By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Cristina Lantao, 20, is a mother to a four-year-old girl and a Matigsalug leader of the Nagkahiusang Lumad sa ComVal (Nagbukasa). Although younger than other indigenous leaders, her experiences are not very far from theirs.
Cristina is a victim not only of state violence but also of government neglect. Her community in Mongayon, Compostela town is still suffering from the loss brought about by typhoon Pablo (international name: Bopha), while their community school, an annex of the Salugpungan Ta’tanu Igkanugon Learning Center Inc. (STTILCI) has been subjected to military harassment.
But as Cristina chose to fight for the rights of her fellow Lumad, she was vilified and tagged as member of the New People’s Army (NPA).
“The military posted a picture of me and my other companions at the municipal hall labeling us as members of the NPA,” Cristina said chuckling. Cristina was targeted by the military after she filed a case against the 25th Infantry Battalion who camped in their school in September.
She said she doesn’t know of any charges against her, but soldiers were always looking for her. “That is why I cannot go to the town proper alone. Whenever I go to town, I come with a group of people to be on the safe side.”
Cristina is with the 300 Lakbayanis from Mindanao who are presently here in Manila to call for justice and peace in Mindanao.
Cristina and her family is one of the survivors of typhoon Pablo. It was Dec. 4, 2012 when Pablo hit the Southern part of Mindanao. Houses, including Cristina’s, were all washed away by the typhoon.
Help from the government was sluggish, she said. People went hungry as their sources of livelihood were all washed away too, and yet aid from the national government has not reached their community.
She said had they not barricaded the municipal hall of Montevista, Compostela Valley and trooped to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in Davao, they would not get any relief.
“The Barug Katawhan and DSWD Region 11 came up with an agreement that they would distribute the relief packs to the affected communities. But DSWD only released a quarter of the relief packs to the affected communities.”
Two years after the typhoon, people are also still trying to recover. “Up to now we haven’t rebuilt our own house. The same with the houses far from the highway are still not rebuilt. If houses were put up, it was through the people’s own perseverance.”
Balsa Mindanao, a non-government organization with a broad Mindanao-wide network responding to the humanitarian crisis after typhoon Sendong (international name: Washi) was the one that helped them recover from the havoc wrought by Pablo.
Cristina said Balsa gave them food assistance while they started to rehabilitate their farms. They cultivated communal farms, which allowed the community to produce their own supply of food.
Cristina said in Compostela Valley, there are 12 communal farms and schools that were built by the people’s organization and non-government organization.
But while they were on the road to recovery, military troops were once again deployed in their community. “The people haven’t rebuilt their houses when the military troops came.”
“We told them that it is stated in the law and international law that soldiers are not allowed to camp within 100 meters from school. When we asserted this, they said ‘Ah, you are an NPA.’ And we would say, no, we are just fighting for what is right.”
She said it was on Sept. 25, 2013 when the 25th Infantry Battalion came and built their camp near their community school.
The troops came, said Cristina, because the Agusan Petroleum and Minerals Corporation, a subsidiary of San Miguel Corporation owned by Aquino’s uncle, Danding Cojuangco is undertaking mining exploration in their community.
The choice to fight
In 2013, another indigenous leader and a namesake, 40-year-olod Cristina Morales Jose of Baganga town, Davao Oriental was killed by suspected state forces. She was one of the leaders of the typhoon Pablo victims.
That is why the younger Cristina said her husband was terrified of the soldiers who kept coming back to their house looking for her. There were also times that she worried for her own life. “But will things change if I stop fighting back?”
Her courage did not falter. She said her commitment to continue with the struggle for their right to education and right to ancestral land is only strengthened.
“We have to stand up and fight for our right. It is our right,” Cristina told Bulatlat.com.
“If they kill me then that’s it. But I never thought of giving up. People have sacrificed their lives. Even innocent children are getting killed. That is why I resolved to continue with the struggle.”