Indigenous Women Struggle with the Bangsamoro Basic Law

By Diana G. Mendoza


IPs presenting their situations before a forum organized by the religious Maryhill School of Theology. Photo by Diana G. Mendoza.

Fintailan Leonora Mokudev, a member of the Teduray tribe in Maguindanao, has a different take on women’s empowerment among indigenous peoples (IPs) and Lumads or non-Muslim IP groups.

“I don’t say ‘I love you’ to my husband, but my expression of affection is when I serve him coffee and give him his slippers when he comes home from farming.” She said this doesn’t mean she allows herself to be subservient, “because if people tell me to do things by force, that is unjust and against my rights, then I will say no and I will fight back.”

Mokudev said IP traditional culture means no disrespect to international and national laws that have emerged over the years that intend to protect and empower women, because IP women have their own struggles that are set against external factors, such as the destruction of their environment and harassment, mostly by the government.

“I have seven children, and I gave birth to all of them at home, not in the hospital,” she said, insinuating that even with the government’s offer of maternal and child health care services, IP women get to practice their own health options through their traditions relating to childbirth, including their own medical remedies from natural sources.

Mokudev shared the perspective of IP women during the launch of the book “Our Call for Inclusion” by the Loyukan, a group of IP political groups, human rights advocates and nongovernment organizations pushing for full inclusion of IP rights in the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) pending in Congress. The launch was supported by LILA (Purple Action for Indigenous Women’s Rights), a Metro Manila-based NGO.

Loyukan’s book features position papers, articles and thought pieces of indigenous women and men leaders and indigenous people’s rights advocates from the proposed Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.


Fintailan Leonora Mokudev. Photo by Diana G. Mendoza.

“Indigenous women are aware of the international treaties and national laws such the Magna Carta of Women and we appreciate what they can do to improve our situation, but we are also learning to understand new laws such as the BBL. So far, we find ourselves asking for the inclusion of our rights since a law should be inclusive and respectful of people’s rights in the first place,” she said.

Mokudev’s view is not far from what Kakay Tolentino, a member of the Dumagat tribe and national coordinator of the Bai Indigenous Women Network, thinks in questioning the government’s intentions in pushing for the draft BBL. In a dialogue on the journey of Philippine IPs organized by the Maryhill School of Theology in Quezon City, Tolentino said in an interview that the BBL alienates many IPs because it aspires only for Moro autonomy. Many IPs in Mindanao who live in areas that would be part of Bangsamoro territory should the BBL pass into law are not Moros.

“Whose concept and whose framework is the BBL?” Tolentino asked. “It is an instrument by the government that pits Moros against each other, and Moros against non-Moro IPs. If conflict ensues, the government will come in and still control us, even our land,” she said.

“The government has forgotten that it has neglected the IPs because their situation was never considered” f when it decided to allow mining and energy programs to operate in Mindanao.

“It is obvious that government programs and decisions favor the capitalists and foreign investors more than Filipinos,” she said, adding that if approved and implemented, the BBL that is being considered by government as “the only viable solution to the conflict in Mindanao” will perpetuate the destruction of IPs’ way of life, resulting in more hunger, poverty and violence.

Mokudev said the BBL even pits women in Mindanao against each other. “We indigenous women are still at the bottom while Moro women are on top,” she said of the BBL’s treatment of Moro and non-Moro IP women.

Both Mokudev and Tolentino identified land and their right to ancestral land as the biggest concern of non-Moro IPs. “Ano ang relasyon namin sa lupa? Karugtong ng buhay namin ang lupa. (What is our relationship to our land? It is an extension, a part of our life),” explained Mokudef. “We were the first peoples in this country. This is where we live and we live peacefully resolving problems all by ourselves. Why deprive us of our land?”

Mokudef said the IPs are only claiming their legitimate rights. “We are not asking for what is not ours.”

Once the BBL is approved without provisions honoring their right to their land, she said further, devastation will happen because the law seeks to increase investment in the area, and this will mean destruction of agricultural land and natural resources, including the territories within their domain once big businesses and industries add to the already existing ones.

Indigenous peoples’ groups or, as stated in the Indigenous People’s Rights Act (IPRA) of 1997 or Republic Act 8371, indigenous cultural communities such as the Teruray, Erumanen Manuvu Lambangian and Dulangan-Manobo belong to the largest Lumad populations in Mindanao. There are 14 to 17 million IPs in the Philippines grouped into eight major populations subdivided into 110 ethno-linguistic groups spread across the provinces; 61 percent are in Mindanao and 33 percent are in the Cordillera Administrative Region.

Tolentino said the IPRA is supposed to be the basis of national policies on IPs as it recognizes the right of IPs to manage their ancestral domains. “Magandang batas ang IPRA. Kung ipinatupad at sinunod nang maayos, mas maganda sana (The IPRA is a good law. If it was implemented effectively and followed, it would have been a good law), ” she said, lamenting that it has not even been implemented in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) now that the BBL proposing another autonomous region to replace the ARMM is being discussed.

While the IPRA remains the keystone of IP rights in the formulation of national programs, Tolentino said some government policies are contrary to its provisions, such as Executive Order (EO) 79 signed by President Aquino in July 2012 that strengthened and perpetuated the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 which she said exploits and plunders the country’s natural resources. She said 148 out of 339 permits and agreements so far allowed are those of agribusinesses and industries in mining, production, mineral processing and gravel and sand.


“The book features position papers, articles and thought pieces of indigenous women and men leaders and indigenous people’s rights advocates from the proposed Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.” Photo by Diana G. Mendoza.

Even as the BBL is being deliberated on, she said the right to self-determination has been trampled on by both business and the government’s military and the paramilitaries. “The schools set up by the community so that children can be educated and have a future – that is a concrete example of self-determination,” she said.

But harassments including the killing of Lumads has been going on for years. Last August, the military forced Lumad teachers and students of the Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur (TRIFPSS) out of their classrooms and confiscated their mobile phones because they were accused of being insurgents.

Over the last three years, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNSRRIP) has reported, that there have been 100 individuals in the IP communities who were killed protecting their homes and environment.

Mokudev and Tolentino said IP women are as equally vulnerable as men facing harassment and being targeted for killing for protecting their families and their land.

“Women hold the ties that bind our families, our tribes,” said Mokudev. “We are not only the keepers of our households as wives and mothers; we are also farmers, teachers and community leaders.” Tolentino said the men are at the forefront of the fighting for their rights, “but it is the women who suffer the most during war and conflict.”

Tolentino added that her group Bai Indigenous Women Network supports the Bangsamoro and the IPs in the call among IPs identified in the proposed BBL territories for the right to be independent.

The Moros and Lumads are separate bodies identified by historical precedent, she said, and any form of domination or imposition under the BBL against their rights will impede unity. “We desire a favorable environment that does not take advantage of the Moros and IPs in improving whatever territory and resources are left with them.”

Diana G. Mendoza is a freelance journalist.