Nomads No More

Gamay lang [a little]." That was Ging-Ging Anggalos’s shy  response when asked if she was able to study, but this could also describe the living conditions of the Manobos. While there are those who would romanticize a nomadic lifestyle, the reality was much more difficult for the Lumads of Talaingod in Davao Del Norte. Their health status is far from perfect, they had so little income that they barely managed to keep their families from starvation, and they received little or no education. The New People’s Army (NPA) had a strong presence in Talaingod.  Clashes with the military throw the community into a seemingly perpetual state of insecurity.  While there were government and non-government organizations that attempted to help the poverty-afflicted municipality, most of these projects fell short of sustainability, partly because of the distance of the sitios from each other and also because of the distrust of the Manobos to the government.

Things changed when Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan-Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services (Kalahi-CIDSS) came into the picture in 2004.

Developing trust

The entry of Kalahi-CIDSS in Talaingod was far from easy. The distance from one sitio to the next proved to be a problem, as well as the distrust of the Manobos, which comprised roughly 80% of the population in the municipality. The administrative situation in Talaingod presented a problem as well. Kalahi-CIDSS usually determines how much funds will be allocated in an area based on the number of barangays within the municipality. While Talaingod is composed of only three municipalities, it had 98 sitios, which meant that the funds that the community will be receiving not be enough to make an impact in the lives of people.  

It was the perseverance of the Kalahi-CIDSS representatives and their local government counterparts which ultimately persuaded the Manobos of the sincerity of the project. Trekking through mountains and rivers to immerse themselves in the culture of the Lumads, the members of the area coordinating team learned what they could about the people and made adjustments in how Kalahi-CIDSS will work in the area. Instead of allocating the funds to three barangays, Talaingod was instead divided into 15 tribal clusters in order to better address the needs of the people brought by poverty.  

The Manobos, who had long distrusted the government, learned to have faith.  “Dakong pasasalamat namin sa Kalahi-CIDSS dahil nagkabahay ang mga tao. Salamat sa LGU sa pag-organize. Na-uplift kami kahit mababa kami [We thank Kalahi-CIDSS very much because people now have homes. We thank the LGU for organizing this. We were lifted up even if we are lowly],” said Emily.

Lumads today

Purok Mangga, part of the Dagohoy cluster in Talaingod, is a good example of the many changes that happened in the lives of the Lumads.

The first thing that a visitor sees upon arrival is a cluster of neat houses. Entering the village, one would then see a map painted on the wall with cutouts shaped liked houses, depicting the housing system in the community, including who owns each of the 28 homes. Small pieces of foil paper in different colors are used to indicate the status of each home so the residents themselves can monitor which houses need maintenance. On the side is an herbal garden which the villagers maintain.

The tribal housing system is the most commonly implemented Kalahi-CIDSS project in Talaingod. With the non-Lumads waiving their rights in favor of the indigenous communities in the municipality, the Manobos were free to choose which projects they want implemented. More than 50% of the Kalahi-CIDSS projects in Talaingod were tribal housing systems, proof positive of the Manobos’ desire to have permanent homes of their own.

Susan Espelita, 23 years old, one of the residents in the housing system, talked about the difficulties of living the nomadic life. They also built houses then. More often than not, however, they constructed ramshackle structures that were only meant to temporarily protect them from the elements. As such, the shelters gave way easily. As Susan said, “Konting tulo, giba na ang bahay [A little leaking of the roof will make the house deteriorate].”  

Emily Allison, who served as the Kalahi-CIDSS secretary and bookkeeper, agreed. “Dati barung-barong lang, hindi permanente. Kung masira, lipat [We only lived in shacks before, which were not permanent structures. Once it breaks down, we move],” she said, succinctly describing the way of life of the Manobos in the past.

The construction of the tribal housing system not only gave them the permanence they desired, it also taught them the value of cooperation. They met up regularly with representatives of Kalahi-CIDSS and the local government unit to discuss how the project would work in order to hasten the process. Problems were discussed so the whole community would decide to handle these. “Nagkaproblema kami sa panday [We had problems with the workers],” said Jose Nuñez. “May mga nagsu-surrender kasi malayo. Mahirap pa kapag dinala iyong kahoy [Many surrendered because of the distance. We also had problems in bringing the wood here.]” They worked together to find workers who did not object to the distance. They also decided to hire a dump truck to bring the materials to Purok Mangga so as to stick to the schedule. They themselves worked in the construction of the houses. Using the bayanihan system, they moved to build a new house only after they finished the one they were working on, to ensure that the process is fast and efficient without sacrificing the soundness of the structures. There were even those who were not residents of Purok Mangga but nonetheless helped in the construction and management of the homes, as in the case of Helen Manalay who is from a different sitio but is nonetheless part of the housing committee.

Today, a little over a year after the construction of the houses has been completed, the power of cooperation remains strong in Purok Mangga. The housing committee regularly conducts inspections to monitor the condition of the houses to check if these need maintenance. The herbal garden is considered to be community property, with anyone in the village allowed to take anything from there. Near the garden is a small chart that shows which plants can be used to treat certain ailments to help the people identify what they need. The wailing of a baby inside one of the houses led to many of the villagers rushing there, anxious to provide to help. The idyllic community life belied what the people have been looking for:  finally a safe place to call their own

The journey of the Manobos of Purok Mangga took them home at last.