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Filipino bishops go to war over the word 'lumad'

Govt accused of 'red-tagging' indigenous people by associating the word used to describe them with communist rebels

Filipino bishops go to war over the word 'lumad'

Indigenous people from the southern Philippines stage a protest in Manila calling for an end to attacks on indigenous communities in this file photo. (Photo: Kathy Yamzon)

The Philippine bishops’ Episcopal Commission on Indigenous Peoples (ECIP) has condemned a government order banning the use of the word “lumad,” a widely recognized term when referring to indigenous groups in the country’s Mindanao region. 

“Lumad” is a word associated with the Communist Party and its armed wing the New People’s Army, the government’s National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) said in the order issued on March 4.

“The word is not an indigenous term. Its emergence and continued use are marred by its association with the Communist Party of the Philippines, National Democratic Front, and the New People’s Army, whose ideologies are not consistent with the cultures, practices, and beliefs of indigenous people,” the government body said.

Archbishop Jose Cabantan of Cagayan de Oro in the Mindanao region disputed the claim, saying the order was effectively branding indigenous people as communists and rebels.

“Directly associating the word ‘Lumad’ with [insurgents] as if it was coined by the communist rebels and consequently banning it from popular usage is a total disservice to the history of the struggles of indigenous peoples,” he said in a March 23 statement.

Archbishop Cabantan said associating the word with the Communist Party was far from historical truth.

“The [NCIP’s] order only reveals its members’ ignorance as to how the struggles of the Lumad have unfolded in Mindanao over the last sixty years,” he said.

The order also stated that the term “lumad” was used in a disparaging way as a refusal to recognize indigenous people’s identity and rights.

“The term has no ancestral domain or indigenous territory to speak of and is condescending and derogatory,” the NCIP’s Chairman and Mindanao commissioner Allen Capuyan said.

Archbishop Cabantan, called Capuyan’s claim erroneous, for the word did not come from ideological origin but from a united concern to defend indigenous peoples’ rights.

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“It arose without an ideological agenda, let alone that of the Communist movement. It arose out of a united people’s concern to defend the rights of the Lumad from the perspective of a Christian faith that is concerned with the least of our brothers and sisters victimized by both a repressive state and businesses interested in usurping the Lumads’ ancestral domains for profit,” he said.

The NCIP should have gathered more historical data then it would know how Lumad entered popular usage, the archbishop added.

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