Sabokahan Unity of Lumad Women (Sabokahan) is an organization of women from eight ethno-linguistic tribes across Southern Mindanao that was founded in 2003 by Abiok “Bai Bibyaon” Ligkayan Bigkay and 8 other strong-willed lumad women after the victory of their pangayaw (tribal war) against the logging concession Alcantara and Sons during the 1990s.
The Lumad have been perennially marginalized due to development aggression and government neglect. Sabokahan helps in empowering the Lumad communities for their overall struggle for the right to education, health, self-determination, their ancestral lands, and a healthy environment. As the only Lumad women’s organization, they also push for the respect to the right and capacity of Lumad women and LGBTQ in the Lumad struggle.
Sabokahan currently leads the Save Pantaron and Pulangi River Campaign. As they believe in the grassroots’ role and potential as the first and last line of nature’s defense, they unite the local communities through education, organizing, and mobilizations to defend Pantaron.
Pantaron Range is the backbone of Southern Mindanao’s biodiversity and is home to one of the largest remaining old growth rainforests in the Philippines with rivers that provide the Davao Region’s main water supply. The forest is also home to the Manobo tribe and acts as their pharmacy, subsistence, and cultural identity. Because of its abundance in mineral deposits, large-scale mining companies are working aggressively with the military to displace communities, including the Lumad that protect their lands.
Sabokahan help save the critical biodiversity sites in the Pantaron Range and Pulangi River through issuing statements, and participating in media interviews, mobilizations, and international engagements such as the Women in Action on Mining in Asia (WAMA) hosted in Cambodia. They also helped in filing petitions at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) XI and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP). Sabokahan also employed the tool Feminist Participatory Action Research (FPAR) to improve the local environment. Aside from these, they also offer relief drives, basic education, and brought reproductive health information and services closer to their kin.
Because of their unyielding defense of their ancestral lands, Sabokahan and their communities have been a constant target of militarization by the Alamara paramilitary along with other state forces. In January 2020, the paramilitary attacked the UCCP Haran evacuation center where the Lumad have been staying after getting displaced. They often experience red-tagging (tagging as New People’s Army and terrorists), harassment on and forcible closure of their schools, and denial of relief to the said evacuation center. In response, Sabokahan conducted psychosocial therapy sessions for the women and children, initiated sanitary and health protocols and sewed face masks for the affected community members.
Sabokahan Unity of Lumad Women is still continually challenged. Along with the fear brought by the dangerous Anti-Terrorism Law, they also worry of systemic starvation, entrance of large-scale mining companies into the Pantaron Range, and the violence of militarization that awaits them should they return home.