrior and chieftain of the Lumad people that has taken the helm in asserting the Lumad’s right to their ancestral domains and in preserving its rich biodiversity and natural resources.
A well-respected leader of her people, Bai Bibiaon serves as the Chairperson Emeritus of the Sabokahan To Mo Lumad Kamalitanan or the Confederation of Lumad Women in Southern Mindanao and as a council member of the Salugpongan ta ‘Tanu Igkanogon (the organization of lumad in Talaingod, Davao del Norte), Natulinan Ta ‘Tanu Igkanogon (the organization of lumad in Sitio Natulinan), and a member of the council of elders of PASAKA Confederation of Lumad Organizations in Mindanao.
Bai Bibiaon and her fellow Talaingod Manobo are the fiercest defenders of the 12,600 square-kilometer Pantaron Mountain Range, which cuts across the provinces of Bukidnon, Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur, Misamis Oriental, Agusan del Norte, and Agusan del Sur, covering 12.4 percent of the entire Mindanao.
Pantaron is home to one of the largest remaining virgin forests in the country and supplies the water of major rivers in Mindanao mainly the Mindanao River, Pulangi River, Davao River, Tagoloan River and major tributaries of Agusan River. The natural forests of the region play host to immeasurable biodiversity and links important breeding sites of the Philippine eagle at Mount Kitanglad and Mount Apo.
Bai Bibiaon’s leadership is a keystone in the Lumad’s impregnable defense of Pantaron against big logging and mining, preserving its virgin forests and pristine headwaters in the process. She has also contributed in the efforts of instituting livelihood programs and alternative Lumad schools, greatly improving the self-sufficiency of their community.
Bai Bibiaon and the rest of the Talaingod Lumad once successfully waged Pangayaw, the traditional armed defense of land by the Lumad, against the extractive company Alsons. Up to present times, her fellow tribal leaders look to her approval in waging resistance against destructive and pollutive industries and programs. As such, the forests of Pantaron have remained verdant to date.
These heroic exploits have been met with intensifying militarization in their communities, including attempted assassinations, forcing Bai Bibiaon and her tribe to flee their beloved homelands. The fierce woman-chieftain still remains a sentinel over the Pantaron through the generations of Lumad inspired to carry on her struggle.