“The Lumad are caught in a war that isn’t theirs”

We are much a buzz regarding the discourse on national minorities. On social media, people like Cleve Arguelles has gained flack for commenting on one Basilio Claudio’s thesis topic arguing that the Lumad are “fighting a war that isn’t theirs”.

A self-declared apostate of the Philippine left, Arguelles criticized his former comrades in the struggle for implicating the Lumad in the war national democrats are waging. His premise: that not all Lumads are making informed choices when they opt to take up arms against the government in revolution.

Rather disappointing, that the PhD holder from UP would make such an uniformed statement that disregards the historical and political context of how the Lumad struggle is not just intertwined with the people’s war, but also ultimately subordinate to it. Let us clarify where Arguelle’s takes the wrong turn in his political analysis by dissecting the very core of his argumentation: agency.

The contribution of the Lumad to our revolutionary present
The involvement of the Lumad in broader political movements- even revolutionary political movements- is not a consequence of coercion or imposition by foreign cultural standards. The Lumad have the right to access the mass movement in as much as they have the right to be an integral part of it. In other words, rather than viewing Lumad participation to the class war being waged in the Philippines as the result of unequal relations between them and the revolutionary movement in the country sides , it would be more accurate to study how the process of gradual acculturation took place as members of the New People’s Army took refuge in the ethnic domains of the Lumad where they enjoyed shared spaces-spaces they can interact in, learn from each other and share practices from then and now.

While the Lumad have learned the history of class struggle and Marxist-Leninist-Maoist philosophy through the NPA, the revolutionary mass movement has also discovered the medicinal value of both rare and commonplace herbs, plants and roots through the indigenous knowledge of national minorities. In Eastern Visayas, the NPA has discovered the use of tree barks as a way to heal snake bites through the Mamanwas in Leyte and Samar. The exchange in values and experiences between the two parties are among the many indicators that their steady relationship is not the fruit of ill-intentions, but the product of cooperation and trust.

As mentioned above, this cooperation also translates to direct participation. It is no secret that some members of national minority groups have taken up arms to join the ranks of the New People’s Army. And for academics who study society for the glory of publications or the assertion of their relevance, it would suffice to conclude that the Lumad are alien to the struggle they themselves have chosen to bare, and therefore treat it as scandalous for national minorities to be involved in things beyond how they are portrayed in archaic text books.

The truth is, these academics are guilty of treating the Lumad as though they were incapable of baring any political acumen. It is as if, for them, the Lumad are not capable of intelligently processing information and ideas being taught to them so as to actively accept or reject them. The Lumad are capable of discerning their political realities, just because certain aspects of those realities were taught by outsiders, does not downplay their ability to confirm those teachings for themselves. 

Political autonomy and agency
Some critics are skeptical about the agency of the Lumad towards political participation, calling them pawns of the far left. They are blithely unaware that their statements do more harm than good: If their intention were to help liberate the Lumad from exploitation, questioning the legitimacy in their exercise of political autonomy doesn’t do any one a favor.

The earnest and laborious planning, time and effort that goes into organizing complex campaigns such as the successive Lakbayans are suddenly placed on the line after certain academics cast a shadow of doubt over the “sincerity” of the Lumad in holding them, alleging that these coordinated mass demonstrations are the product of brainwashing national minorities to forward the narrow interests of the left.

But how realistic is this claim? Is it even remotely possible for rallies of this magnitude, catching the attention of international organizations and foreign countries, to succeed based entirely on deception?

Not even President Rodrigo Duterte, who has in his arsenal the full machinery of the state, military and resources of the country, succeeded in gathering scores of people from all over the Philippines in a single place for weeks upon weeks.

Mobilizations like the Lakbayans need the determination and commitment its participants can only muster when they are united under a common cause. Unity in will equates to unity in action. And unity is the zenith of agency.

Lastly, it is also important to accept that when the Lumad side with revolutionary organizations there is no absolute agency involved. Because no one is 100 percent certain that their choice to join the revolution is full proof. The truth of the matter is that, participating in a war is a daily struggle- a struggle even some of the greatest revolutionaries face and have to overcome. Because waging a war is difficult and risking your life for a future you cannot readily perceive is challenging to do.

But the revolutionary struggle in the country sides has persisted for 50 years precisely because while the question of persevering remains, the determination and necessity to fight also becomes more urgent with time. Some of the Maoists in our country would often be heard saying:

“As far as our own desire is concerned, we do not want to fight even for a single day. However, if circumstances force us to fight, we can fight to the finish.”

Thus, Arguelles is right when he says that there is no absolute agency in taking up arms. But that is only due to the fact that fighting is more of a necessity than a leisurely stroll along the park.

The war isn’t theirs
The unity we have found among the Lumad, the unity we aspire for, is the key to ending the highest form of exploitation that translates beyond any single group of people or party.

The imperialist plunder of our natural resources, intervention in our politics and the destruction of our culture is the real enemy against which our country must resist and repel collectively.

And therefore, it is true that the Lumad are fighting a war that isn’t there’s. That is principally because it was never exclusively anyone’s in the first place. The war we fight is national in character, it is ours as a people regardless of ethnicity.

But make no mistake, Arguelles is wrong on all levels. Because instead of understanding the situation of the Lumad in how it has historically developed, instead of tracing how a significant number of Lumad groups have met and grown to cherish the revolutionaries they share the mountains with, he has chosen to idealize the Lumad as capable of championing their right to self-determination alone. But they are not alone, and neither are we.

Joshua Musico Sagdullas

Bayan Eastern Visayas

Tacloban City, Philippines

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Eastern Vista

Eastern Vista is an alternative media organization in Eastern Visayas. Stories of people in the struggle for justice and aid after super typhoon Yolanda inspired its creation in 2014. Eastern Vista is also a co-producer of Lingganay han Kamatuoran, a Waray-based radio magazine program airing since 2003. From Eastern Philippines, Eastern Vista shares the news and views from a people rising.

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