Talaingod’s Fugitive Datu hailed as Bayani ng Kalikasan

Dec. 20, 2009

DAVAO CITY– Renowned Ata-Manobo datu of Talaingod, Davao del Norte, Datu Guibang Apoga, was hailed as one of the ten awardees of the Gawad Bayani ng Kalikasan (Environment Hero) Awards and the Center for Environmental Concerns (CEC) – Philippines last December 10.

Pig-ila noy no kanaming inoy woy amoy ka kinaiyahan. So iling to kandan ka kinaiyahan ka, talagbugay to kanta tivo, to ginhawa, to pogkoon, woy kunoy pad no kanaming kinahanglan (For us, nature is like our mother and father who provide us with everything we need… life, food, and other things essential for us to survive),” was the inspiring message of the famed Datu via text message during the awards ceremony at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani last December 10.

Datu Guibang Apoga, the legendary tribal chieftain of the Ata Manobo Lumads of the war-torn province of Talaingod, was known for his tribes’ courageous battle won against the logging operations of the Alcantara and Sons through a “pangayao” or tribal war. His tribe declared the “pangayao” against the Alsons’ private guards and the military way back in the mid-1990’s.

“The recognition given to Datu Guibang is a vindication for the Ata-Manobo people against the villification campaign of the military. It is a tribute to all Salugpongan Ata-Manobos who have defended their ancestral lands from threats of logging, hydropower dams, mining and from the militarization of Talaingod,” said B’laan leader Kerlan Fanagel, coordinator and fourth nominee of Katribu Partylist, a sectoral party aiming to represent indigenous peoples in Congress.

The Gawad Bayani ng Kalikasan Awards was created to give recognition to individuals and organizations for leading environmental struggles and advocacies and contributing to the global campaign for environmental protection and justice.

Apoga along with other datus who belong to the Salugpungan Ta Tanu Ignakugon (Unity for the Defense of the Ancestral Land) was charged with murder in 1997 for the alleged murder of Alsons guards. Posters bearing his picture indicate a 500,000-peso reward for his capture.

According to Fanagel, threats of the influx of development projects continue to threaten the Ata-Monobos’ ancestral lands and the unyielding stance of the Ata-Manobo datus is crucial in the preservation of the Pantaron mountain range, a critical biodiversity area rich in minerals, timber, and other resources.

He added that military operations besieging the province continue unabated year on year. In a peace mission that Katribu led last October 21 to 22, 14 cases of human rights violations victimizing 2,240 individuals were documented. More than 100 of the victims were children.

Early July of this year, studies at the Salugpongan Ta Tanu Igkanugon Learning Center were disrupted as the military used the school as their temporary military camps.

“The series of military operations in the area is a concerted effort “to neutralize the resistance of the datus opposing the entry of Arroyo-backed development projects,” Fanagel said. He said it was recently reported that the Nestle corporation is planning to open a 40,000-hectare coffee farm in the area and that mining applications are targeting the Bukidnon side of the Pantaron range.

Recently, General Eduardo Del Rosario of the 1003rd Brigade – Armed Force of the Philippines publicly urged Datu Guibang Apoga to give up the struggle and surrender.

Katribu, however, said the unity of the Ata-Manobos under the Salugpongan “is stronger than that of General Del Rosario’s financial reward schemes and military antics.”

Datu Guibang said, “If I surrender, the suffering of my people in Salugpongan will multiply. Those projects, which we managed to push away, will come back. I learned a lesson from Tata Gawilan of Bukidnon who surrendered — and look what happened? He got all the benefits by himself but the rest of his tribesmen were still as wretched as ever. I’d rather die for the people, for the Ata Manobo than surrender. If I surrender, what purpose is there left of me? What will I gain? Will it bring something good to the descendants of Salugpongan?”

For reference:
Kerlan Fanagel
Regional coordinator/ fourth nominee
Katribu partylist
Contact number: 0939-658-9077

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