The Human Security of Indigenous People in Mindanao: Challenges and Prospects
Author: Johnson K. Badawi
Translated into Spanish by Silvana Gordillo González
The discourse and practice of human security have garnered much attention over the past years. This novel concept has shifted the way we look at security—from a state-centered focus to a more holistic understanding of security that puts a premium on humans and humanity (Gasper, 2006).
With its pillars on protection and empowerment, human security emphasizes a people-centered principle that highlights inclusion and participation in its approach (UNTFHS, 2016). While this has been practiced and documented by international organizations and donor governments that advocate for human security (Hernandez, Kim, Mine, & Xiao, 2018), there are still gaps in fulfilling the promise of inclusion, especially for vulnerable minority communities. This is especially true with the case of Indigenous Peoples (IPs).
Currently, there is scant literature that links human security and Indigenous Peoples. The documented practice of human security for Indigenous Peoples has also been limited. This is of primary relevance considering the massive threat of globalization and modernization to the overall security of these vulnerable groups (Allen, 2006; Nathan, Kelkar, & Walter, 2004). Hence, this article purports to extend the inclusive rhetoric on human security by investigating the plight of Indigenous People in Mindanao and exploring how to integrate human security in interventions. The background of the case will be explained in detail. This will be followed by an examination of the challenges of IPs vis-à-vis the freedom from fear, want, and to live in dignity. Finally, the prospects of applying the human security approach will be explored.
Human Security and Lumads in Mindanao
Human security as a complementary approach to the traditional understanding of security has gained considerable prominence at the international level (Gazizullin, 2016). The United Nations (UN) played an important role in its conceptual development, advocacy, legitimation and codification, and implementation (MacFarlane, 2014). Since the 1994 Human Development Report published by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), human security as a concept was formally introduced to the international community.
This report generally defined human security as the “freedom from fear” or direct physical violence, and “freedom from want” or indirect and non-physical or structural violence (Commission on Human Security, 2003). Particularly, it has 7 main areas which include economy, food, health, environment, community, and politics. In 2003, a UN report emphasized the purpose of human security: to protect the vital core of all human lives in ways that enhance human freedoms and human fulfillment. Two years later, Kofi Annan incorporated the “freedom to live in dignity” as one of the main tenets of human security (Annan, 2005). While this concept is not entirely new, it paved the way to a more formalized holistic security that prioritizes life and humanity.
Despite the ideal framing of security associated with this new concept, human security is not without challenges (Muguruza, 2007). One of the major obstacles is mainstreaming this approach with Indigenous Peoples who are deprived of the three freedoms advocated by human security. This gap is evident in the lived experiences of IPs in Mindanao, Philippines.
The Indigenous Peoples comprised 12-17% of the total population of the Philippines. Of these numbers, 61% of them can be found in Mindanao (National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, 2009). Together with the Moros and the Christian, they are part of the tripartite group in Mindanao. They make up 12-13 million of the population. In total there are about 18 Lumad groups which include the Subanen, B’laan, Mandaya, Higaonon, Banwaon, Talaandig, Ubo, Manobo, T’boli, Tiruray, Bagobo, Tagakaolo, Dibabawon, Mangaungan, and Mansaka (La Vina, 2015).
These IPs in Mindanao are culturally and collectively referred to as “Lumad” which is a local Cebuano term that means ‘born of the earth, ‘homegrown, or ‘indigenous’ (Gloria & Magpayo, 1997). This name appropriately describes these vulnerable groups; they are the original inhabitants of the island. They existed before colonial times. Lumads are largely animistic ethnic minorities who retained their way of beliefs and traditions (Rodil B. , 1993). Compared to their ethnolinguistic Moro counterparts, they kept their indigenous practices and resisted the conversion to Islam or Christianity.
The history of Mindanao is marked by a widespread wave of local migration. The arrival of settlers had encroached Lumads’ territories and displaced them from lowland to highland. This local movement coupled with the Spanish and American colonization resulted in their forced refuge in remote locations such as the mountainsides. With the amicable attitude of Lumads to outsiders and their initial suppression of grievance, it permitted the continuous cycle of encroachment and displacement.
