Ata Manobo tribe ends decades-long internal conflict; takes first steps towards healing and reconciliation

It was a festive day for members of the Ata Manobo tribe in the hinterland village of Talaingod town, Davao del Norte following a reconciliation ritual held on Tuesday (Nov 16) to signal a new and peaceful beginning among conflicting members within the community.

During the first day of the “IP Healing and Reconciliation Consultations for Peacebuilding Interventions and Needs Assessment for Indigenous Peoples in Talaingod,” members and leaders of the Talaingod Indigenous Political Structure (IPS) welcomed home Ata-Manobo members who joined Salugpongan schools and those who evacuated to the Haran Center in Davao City.

The ritual included the offering of a white chicken to symbolize the pure intention of both parties to start the healing and reconciliation process.

Both parties also offered each other a pig as a peace offering. The blood from the pigs was used as ink to affix their thumb or handprints in a white canvas formalizing their peace covenant.

The ritual, which finally put closure to years of conflict and misunderstanding among tribe members, was followed by a series of consultations facilitated by the IPS to discuss other internal issues.

Tensions began to surface among members of the Manobo tribe in 1993 due to ancestral domain issues.

The Communist-Terrorist Groups (CTG) operating in the region took advantage of this conflict, sowing division among the people.

The strained relations among tribe members led some of them to join the Salugpongan schools where they were indoctrinated in the CTG ideology until they eventually joined the armed struggle.

The decades-long conflict among members of the Ata Manobo tribe in Talaingod, however, came to an end following the reconciliation ritual performed by both parties.

No more fears

Datu Doloman Dausay, the spokesperson for the members who joined the Salugpongan, said he is committed to support the reconciliation process in the community and has no intentions of rejoining the CTG.

“Umaasa kaming hindi na kami babalik doon. Ang gusto lang sana namin na ang pangako ng pamahalaang suportahan kami sa seguridad, ayuda at social services ay maibigay. Kahit sino sa amin, hindi na gustong bumalik pa doon,” said Datu Dausay in the vernacular.

He said he and other tribe members chose to return to Talaingod to face the problems in their community and come up with solutions with support coming from the government.

Datu Allan Causing, a tribal leader and an ancestral domain management officer in Talaingod, said that the reconciliation among their people signals a new beginning and a new life for all of them.

“Sa aming lahat sa Ata Manobo, ‘yung aming dibdib parang magaan na, wala ng kaba kahit saan kang sitio pumunta dahil naibalik na ang relasyon ng mga sitio leaders. Sa tradisyon ng tribo, ito ang tinatawag naming bagong pamumuhay kasi nagkaroon kami ng ritual o ceremony [for reconciliation],” he said.

Datu Causing also explained that despite the absence of a legal document, their reconciliation ritual, particularly the white canvas on which they affixed their hand and thumbprints, is a testament to their reconciliation based on customary laws.

Hope for the youth

Rurelyn Bay-ao, a 21-year-old member of the Ata Manobo group who returned from the CTG-supported Haran Center, also expressed hope that this is the last reconciliation ritual their tribe has to undergo.

Bay-ao served as the spokesperson of Haran and Bakwit School and was recruited by the New People’s Army at a very young age.

“Ang gusto ko sana ito na ‘yung huling healing and reconciliation ng aming tribo kasi ayaw na namin at ayaw ko na pong may mangyari pang patuloy na gagamitin ng front organizations ng CPP-NPA-NDF ‘yung katulad naming mga IP na very vulnerable,” she said.

Bay-ao also hopes that the government can help more students from the community to go to school to save them from CTG recruitment.

“Sana may programs para sa youth para matuldukan talaga ‘yung patuloy na pagre-recruit. Gusto namin na lahat ng IP youth dito sa Talaingod mabigyan ng scholarships, hindi lang po ‘yung mga ginamit ng CPP-NPA,” she said.

Whole-of-government, whole-of-society approach

The healing and reconciliation among the Ata Manobo tribe is a product of concerted efforts among different government agencies and civil society organizations.

Director Vanessa Pallarco of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process’ Social Healing and Peacebuilding (SHAPE) Department, said that months of tedious groundwork and consultations among concerned parties were vital in facilitating the tribe’s reconciliation process.

“This is 20 plus years of conflict created by the CTGs (CPP-NPA-NDF) with fear, violence, intimidation, lies, and deception against both groups of indigenous cultural communities ad indigenous peoples,” Capuyan said.  (PR)