Photo essay: Mindanao Lumads mourn the passing of a Bagobo leader

Feb. 22, 2010

Datu Tomas Ito, Bagobo chieftain and protector of Apo Sandawa, dies at 84.

Also known among his tribe as Datu Birang, Ito led in 1989 the Bagobo peace ritual called Dyandi, transforming it into a solidarity pact with nine other Lumad tribes to resist the government’s Mt. Apo geothermal project, which encroached into their ancestral land. Ito passed away on Wednesday, February 10, at his home in the highlands of Kapatagan, Davao del Sur, at the foot of Mount Apo.

“Datu Birang, whose gentle and soft-spoken demeanor endeared him to all people who knew him, was an elder statesman of the Lumads,” said Dulphing Ogan, secretary-general of the Mindanao indigenous peoples’ group Kalumaran. “He was the voice of the Lumads for many decades in their struggle for the protection of their collective rights and their ancestral lands.” Datu Tomas Ito

The geothermal project of the Philippine National Oil Company (PNOC) had encroached into the ancestral domain of the Bagobos and other Lumads living within the 76,000 hectare Mount Apo territory. In 1989, Ito presided the Dyandi, transforming the Bagobo peace ritual into a multi-tribal solidarity pact among the indigenous communities living in the surrounding areas of Mount Apo, which they revere as the sacred land called Apo Sandawa. The Dyandi was the first ritual held since the last pact made in the 13th century.

With increasing awareness in the 1990s on “development aggression” projects that encroached into indigenous territories, Ito became a fixture in movements and forums in Mindanao, calling for the protection of indigenous peoples’ rights, his wit and articulateness in English astounding audiences.

As one of the Lumad leaders of the indigenous group KAMP, Ito represented the Mindanao Lumads during the Mother Earth global forum summit, a non-government organizations activity running parallel to the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1992.

Ito’s influence made him the natural leader of various Lumad organizations. In the 1980s, he was elected chairperson of the Sinabaden Ka-Bagobo Mekatunod (Organization of Awakened Bagobos) and the regional Alyansang Lumad sa Habagatang Mindanao o Aluhamin (Alliance of Lumads in Southern Mindanao).

In 1994, Ito served as chairperson of the Pasaka Confederation of Lumads in Southern Mindanao for four years.

Even in his senior years, Datu Ito was the spiritual adviser of Pasaka. He left an open letter that contained his reflection on the global ecological crisis and its impact on the people. “We must protect, without ever retreating, the land of our forebears,” he wrote, “Until the very last drop of our blood, if needed.”

For his life-long commitment to the fight of indigenous peoples, Ito was given honors during the Kalumaran (Mindanao Alliance of Indigenous Peoples) Assembly on February 28 last year.

In his passing, Kalumaran draws inspiration from the life of Datu Tomas Ito/ Datu Birang, for his unwavering commitment to protect the indigenous peoples’ rights and for his exemplary role as defender and voice of the Lumads of Mindanao. (









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