Although this is generally true among Lumads in Mindanao, the situation of IPs in Muslim Mindanao is especially interesting. Coronel-Ferrer (2012) noted the significant population of Lumads in the Muslim Mindanao region, most of them belong to the Teduray group. The Moro demand for self-determination and greater autonomy had sidelined the Lumads who have an equally valid claim of aboriginality and ownership of ancestral domains. Overall, they are adversely affected by various human security challenges associated with local conflicts.
Challenges to ‘Freedoms’ among Lumads
At the core of human security is the achievement of freedom from fear, want, and to live in dignity (UNTFHS, 2016). Among the Lumads, the pursuit of these freedoms is a big challenge due to their vulnerable condition. Unlike many Filipinos, the manner they experience insecurities is magnified. For instance, Lumads are unfairly caught between the conflict of the government and armed communist groups (Fonbuena, 2015; Ferrie, 2016). This is particularly prevalent with Lumads in the Northern and Davao region. They are red-tagged or associated with coddling and recruiting for the New People’s Army (Gamil, 2017). As a result, human rights violations are widespread (Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, 2017). This includes illegal arrests and detentions. McClure (2018) reported that the targeting and murder of tribe leaders are also common. Subsequently, militarization is increased which triggers the cycle of violence.
Land-grabbing and extraction have impacted the lands and lives of Lumads. The sprout of mining and other companies that are obsessed with natural resources have exploited and damaged livelihoods. Although environmental activists and defenders have resisted the continuous interests of private companies, this has proven to be futile and dangerous (Aspinwall, 2019; Simbulan, 2016). Many of them faced the guns of private armed groups. Combined with the active militarization and state repression, this has resulted in forced displacement (Molintas, 2006). Lumads are pushed to evacuate their territories and live temporarily in evacuation shelters in dire conditions. Since they are not used to the lifestyle in big cities, their overall welfare is affected.
Likewise, this is the case of Lumads in the Muslim Mindanao area. They are victims of military skirmishes between local clans and splinter groups of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). A recent exchange of fire in South Upi, Maguindanao caused the displacement of over 900 families (Arguillas, 2020). Relatedly, the preponderance of land-grabbing and harassment has caused fear of Lumad groups. This latest evacuation of Lumads is especially pressing considering the current threat of COVID-19. With the unsatisfactory health condition and delivery of public health services for Lumads, they are put in a disadvantaged position.
The challenges related to freedom of want are also rampant. In general, there is evident inadequacy of basic infrastructures and delivery of social service. A significant number of Lumads live in Geographically Isolated and Disadvantaged Areas or GIDAs which according to the Department of Health are “communities with marginalized population physically and socio-economically separated from the mainstream society or those communities that are isolated due to distance, weather conditions, and transportation difficulties and with high poverty incidence and the presence of vulnerable sector, communities that are in or recovering from a situation of crisis or armed conflict”.
Due to the constant displacement (and structural inequalities), the livelihoods and development of Lumads are negatively affected. In a report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (2003), they found that even before displacement, a high incidence of poverty, restricted access to livelihoods, and inadequate standards of living were already present. Conflict and its consequent displacement magnified the loss and damage of properties and life. Agriculture is the most common source of income but because of frequent movement, they are pressured to leave their fertile lands.
Displacement has also post-impact on the food security of Lumads who are not compensated well after returning to their communities. Regarding water access, only 23% have access to level III sources which is the best source of water (Asian Development Bank, 2002). This means that the majority of the household is dependent on private wells and rainwater collectors. This development gap has a complex connection with the deteriorating health of Lumads. Manalac (2016) reported the inferior state of public healthcare among Indigenous Peoples. Certainly, there are clear problems—inaccessible basic health services, weak and culturally insensitive health governance, and prevalent malnutrition.
The geographical isolation of Lumads combined with the high incidence of poverty constrains the quality of education the children and youth. In fact, compared with their counterparts in Luzon and Visayas, 41% of Lumad children are out of school and received compromised quality of education. Those schools that are operational are confronted with the problem of insufficient teacher and learning facilities. Some Lumads teenage students who attend secondary schools are burdened to walk several kilometers. Drop-out rates are also high due to poor performance brought about by a lack of proper nutrition and school materials. With displacement, school disruptions, and an insecure environment, the impact on education is even worst. The red-tagging of communities also includes the learning spaces of children. As a result, the government through the Department of Education had demanded the closures of schools allegedly associated with the NPAs (Palo, 2019).
All the insecurities explained earlier are contributory factors that threaten the freedom of Lumads to live in dignity. But in addition to these, the salience of discrimination and exclusion of Lumads has impacted their sense of individual and collective esteem. Incidence of these social negative treatments have been reported (TEBTEBBA, n.d.).
For instance, bullying and discrimination in schools have been common among Lumad children and teenagers. This is accordingly one of the reasons why the rate of drop-out is high (Daley, 2014). Some Lumad groups have distinct physical features and ways of dressing which make them stand out in public. Consequently, their “unusual” image is easily identified and discriminated against.
Relatedly, the notorious land-grabbing of their ancestral domain results in cultural encroachment. Lumads have a strong identity connection with their geographical locations (Ballaran, 2018; Paredes, 2016). Their way of living and the preservation of heritage is largely affected by the actions of the government and private corporations (Molintas, 2006). These gaps in achieving freedom from fear, want, to live in dignity are interconnected in an intricate web. Therefore, addressing them calls for a profound rethinking of human security approaches that consider these complexes and cultural sensitivities.
Prospects for Mainstreaming Human Security
The next urgent point of discussion is centered on the application of the human security approach, its mainstreaming, and the existing international, regional, and national mechanisms that can be invoked to facilitate the discourse and practice of human security for the Lumad communities.
While the UNDP Human Development Report 1994 is commonly credited for the introduction of human security to the global arena, it is the effort of the Commission of Human Security that elaborated on the approaches for its adoption. The Human Security Now (2003) report detailed policy suggestions that national governments can enact. A more recent document (Human Security Handbook 2016) by the United Nations Trust Fund for Human Security alluded to the integration of human security to attain the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and other global priorities.
This comprehensive handbook purports to provide a “step-by-step analytical process for the design and implementation of human security initiatives and guides in assessing the added value of the approach”. The potential to mainstream human security among Lumads will revolve around these recommendations. Special focus will be rendered to the protection and empowerment dimensions.
The protection approach is a top-down process that upholds basic rights and freedoms. This includes the protection from threats such as violent conflict, disease, terrorism, and financial crisis, among others (Commission on Human Security, 2003). While these are all relevant, armed conflict with its accompanying forced displacement has marked urgency in the case of Lumads. To address this, the government must incorporate the human security agenda and concentrate on human rights protection (UNTFHS, 2016). This implies that vulnerable communities’ fundamental rights must be safeguarded by all means possible that deviate from the militaristic response.
The state is incapacitated to fully protect Lumads; oftentimes, state institutions are the guilty perpetrator of direct, structural, and cultural violence. Although the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) is far-fetched in this case, its protection aspect can have a potential influence. Pitsuwan et al (2014) prompted the discourse of mainstreaming R2P in the ASEAN that is consistent with international law and existing mechanisms and instruments of ASEAN.
On the national level, the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) is compatible with human security especially the promotion of social justice and human rights. This element guarantees the indigenous peoples’ right to enjoy life, equal protection, and right peace and social justice, among others. Particularly, Section 22 of IPRA stated the right of indigenous peoples to special protection and security during armed conflict. This act must be revisited and upheld to fulfill the promise of the State to establish protective mechanisms in accordance with international standards. Non-government organizations and initiatives have started programs for humanitarian response and protection. For example, the Protection Cluster Philippines had been active in responding to the internally displaced people including the IPs. In the Muslim Mindanao area, the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao- Rapid Emergency and Disaster Response (BARMM-READi) had provided relief aid assistance to displaced Lumads (Arguillas, 2020).
Of primary salience, the Human Security Now report emphasized the need for the government to prioritize conflict prevention and peacebuilding as important protection pillars. The Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process (OPAPP) with their previous and ongoing programs can play a major role. Former Secretary Dureza had been vocal on the strategic role of Lumads in peacebuilding (OPAPP, 2018).
