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No to red-tagging of anthropologists!

UGAT, the Anthropological Association of the Philippines, strongly condemns red-tagging of anthropologists who are closely working with Indigenous and marginalized communities.

Reposting below the Personal Statement of Fr. Raymond Montero Ambray, a priest and anthropologist working with lumad (indigenous) communities in Surigao del Sur.

See also the news feature from Mindanews.



Fr. Raymond Montero Ambray Parochial Vicar of the Holy Child Parish Lingig, Surigao del Sur

Yesterday (May 10), I received a forwarded meme from a priest-friend who received it from his sister. The meme contained a malicious warning about a priest (with my picture and name) who is ‘naghahatid ng kasamaan’ and linking me to the MAPASU organization whom they claim as protector of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).

I strongly condemn this cowardly act especially in this time when our focus should be on defeating the coronavirus. I have no other suspect/s behind this but the military especially the 36th and the 401st Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army or their paramilitaries. The post is trying to besmirch my work as ideological and reduce my apostolate with the Lumads (Indigenous Peoples) as a mere front of the CPP-NPA. On the other hand, like what happened to other priests, the link of my work to the revolution seems to suggest that I become their target. Hence, it also serves as a warning or intimidation not to continue my work with the Lumads.

As a graduate of MA-Anthropology of the Ateneo de Davao University, I did my fieldwork and thesis on the lives of the Manobos in the hinterlands of Lianga, Surigao del Sur. The focus of my study was on the practice of Critical Pedagogy in a Lumad school (ALCADEV or Alternative Center for Agriculture and Development) in the context of a New Social Movement of MAPASU (Malahutayong Pakigbisog alang sa Sumusunod), a Lumad organization. During my fieldwork, I experienced how to be displaced together with the Lumad communities due to military operations. My experience living with them intermittently for more than a year, allowed me to account about their struggle as a people. I have presented papers about them in different fora.

My knowledge about the struggle of these Lumads allows me to collaborate well with my bishop, Bp. Raul Dael, on possible long-term apostolate with them. The Diocese of Tandag through its former bishop, Ireneo Amantillo, CSsR brought literacy and numeracy programs among the Lumads in the 1980s. It was continued by Bp. Odchimar, Bishop Emeritus of Tandag, with the coming of its secondary school, ALCADEV.

In the past years, there have been many military campaigns to close ALCADEV as the Armed Force of the Philippines (AFP) accused it as a training ground of the NPA. The highlight of this was the harrowing Lianga Massacre when the AFP’s militia killed the school’s executive director, the MAPASU chair, and a Manobo datu, on September 1, 2015. There have been so many times that the communities that comprised the MAPASU were displaced, often unheard by the media. Because of this, Bp. Raul and I are planning to talk to DepEd for a possible accreditation if not partnership.

I have appeared at the august hall of the Provincial Sangguniang Panlalawigan last February 17 to refute the accusation by no less than the Regional Peace and Order Council that ALCADEV is a training ground of the NPA. I had an initial meeting with the Department of Education (DepEd) last March 2. However, our current plans and efforts became restricted due to lockdown (GCQ/ECQ or General Community Quarantine / Enhanced Community Quarantine).

My involvement with these Lumads is beyond anthropological but more evangelical than theological. As a priest, I consider it my duty to bring about the integral salvation, bought by Christ on the cross, among the Lumads. It means leading them to their full potential as people or persons. It means dialoguing with them or learning also from them. Knowing their oppressive situation, I consider them as the least, according to the gospel-imperative. Hence, it is so unchristian to leave them in their sufferings.

The narratives throughout the whole IP communities in the country are almost the same. They used to live affluently and undisturbed in the hinterlands. They had been pushed out of their lands by the logging companies in the 1960’s. With the problem of insurgency during the 1980’s in their territory, they suffered a lot during military operations. Now their land is at stake again due to mining or other extractive industries. With the education among them facilitated by the Diocese, they are now standing up to oppose capitalist intruders. Needless to say, for the Lumads or Indigenous Peoples for that matter, Land is Life.

Education equipped them to assert for their rights. Their struggle for self-determination is just a struggle for the reconstitution of their pre-colonial social organization and socio-economic and political system. It is also called cultural citizenship when a certain ‘tribe’ asserts their cultural identity. The help that I am extending them is too little compared to their enormous fight. And yet I am being accused as the ‘ influencer’ or ‘manipulator’ among them. This has absolutely no place in anthropology because we work to develop agency as opposed to dependency. This has no place also in theology for I don’t espouse violence. In fact, I am advocating peace or the resumption of peace talks as long term solution to their problems.

I have met other people, too, working with the Lumads and most of them are often harassed or vilified. Let us not be afraid! Our life could only be meaningful if we offer it as a form of service to the poor, oppressed and marginalized.

I did not expect that my apostolate with them will put my life in danger due to this sinister plot of the military. I have been busy lately volunteering as a driver in our local Incident Management Team / Inter-Agency Task Force on COVID-19 to augment the workforce of our Local Government Unit.

The meme serves like a death sentence for me as I try warding off death from the coronavirus. I am not afraid at all to die.

I used to say and I say it now, working for the Lumads is a privilege. Dying for them is an honor.


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