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Introduction to the conflict in Lumbac, on Mindanao.
Lumbac is one of the 26 Barangays of the municipality of Kolambugan (a Barangay is the smallest administrative division in the Philippines. It is the native Filipino term for a village).
This Barangay is home to two different tribes:
— The Maranaos, an indigenous tribe having embraced Islam as religion;
— The Christian Visayans, who originatefrom the Visayas islands.
In order to understand the land conflict taking place on Mindanao, the second largest Island of the Philippines and especially in the village (Baranguay) of Lumbac, let’s read the story of a man named Felizardo Laborte.
The case of Felizardo is just one illustration of the complex land conflict. Many communities in Mindanao face similar problems.
In the Philippines, discrimination against the Muslim and the Indigenous People emanate directly from government policy ever since the Spanish colonized the country in 1521 up to the present. It is the source of a deeply rooted conflict over the ownership of agricultural land. Notably identity and religious differences are important markers in the conflict.
The competing land claims of the Felizardo and Sundig family are indicative:
— The Felizardo family is Christian and bases its claim on their title deeds.
— The Sundig family is Muslim and justify their claim through ancestral rights.
Both can be considered valid and legitimate. The situation demands a careful, creative and transformative process to bring peace.
Here follows the story...
Felizardo Laborte, a Christian middle-aged man from the tiny village of Lumbac, was jailed for 3 years without legal charges. In his speech during the community celebration for his release from imprisonment in 2010, he made the following declaration:
“I did not expect that my 3 years in jail would bring something good to our community. I just hope that the happiness we are feeling today will last ... But, we need to remember that there would be no abuses if no one allows to be abused… only then we will have peace.”
The celebration was the first gathering held right in Lumbac after 3 years of displacement of the residents due to the violent land conflict in the Barangay that had claimed the lives of 9 people.
In the 1920’s Lumbac used to be part of the Findlay-Millar Timber Company (FMTC), a British-American logging company. In the 1940’s, after the entire area was logged, the land around Lumbac reverted to government control and was sold to individuals through a sales patent system. During the Second World War most of the individuals having sales patent applications evacuated and did not immediately return to the area thus failing to perfect their patent applications. This allowed the government to distribute the land to new settlers who arrived in the 1950’s. Among the later applicants was the father of Felizardo Laborte who happened to apply in an area already covered by a sales patent application of the Basi-basi family, a Visayan whose application was also contested by the Sundig family, a Maranao.
The Basibasi-Sundig conflict was not resolved when the application of Felizardo’s father was approved paving the way for him to secure a title of a 2 hectare coconut land in 1975.
When the war between the Government Forces and the Muslim guerrillas erupted in the early 70’s, both Christian Visayans and Muslim Maranaos living in Lumbac evacuated the place but the Christians, feeling secured by the presence of government soldiers who were mostly Christians, returned to Lumbac before the Muslims.
In the early 1980’s, the titled land of the Laborte Family was forcefully re-claimed by the Sundig family who asserted that the land titled by Felizardo’s father was part of the ancestral land of their family who settled in the area long before the coming of the Christians in the 1940’s. Feeling helpless and threatened but confident that the land cannot be owned by others because it was already titled, Laborte left the area and allowed the Sundig family to harvest the coconuts. The Sundig family later sold the land to Mr. Tingkap, a Maranao whose wife is a niece of Felizardo Laborte and who later became the Barangay Captain of Lumbac. Mr. Tingkap then later sold the land to Mr. Bucay, another Maranao but not from Lumbac.
In 2006, Felizardo asserted his ownership of the land by showing the title secured by his father and with the assistance of the local government, he was able to harvest the coconuts for 3 croppings until charged with a falsified kidnapping case by Mr. Bucay. Felizardo was arrested and detained while the two others, his friends who were also included in the case, managed to escape arrest. Failing to hire a good lawyer, the case dragged on for 3 years with Mr. Bucay consistently telling Felizardo that the case will be withdrawn if he will pay him the amount of P100,000, the price of the land purchase.
