Expression of indigenous identity under attack in the Philippines

forumZFD-statement on the recent denunciation of the term „Lumad“

On March 2nd, 2021, the Philippine National Commission on Indigenous Peoples passed a resolution denouncing the term “Lumad”, a Bisayan word to describe the collectivity of indigenous peoples in Mindanao. In the context of decades of injustices committed against indigenous peoples, this resolution threatens to further add to their marginalization and reinforces existing conflict dynamics.
Commemorative Monument of Peace and Unity in Davao City
© forumZFD

Forum Civil Peace Service (forumZFD) is an international peacebuilding organization that has been engaged in conflict transformation in Mindanao since 2007. Out of its three project offices in Butuan City, Davao City, and Cotabato City, forumZFD works with a variety of actors including indigenous peoples’ organizations and advocates. While not all indigenous peoples’ organizations subscribe to the collective term “Lumad”, several of our indigenous partner organizations identify with and use the term.

Building on its understanding of the conflict-reinforcing effects of continued marginalization of indigenous peoples, forumZFD works towards improving indigenous peoples’ access to decision-making and peace processes, to strengthen and complement indigenous methods of conflict transformation, and to support indigenous peoples’ organizations in overcoming divisions and building a peace constituency in Mindanao.

As part of its engagement for peace in Mindanao, forumZFD expresses its concern over the recently passed commission en banc resolution of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) denouncing the use of the term “Lumad” to refer to the indigenous peoples of Mindanao. The resolution alleges that the emergence and continued use of the term “Lumad” is sponsored by the insurgent New People’s Army (NPA) and that it signifies the identification of indigenous peoples under the banner of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), New People’s Army (NPA), National Democratic Front (NDF). The resolution thus adds to the red-tagging of indigenous communities, a practice of public defamation as CPP-NPA-NDF members known to result in targeting of individuals and groups, in some cases leading to detention, attacks or killings.

forumZFD acknowledges the Philippine state’s prerogative to suppress the violent insurgency pursued by the New People’s Army within the limits set by international law. However, we deplore the excessive violence committed under the pretext of counter-insurgency including the frequent victimization of indigenous communities caught between the frontlines. Unfortunately, the NCIP resolution adds to the (structural) violence committed against indigenous peoples in the context of insurgency and counter-insurgency. By attributing and closely associating the term “Lumad” to the CPP-NPA-NDF, it both overstates the involvement of the CPP-NPA-NDF in indigenous communities and understates the indigenous organizations’ own achievements to collectively advocate for their interests and work towards peace in Mindanao. Such allegations also reinforce divisions and distrust among indigenous peoples and thereby contribute to their marginalization and disempowerment.

Committed to its principles of multi-partiality and partnership orientation, forumZFD works with indigenous and non-indigenous actors from various spheres of civil society as well as government actors. That means that we enter into partnerships with individuals and organizations that are dedicated to minimizing violence and promoting conflict-transformation. An example of this approach is a long-lasting working group of local and national government as well as civil society actors working on the promotion of Mindanaoan Histories and Studies in the Philippine education system. forumZFD expresses its deepest concern that a member of this network, the Lumad Mindanao Peoples Federation (LMPF), was explicitly red-tagged in the NCIP resolution. Such public defamation runs the risk of harassment and other forms of violence against members of LMPF.

forumZFD recognizes that not all Mindanaoan indigenous peoples subscribe to “Lumad” as their collective term and that self-ascription is essential to their right to self-determination. However, for those using and identifying with the term, “Lumad” is a self-ascribed collective identity, an important part of their work towards self-determination and peace, and using the term must not come at the risk of further marginalization and violence.

Photo: The Commemorative Monument of Peace and Unity in Davao City commemorates the peaceful coexistence of indigenous peoples and migrants.