Tribal people from the northern Philippines arrive in Manila on Oct. 13 to join what they dubbed as a "journey of national minorities for self-determination and just peace." (Photo by Basilio Sepe)
Some 6,000 tribal people from all over the Philippines marched to the capital Manila on Oct. 13 to highlight their call for "self-determination and a just peace."
Organizers of the event said tribal people have united to protest continuing attacks in their communities and the "plunder of ancestral lands and territories."
They said one of the aims of the caravan is to urge President Rodrigo Duterte to revoke policies and laws that "undermine the rights of the national minorities."
"We are calling on the government to recognize our self-determination, which is a collective right of all indigenous peoples," said Wendell Bulingit, a tribal leader from Cordillera region in the northern Philippines.
Jerome Aladdin Succor Aba, spokesman of Suara Bangsamoro of Mindanao, said the people of the southern part of the country are also calling on the government to "lessen discrimination on our fellow Muslims."
Piya Macliing Malayao, secretary general of the National Alliance of Indigenous Peoples' Organizations, called on Filipinos to express solidarity and "take time to understand" the situation of tribal people.
"They are the most marginalized sector in the country, and we have to understand them through integration and cultural exchange," Malayao told ucanews.com.
"If we will understand their culture, we will understand ourselves as Filipinos and the plight that we should struggle together," she said.
Various church groups have declared their "continuing Christian solidarity to bring the narratives of peoples pushed to the margins" to mainstream society.
Aileen Villarosa of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines vowed "to carry on our support to the indigenous families who fled their lands and continue to live evacuation camps."
The religious group lauds the Duterte administration's pronouncements to demand accountability from state forces who have been accused of violating the rights of tribal people.
"Where we work, the indigenous communities still feel the ominous presence of paramilitary groups, hindering people from enjoying their rights in their own lands," said Villarosa.
She said the killings of indigenous people, peasants, and environmental activists "must immediately stop."
Nardy Sabino, spokesman of the Promotion of Church People's Response, an ecumenical group of clergy, religious, and lay people, said the convergence of tribal people in Manila "is an important milestone in the history of national minorities."
"For the first time, we will see a nationwide alliance of these marginalized groups explicitly asserting their rights to self-determination and national liberation," said Sabino.
He said the event should be a reminder that tribal people who have long been fighting for their rights "will not wait for change to simply happen."
Sabino said church leaders and Catholics should "listen to the plight and struggle" of tribal people "who can show and teach us how to protect our common home and God's creation."
Laudato si' in action
Father Alex Bercasio, who has been living in a tribal community in the northern Philippines, said the unity of indigenous peoples in asserting their rights "is our chance to really understand what Laudato si wants to tell us" he said referencing the papal encyclical on "Care for our Common Home."
"It is not the enough to just read the encyclical," said the Redemptorist priest. "We will fully appreciate God's creation if we can recognize the role of indigenous peoples in safeguarding the environment," he said.
Father Bercasio said the destruction of the environment does not only affect people in the mountains but also those living in the cities who have nowhere to run to during disasters.
"We must understand that the struggle of the tribal people is not only for their own security but for the rest of mankind," he said.
Protestant pastor Romel Linatoc of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines said "loving and caring for nature is embedded in theology."
"It is imperative for the church to embrace the struggle of the indigenous people," he said, adding that the spirituality of tribal people is "deeper than Christian spirituality."
"We only understand spirituality from a western perspective ... tribal communities have deeper and innate discernment on the value of creation," said Linatoc.
Students in Manila walked out of their classrooms on Oct. 13 to welcome tribal people from around the country who marched to the capital in a caravan to dramatize their call for peace and self-determination. (Photo by Angie de Silva)