The incarceration of Felizardo angered the Visayans who strongly felt that the government tolerated the injustice reinforcing the feeling of hopelessness of many for the resolution of the land conflict. Months after the arrest of Felizardo an armed group called “STM”, allegedly organized by the Visayan title holders and claimants of big land tracts , terrorized Lumbac particularly the Maranaos, including those who have legitimate land claims. Lumbac then became a no-man’s land and the tension between the displaced Maranaos and Visayan residents increased.
The tension reached its peak in an incident in October 2007, when a police team accompanying the Maranaos in harvesting their claimed coconuts was attacked early morning killing one police officer and a Maranao former Lumbac Barangay Captain, and wounding two other police officers. This led to the filing of criminal charges to 18 Visayan individuals, many of whom claimed to be totally innocent, forcing them to hide, leaving their families and loved ones.
The claim of the Sundig family, the action of Mr. Tingkap and Mr. Bucay reflects the assertion of the Moro people over their ancestral territories that were taken against their will by force and through unjust policies initiated by the colonial government over a long period of time. The efforts of the Laborte family reflects the aspirations and determination of the Visayan settlers who face considerable challenges in coming to Mindanao to possess a small parcel of land they could call their own.
A brief history: the origin of peacelessness in Mindanao
Before the Spaniards came in 1521, the Muslims of Mindanao enjoyed political autonomy and economic prosperity. They were ruled by Sultans who received their political mandate from the Islamic faith. When the Spaniards came, they attempted to destabilize the sovereignty of the Sultans and tried to place them under the rule of the cross and crown. The Muslim Sultanate in Mindanao resisted colonial intrusion through diplomacy, if possible, or by armed conflict if necessary. This went on not only during the Spanish colonial period but also during the time of both the American and the Japanese occupation, up to the present under the rule of the Philippine Republic. The Muslims have been struggling against colonialism for over four centuries. It is obvious that many of the economic, political, and social policies that had been imposed by the Spanish conquistadores, the American colonizers, and the Philippine government from the time of the Philippine Republic, have only served to dispossess them of and marginalize them in their own land. The armed struggle between Moro secessionist fighters, indigenous people (the Lumads) and government troops and the animosity that tears many Moros and Christians in Mindanao highlight the precariousness of peace in the region.
Lumbac: understanding the conflict on the local level
In Lumbac during the 1940’s, as mentioned in Felizardo Laborte’s story, logged over areas of FMTC were released for distribution to claimants. Back then, they mostly belonged to the company or other claimants who had access to the authorities in charge of land distribution. Among the lands that attracted interested claimants was the fertile area of the present Barangay Lumbac where a few hundreds of hectares were distributed to both Maranao and Visayan claimants. Land distribution led to tensions; conflict erupted as early as the 1950’s due to overlapping claims among a number of families. This unresolved issue of overlapping claims exacerbated when Maranaos were forced to leave their occupied lands during the 1970’s due to the so-called ‘Ilaga-Baracuda’ armed conflict. Encouraged by the “Balikbayan” (meaning return to home place) program of the then municipal mayor of Kolambugan, displaced Maranaos did return about a decade later through forceful re-entry and re-claiming of their lands as noted by some Visayan residents of the place. Maranaos then found out that their claimed lands were titled by other Visayan claimants. After more than 2 decades of relative peace in the Lumbac community since the Balikbayan time, a Bisayan armed group emerged and harassed the Maranao inhabitants. A conflict over the more than 200 hectares coconut lands started, involving a number of families having land titles versus actual occupants whose claim is based on ancestral, historical, traditional and actual development of the lands that they believed to own.
Ever since, Lumbac has been rife with conflict. Recently, when the proposed Memorandum of Agreement (which included Lumbac as part of the Bangsamoro territories) was declared unconstitutional in 2008, armed conflict broke out in various parts of Mindanao, including in Lumbac.
The conflict transformation process
Through the request of the affected Maranaos of the conflict, Mayor Bertrand Lumaque of Kolambugan requested the assistance of ECOWEB to assist the peace-building process. A simple research was initiated to know more about history, Time analysis being essential as a starting point. The municipal Local Government Unit (LGU) then created a committee, with ECOWEB as a member, to respond to the Lumbac crisis.
The first talks between conflicting parties were difficult. Prejudices and biases were so deep that gaining the trust of the parties for the process of conflict transformation was complicated. But even though the problem was complex, testimonies about the good relationships between Maranaos and Visayans that existed before the eruption of the conflict, gave ECOWEB, the LGU and other support groups, hope for a possible resolution of the Lumbac land conflict.
With support from CAFOD, ECOWEB and the Kolambugan LGU initiated dialogues and mapping of conflict using existing cadastral map and 3-dimensional mapping to visualize the spatial context of the conflict. The Results of the initial mapping then necessitated the conduct of an official and accurate survey of the conflicted lands; hence, technical assistance from the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources (DENR) among others.
After series of consultations with all stakeholders, including the leaders of the Visayan armed group (“STM” or “ILAGA”), a military detachment was established in the beginning of 2008 to provide a feeling of security to the community people. This initiative is considered an important step towards the trust-building goal of all peace-builders.
In analysing complex resource-based conflicts , such as described above, three major elements need to be considered for efficient conflict transformation: TIME, RELATIONSHIP, SPACE & RESOURCES.
The TIME dimension is an important element when referring to the conflict analysis. The resource-based conflict in Lumbac could not be set within a planned time frame.
While we need to see the results in a certain period of time, people had their own pace, which was also affected by external factors. Furthermore, facilitators of the conflict transformation process didn’t necessarily have control over these.
Time was also important for healing strained relationships among the affected parties. For a successful transformation of conflict, the historical context of the conflict proved to be important to be understood and shared by all parties. Therefore, time is a very important factor to consider in the analysis of the conflict itself.
Analyzing the historical context of the conflict also meant analyzing how RELATIONSHIPS have been evolved overtime. Therefore, the Relationship dimension is an important entry-point in analysing conflict. In conflict transformation, one needs to consider the broken relationships and must aim at rebuilding them in order to achieve peace. Resolution of the conflict may may seem possible without mending strained relationships, but will not be sustainable. Sustained resolution of the conflict will only be possible if it is a product of a dialogue process strengthened by trust among conflicting parties.
In a resource-based conflict, SPACE proved to be an important element to take into account. Without a clear geographical/ spatial overview of the conflicting land claims, it would not have been possible for the different parties involved in peace-building to situate the conflicts. By mapping the (Lumbac) territory and identifying the claims, it became possible to make up an accurate and relevant case-to-case negotiation plan involving all the parties concerned. In analyzing and utilizing the above elements in a conflict transformation process. PARTICIPATION of the major stakeholders themselves was essential.
EcoWEB intends to “create social spaces for change”. SPACE here is meant as a crucial means for conflict transformation. Providing NEUTRAL and SAFE spaces for dialogue and reflection between all parties involved proved to be fundamental to enable the peace-building process. Creating social spaces also meant creating “public spaces” within the villages for the people to gather and organise community activities. Their aim is: Harmonious cohabitation, re-building good relationships between the Barangay inhabitants to solve the conflict in a sustainable way.
Eventually, RESOURCES are the core issue. While natural resources are a central issue in the conflict that need to be addressed, facilitators of the peace-building process also have to find financial resources to transform the conflict. They are needed to pay the work of the facilitators but also to empower the community people and improve their livelihood. The Lumbac Land Conflict Transformation Committee and the conflicting parties for example agreed that the economic needs of the people impacted by the conflict should be addressed and that it should be done in a way thatwould contribute to rebuilding RELATIONSHIPS. It was agreed that while the land conflict had yet to be resolved, the coconuts in the conflict land would be harvested together under the facilitation of the Lumbac Land Conflict Transformation Committee. It was agreed that half of the proceeds in every harvest would be shared by those who participate and the other half to be used for conflict transformation activities. Part of the agreement was to use P100,000 from the proceeds of the coconut harvest to pay Mr. Bucay so he would withdraw the kidnapping case against Felizardo and two others. Without considering the RESOURCE problem and the direct social issues that are linked to it, peace cannot be achieved in a lasting way. This latter dimension includes the involvement of the entire society at all levels (from grassroots to government entities) in the conflict transformation process.
A simple research was initiated to know more about history, time analysis being essential as a starting point. How did historical analysis help understand and manage contemporary conflicts in Lumbac?
EcoWEB first made a census of both Maranao and Christian inhabitants of Lumbac to determine who was involved in the conflict. Through extensive interviewing of each family, they learned about every individual’s history and family composition. This brought useful explanations for the understanding of the claims. On the basis of these investigations, they had enough information to grasp the essence of the conflict. In order to better visualize, they elaborated the tools, such as family genealogies or chronological timelines. This however was first used for the internal staff’s work and not for sharing. Later on, they organized separated sessions with Maranao or with Christian communities. Realizing the need to provide a safe space for each group to analyze and plan the way to proceed with the conflict transformation process, ECOWEB organised separate 3-day conflict analysis workshops with support from the GIZ, German Development Cooperation. With the use of conflict analysis tools such as the timeline, the pyramid, the conflict map, and onion and tracing genealogy, among others, each group was able to come up with its own analysis of the historical context and evolution of the conflict. They identified roles of various stakeholders, their relationship and contribution to the conflict and its transformation and perceived position, interests and needs of each party. During the workshops, EcoWEB made use of the analytical tools as teaching material for participative purposes.
The municipal Local Government Unit (LGU) created a committee, with ECOWEB as a member, to respond to the Lumbac crisis. By doing so, they created an official structure involving the legitimizing executing power of the government, which is crucial for the lasting outcomes of the peace-building work.
Outcomes of the conflict transformation process
The local government unit (LGU) of Kolambugan strongly felt that they cannot resolve the problem themselves considering the complexity of the problem and the limitation of the LGU in addressing such complex land problems where government policies and instruments are identified as part of the cause. The decision of the municipal mayor Bertrand Lumaque to involve ECOWEB as a partner of the LGU in peace and development initiatives proved crucial.
Conflict Transformation (CT) is a set of lenses that enables people and organization to look at conflict positively and allows them to discover the opportunities that are available for transformation. CT allows parties in conflict to realize that the resolution of their conflict is in their hearts and hands.
Using CT lenses, ECOWEB, the LGU and their partners had embarked into a challenging facilitation journey of transforming the conflict in Lumbac. The facilitators decided to examine closely three elements of the conflict: time, space and relationship. By employing various tools of analysis, the facilitating team and the parties in conflict travelled back in time through historical timelines, genealogies and individual testimonies. Drawing and mapping tools such as 3-Dimensional mapping and relocation survey helped to visualize the Lumbac land conflict. Its physical characteristics where re-drawn. Through conflict mapping and analysing needs, interests and positions, the changing relationship of the current actors in the Lumbac conflict was understood by the conflicting parties enabling them to once again trust each other and rebuild their relationship as an interconnected web.
To effectively facilitate the process with the CT framework, the Lumbac Land Conflict Transformation Committee (LLCTC) was formed functioning as the third party facilitator. The Committee is composed of the facilitators and representatives from the Maranaos and the Visayan groups. Its role is to ensure the continuation of the CT process through improving communication, increase trust and prevent the occurrence of violence.
As the CT process went on, all shared the pain of experiencing injustice and distrust. Felizardo was a living testament to this reality, thus his case became symbolic. Hence, freeing him was of primordial importance in instilling confidence in the process and in showing that together and along the process the conflicting parties could address issues of injustices. Mr. Felizardo was freed after paying Mr. Bucay the P100,000 and Felizardo also agreed not to file counter-charges against Mr. Bucay to stop the cycle of revenge. Felizardo was released from jail on September 16, 2010.
The incident was so powerful that it encouraged the Maranao lawyer of Mr. Bucay to volunteer to become the lawyer of the 18 Visayans charged with a murder related to the October 2007 violent incident that killed a police officer and a Maranao leader. The lawyer has then successfully worked for the acquittal of 3 accused and now working in the case of the 4 others who all surrendered after LLCTC’s negotiation with their respective families.
Indeed, even though already 4 out of 40 identified major conflict cases have been settled, the land conflict in Lumbac is yet to be resolved but the process of its transformation has become a symbol of hope.