Dialogues among the government and Lumads can open spaces for consultation and substantial participation. In Muslim Mindanao, the Ministry of Public Order and Safety had commenced its capacity development programs for conflict prevention and resolution (Sunstar Zamboanga, 2020). The Ministry can extend its scope by including the issues that affect the Lumads. Most importantly, the government can explore the traditional conflict resolution strategies of Lumads. For instance, the Teduray and Higaonon tribes have documented manners of solving conflict (Rodil R. B., 2020; Ragandang, 2017). However, these local practices should not be romanticized. These should be carefully considered for integration to the established style of peacemaking of the national government.
A holistic human security mainstreaming necessitates a bottom-up approach that mobilizes grassroots individuals and institutions. Hence, to mutually reinforce protection, the empowerment of Lumad communities must be integrated. The Commission on Human Security (2003) described empowerment as the people’s ability to act on their behalf.
While protection is mainly spearheaded by top-level formal institutions, empowerment recognizes the importance of developing the strength and potential of grassroots communities. This is not to say, however, that external and top-level institutions should not be involved. In reality, they are key actors who will support the people and provide spaces for Lumad transformation. For instance, the United Nations Development Program has notable visibility in the empowerment of Indigenous Peoples. They have implemented capacity development programs for government agencies, civil societies, and tribe leaders among IPs (UNDP, Indigenous Peoples in the Philippines, 2010).
The empowerment approach is consistent with UNDP’s recent move to substantially include more local-level components that are focused on Lumad issues such as protection of ancestral lands, good governances, and indigenous peacebuilding mechanisms (UNDP, 2010).
International organizations and donor governments can also extend their empowerment interventions to benefit the Lumads. For example, while the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) have both been active major donors in Mindanao, they can include the issues of Lumads in their program agenda. Ishikawa and Quilala (2019) posited how the empowerment pillar was possible and instrumental in the case of the Mindanao peace process.
Going back to the IPRA, this law has requirements for the formulation of a development plan that can be incorporated into the barangay, municipal, or regional level through the local councils. The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) can be further supported to maximize its various programs for the participation of Lumads. Moreover, local civil society groups and non-government organizations that work for Lumads can be given more resources to continue their grassroots works. For instance, the local organization, Panaghiusa Alang sa Kaugalingan ug Kalingkawasan Inc (PASAKK), in Agusan del Sur has notable bottom-up programs for the Manobo people. Other NGOs and CSOs can be mobilized to adopt a more empowerment-driven framework that highlights the strength and agency of Lumads. Indeed, there are numerous opportunities and entry points that can be explored to mainstream the protection and empowerment of Lumads in Mindanao.
The plight of Indigenous Peoples is a global source of concern. The case of Lumads in Mindanao demonstrates the systemic and structural challenges of Indigenous Peoples. The constant displacement caused by armed violence has greatly affected their holistic welfare. It is thus necessary to overcome these obstacles and support the peace and development of the Lumads.
Human security is a potential approach that can be applied to resolve these problems. With its protection and empowerment pillars, it will facilitate a balance of top-level assistance and grassroots action. Its mainstreaming has high possibilities considering the existing mechanisms at international, regional, national, and local levels.
Although this article does not provide an exhaustive investigation of human security challenges and prospects for Lumads, it sends an invitation for further discussion to include and engage Lumads in creating solutions for their problems. Atienza (2015) noted the need to clarify and contextualize human security in the Philippine local context. This article responds to that call by examining the challenge and prospect of human security in one of the marginalized groups in the Philippines. Nevertheless, the inclusive idealism of human security is more than lip service but a solid actionable framework that can bring positive transformation to the lives of Lumads in Mindanao.
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Johnson Badawi is a graduate student taking his dual degree program on Political Science major in Global Politics and International Peace Studies at the Ateneo de Manila University and University for Peace, respectively. He has worked for humanitarian and conflict transformations projects in Southern Philippines. John has served in different capacities for projects by the US Embassy in the Philippines, UN Women, and the World Health Organization, among others. His research interests are focused on post-conflict trauma, gender and peacebuilding, conflict transformation, and infrastructures for peace
*Please note that all opinions expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not represent the official position of the University for Peace