MANILA, Philippines – A Grade 12 scholar at the Community Technical College of Southeastern Mindanao in Tagum City, Davao del Norte, adept in the niceties of engagements on Facebook and Twitter in between studies, Giselle Tido Eugenio is, to all appearances, your typical millennial.
Then again, she isn’t.
She belongs of the B’laan tribe and attends the only institution in the Save Our Schools and Salugpongan Ta’Tanu Igkanugon Community Learning Center network – one of the networks of schools set up for the lumad, or indigenous people, of Mindanao by civil society and religious groups in communities where opportunities for formal education do not exist – that offers college courses.
And, unlike your everyday millennial, while Giselle’s education, like for everyone enrolled in the lumad schools, is free, getting to enjoy it is a literal life and death struggle for the students, the teachers, their parents, their communities.
In fact, Giselle is among the lumad who have set foot on Metro Manila this year, as they have in years past, to once again demand that government respect their rights and their way of life.
Because the lush highlands that are home to the lumad also host rich natural resources, logging firms, mining companies, and commercial agriculture ventures have long lusted for their ancestral lands. And because, for the lumad, “land is life” means exactly what it says, that is non-negotiable.
Thus, the only way to get at the wealth is, literally, over their dead bodies or the ruins of the homes they have been driven from by men with guns, whether from the government, military-backed militias, or private security firms, who justify this by equating the lumad’s resistance to the rape of their lands to the armed struggle waged by communist revolutionaries.
But far from being cowed, the sufferings forced on them have strengthened lumad pride in their identity and the rightness of their cause. As they have for Giselle who, all of 18 and in Grade 12, adept in the niceties of engagements on Facebook and Twitter in between studies, also takes part in her people’s struggle as spokesperson of the Liga ng mga Iskolar ng Bayan.
Click and watch this video posted by Bernard Testa of News5 | InterAksyon, below: