PAGTUKUSAN, established in 1982 from the Manobo term tukos which means connection, is a network of Manobo leaders in the municipalities of Esperanza, San Luis, and Bayugan City in Agusan del Sur province, in the Southern Philippines. The Manobo are one of four indigenous peoples in the province and like the majority of indigenous peoples in the Philippines, have experienced displacement from their ancestral lands and marginalization of their indigenous political systems, traditions, and practices. In this context, the Manobo leaders of PAGTUKUSAN assert their self-determination as indigenous people by practicing their traditional justice system to deal with conflicts in their communities.
Based on the shared common values between forumZFD and PAGTUKUSAN, our engagement with the community leaders aims to support their traditional ways of dealing with conflicts by introducing additional methods of conflict analysis and non-violent conflict transformation. The PAGTUKUSAN leaders expressed the wish to learn about these new approaches to strengthen their ability to transform conflicts in their community including long-standing land and resources conflicts. By supporting PAGTUKUSAN leaders to deal with these conflicts sustainably, we can also address the root causes of other types of conflict such as economic and social marginalization. With the signing of the Certificate of Consent and Partnership, we have taken the first step to building a strong partnership with PAGTUKUSAN, that is respectful of the Manobo’ indigenous practices and governance structures.
The day before and on the morning of the ceremony, two rituals were performed. Sugnod (usually done before conducting traditional mediation) asks for permission and guidance from the ancestors especially those who founded PAGTUKUSAN. Through pangudab (ritual for two parties coming into a partnership) negative energies are shooed away that would otherwise hinder the shared good intentions.
During his welcoming message, PAGTUKUSAN key leader and baylan (spiritual leader) Ireneo Rico “Datu Makalipay” then shared how as a group they had previously been treated as a mere recipient of projects and services provided by larger organizations and have learned to carefully choose who to engage with. This time, however, entering a new relationship with an external, non-indigenous actor, they asserted themselves as standing on the same level, in partnership, in developing and implementing community projects.
Next, Luciana Rico “Bae Manyaguyad”, tribal chieftain of the area in which the event was held, presented the Rationale of the Activity. She shared that the process took two years because on top of the limits of the Covid-19 pandemic, PAGTUKUSAN wanted to take its time to reflect on their traditions and the possibility of accepting external actors.
The ceremony was continued by Lucky Alexis Rico and Dannie Precioso, members of KAMASKI (Kabatan-onang Manobo sa Kiindaw or Manobo Youth of Kiindaw), who presented the community consultations and activities that were held since 2021 leading up to the culmination ceremony. The Manobo youth also performed cultural dances and two guest indigenous leaders sang melodious “tud-om” (chants).
Before the signing of the Certificate of Consent and Partnership by the PAGTUKUSAN key leaders and witnesses, an exchange of manggad , as a gesture of mutual acceptance and sincerity, was made between forumZFD and PAGTUKUSAN. Manggad or peace offering is an exchange of symbols of goodwill, usually done when, during mediation, conflicting parties agree on a settlement.
The partnership between forumZFD and PAGTUKUSAN will endeavor to revitalize indigenous justice mechanisms such as the exchange of manggad in complementation with non-violent conflict transformation.
We are grateful that the Acceptance and Partnership Ceremony was attended by government and non-government actors from the province who showed their support and recognition of the indigenous cultural community. Among the invited guests who delivered their messages of support and who signed as witnesses to the activity were the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples - Agusan del Sur Provincial Office, the Department of Education, indigenous representatives and councilors from nearby municipalities, and the local indigenous peoples’ organization PASAKK.
The guests expressed their appreciation of a consent process that is in line with the Manobo traditional and indigenous political system. Ms Adelaida Buyog, tribal affairs assistant at the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, confirmed that the process of free, prior, and informed consent is an integral part of indigenous peoples’ rights and of the Philippine Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act, which her agency is tasked to implement. Despite being enshrined in law, such rights are not always respected. Mr. Noel Monton, Indigenous Peoples Education Focal Person of the Department of Education in Bayugan City, recognized that state agencies, including his own, have been part of the discrimination against indigenous people. He emphasized that in engaging the Indigenous Peoples, we “do not change them for the mainstream rather we contextualize by learning the culture and having dialogues with the culture-bearers”.
One way of doing this is to jointly develop processes and documents as PAGTUKUSAN and forumZFD have done with the Certificate of Consent and Partnership. According to Samuel Behing “Datu Lumad”, an indigenous peoples’ mandatory representative from the municipality of Sibagat, “the process undertaken  can be mirrored for replication in other indigenous communities in the province”. He explained that “more than ever, the indigenous leaders are much needed to do husoy (traditional mediation). Likened to umbilical cords the Manobo justice mechanism is not based on who wins or who loses but seeks to restore (familial and communal) connections and relationships.” It is in this spirit that we hope to continue the relationship with PAGTUKUSAN and the Manobo indigenous cultural communities.