The Mangyan struggle in Mindoro

Residents of Sitio Danlog (By Justin Umali / Bulatlat)

Mangyan are the target of intensified state violence due to counterinsurgency program dubbed as Oplan Kapanatagan. Last June, strafing and bombing operations in Victoria and Mansalay, Oriental Mindoro, forced over 600 Mangyan to evacuate to the lowlands

By JUSTIN UMALI
Bulatlat.com

CALAPAN CITY — Sitio Danlog is a small community of around a hundred Mangyan families in Barangay Monte Claro, San Jose, Occidental Mindoro. From the highway going to Calintaan, there is a small ‘road’ which leads to a 15-minute trek across a river and into the sitio. The path is wide enough to fit a truck, but the rocks make sure that it couldn’t pass. Danlog sits at the foot of a mountain range connecting to Mt. Baco, and lush vegetation surrounds it on all sides. Danlog, in the Buhid language, means ‘slippery’.

Danlog is one the many communities in Mindoro inhabited by indigenous Mangyan. Usually deep in the Mindoro countryside, the Mangyan live an uncomplicated agrarian life with basic necessities. The Tunay na Alyansa ng Bayan Alay sa Katutubo (TABAK) notes that Mangyan rarely get government assistance for social services and are in the worst cases, hit by militarization and human rights abuses.

Ronalyn Ferrera has lived in Danlog since 1998, having moved there when she married her husband. Her husband makes ends meet by engaging in traditional slash-and-burn farming, kaingin, planting sweet potato and other root crops, while she takes care of their three children. Ferrera and her husband are Ratagnon, but Danlog is home to multiple tribes, mostly Buhid.

In an interview with Bulatlat, Ferrera said life in Danlog is simple, but difficult. “My husband can earn up to 20 pesos per kilo selling sweet potatoes,” she said. “My children can study in the school when the teachers can visit. It’s just hard sometimes when we need to go down, because there’s no bridge across the river.”

Danlog resident lining up for relief (By Justin Umali / Bulatlat)

Rey (real name withheld on request), another resident, also makes a living as a farmer. He and his brother plant palay and bananas in Danlog, although they find planting palay challenging because of lack of proper irrigation. Rice, in any case, is not a staple food for the Mangyan. “We only serve it on feasts, celebrations, or for visitors,” he said.

Like Ferrera, Rey finds crossing the river to barangay Monte Claro a challenge. During the rainy season, the river can reach waist-high and crossing becomes near-impossible. Rey said this is especially problematic when somebody is sick. “We don’t have a lot of medicine in our clinic,” he said, “and doctors sometimes only come here once a year. When there’s an emergency it takes us up to two weeks before we could come down and get help.”

The tone changed when the conversation shifted to the military. Mindoro is no stranger to encounters between soldiers and the New People’s Army. Some people still have horror stories of Oplan Habol Tamaraw under Jovito Palparan, from 2001-2005.

Most residents of Sitio Danlog were hesitant to talk about the presence of soldiers in their sitio, with some even flat out denying it. When they do talk about it, it is always in hushed tones and cautious whispers. Rey was the only one who was candid enough to talk about them openly.

“They don’t respect us,” he said. “They would come in and run over our crops, especially our palay. They would come in and take our belongings without asking permission. And they always ask us if we’ve seen any NPA in the area.”

New People’s Army or NPA is the primary mass organization of the Communist Party of the Philippines, which has been waging agrarian revolution for the past five decades.

Rey had too many stories – and experiences, of harassment from soldiers.

Once, he was found walking alone by soldiers in the area. Immediately, they suspected him of being an NPA fighter and were determined to get a confession out of him. They tied him to a tree and beat him up when he wouldn’t confess, eventually leaving him there. “I was lucky somebody found me,” he says. “Who knows how long I would’ve stayed there.”

Rey’s older brother was once forced to “lead” soldiers around the mountain range towards an “NPA hideout”. When they couldn’t find any communists, the soldiers beat his brother up.

At one time, soldiers fired at a couple while working in the kaingin, laughing at the latter as they fled.

Children washing themselves in the river leading to Sitio Danlo. (By Justin Umali / Bulatlat)

Mangyan are the target of intensified state violence due to counterinsurgency program dubbed as Oplan Kapanatagan. Last June, strafing and bombing operations in Victoria and Mansalay, Oriental Mindoro, forced over 600 Mangyan to evacuate to the lowlands.

According to human rights group Defend Southern Tagalog, state violence against the Mangyan is linked with development aggression. Private entities like the Santa Clara Power Corporation in Najuan, Oriental Mindoro, and Intex Mining Corporation owned by Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi in Victoria threaten environmental destruction and invite military intervention in the affected communities.

Danlog and its surrounding areas are no exception. Last October, the NPA’s Lucio de Guzman Command reported successful tactical offensives in sitio Mantay, Monte Claro and sitio Amaling, Manoot; both near Danlog. Clashes between the two groups are common, and Rey said that both sides would frequently visit the sitio, though thankfully “not at the same time.”

Still, Rey and the rest of sitio Danlog remain hopeful. “As long as there are people who want to help us, we’ll manage,” he said. “We Mangyan have lived here before the soldiers arrived. We’ll be here when the soldiers leave. ()

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