New Internationalist

They came down from the mountains to shout out their grief

This is a story about men and women, of mountains eroded by blasts of dynamite, of rivers streaked with many shades of brown, of babies killed by bullets, of many deaths, of burned villages, of corporate greed and of a government that tolerates all of these.

It is a story that happens too often that it has ceased to become news.

Lumad 2But Filipino documentary photographer Jes Aznar tells it anyway. Because it must be told, he says; because it goes on and on; because others choose to ignore it; because the dead must not be forgotten.

These are the stories of the Lumads or indigenous people from the mountains of Mindanao, a resource-rich island in the southern Philippines and how their lives have been disrupted because of mining operations in the mountains where they live.

The mountains, the very land they call home, are now tainted with blood because mining firms have forced them to leave, all in the name of development.

These mining companies promised them jobs, education, livelihood; a better life, they said.

Lumad 4But their lives now say otherwise.

Jes lets the Lumads tell their stories through gripping portraits taken on a busy street in the posh district of Makati in the National Capital Region, where most foreign mining firms hold office.

They are not used to the speeding cars and the urban office crowd, but the chaos is nothing compared to the uncertainty in their now displaced lives. They came down from the mountains to shout out their grief in desperate hope that someone would listen.

Bebeth Calinawan is a Mamanwa from Cabadbaran, Agusan del Norte, down south. She tells Jes her ordeal as she fought for her life after being hit by government troop bullets while having lunch with their family in a land they call their own.

Lumad 6‘Because of heavy militarization, their community and family took shelter in evacuation shelters for months and found their homes, properties and even their church burned upon their return,’ Jes says.

Bae Likayan Bigkay is a 67-year-old from the Ata-Manobo group in Bukidon, also in the southern Philippines. She laments the pain and suffering that these mining companies have brought upon them.

Higaonon women’s leader Bae Adelfa Belayong lost her daughter, husband and brother because they refused to give up their land and community to mining, Jes says. In 2005, the government, through the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP), asked them to sign a contract that would pave the way for foreign mining companies to get hold of their resource rich ancestral land.

Lumad 8‘The NCIP claims that the land belongs to the government and they should not resist the signing of the contract. But aware of the harm that mining operations and the alleged “development” would do to their community and their families, they insisted “this land is our ancestral land, and this land is ours long before you established that government of yours. Where do we farm if we give our lands to you?”’ Jes quotes Bae as saying.

Lumad 9Bae Adelfa still laments the pain of how her four-year-old child, whom she was carrying on her back, was decapitated after being shot by paramilitaries in the neck.

Against all these violent attacks and disruption of lives, the mining industry’s contribution to the country’s total economic output barely makes a dent.

Government data showed that the mining industry’s total contribution to gross domestic product (GDP) was only 0.7 per cent in 2008, 0.8 per cent in 2009 and 1 per cent for 2010 and 2011. A big mining firm owner, a corporate taipan in the Philippines, entrepreneur Manuel V Pangilinan, whose company Philex Mining has caused a large-scale mining spill in the northern Philippines, insists that mining is not the enemy.

‘ As with cell phones, mining touches most aspects of our daily life – when you build your home, use your laptops, take your car to work or even protest against mining. Clearly, we cannot live without mining,’ he said in a forum on mining held last March.

But more than the statistics, the portraits of the Lumads show the real picture.

‘Their eyes tell a thousand stories. Of fear and weariness,’ Jes says in an interview.

Indeed, this is a story that must be told and re-told; because nobody listens; because it goes on and on; because others choose to ignore it.

And because the dead cannot be forgotten.

All photos are copyright Jes Aznar and must not be reproduced without his permission. See Jes’s photo-essay on the Lumads on his website

Comments on They came down from the mountains to shout out their grief

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  1. #1 Kevin 24 Jan 13

    This whole article does not mention Illegal small scale miners, which are more of the problem, who wrote this one sided rubbish? Iris C. Gonzales should lean more to the truth, the whole story and the facts.

  2. #2 Rob 24 Jan 13

    Thank you for sharing this heart wrenching story Iris beyond your nations borders. It is one that must be told and it is one that is all too familiar to ingenious people the world over.
    A tale of a cultural of short term thinking that scrambles after the dollar today killing people, culture and the future in its wake. If there was ever an antithesis to development this is it.
    Here in Canada indigenous people are fighting the same forces in a movement called Idle No More.
    I wish our Lumad brothers and sisters had the same assurances to safety that we have here. I commend their bravery, spirit and perseverance in the face of aggression and apathy.
    I wish I knew what to to do. But I think your article does suggest and beginning. We must feel again and not see this not just as their struggle but clean watersheds, forest cover and culture preservation are things that important to us all. Apathy is the greatest friend of injustice.
    Thanks Iris and Jes for bring their struggles to us.

  3. #3 Jes 24 Jan 13

    Kevin, I think the whole point is that there are these Indigenous People who are being killed and uprooted from their land because of mining. Be it small scale or corporate mining, there are victims like them and continues to be victims, especially in a country where impunity is the norm.

  4. #4 Iris Gonzales 25 Jan 13

    @Kevin, thank you for your comment. It is true that I did not mention illegal small scale miners but the story really was not about small scale or corporate miners - it's about the lives of people affected by their operations and in this case, the Lumads as @Jes said.

    @Rob, thank you for your email. Yes this indeed is the antithesis to development. I would agree with that and I hope that the IPs of Canada will be able to have people listen to them, too regarding their situation and help them in the long-term.

  5. #5 Aidan 25 Jan 13

    More indigenous people cast aside
    more broken hearts and troubled minds
    from insane ’progress’ no one can hide
    it's muscled arms reach far and wide
    are nations blind?
    yes, we are blind
    our leaders lie
    our media hides the cries
    of hearts like yours
    hearts like mine
    now one more tale
    as one more sale
    shall this tide of ’progress’ swell
    or shall we learn
    at last discern
    that peoples land must not be stolen
    else nought but evil here will grow
    for who can live without a home
    no, none can live without a home

  6. #6 Iris Gonzales 26 Jan 13


    Thank you for reading. Your words tell a clear picture of the situation. Thanks for sharing.

  7. #7 emerald 29 Jul 13

    I felt guilty of not EVEN doing something that might HELP them...

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About the author

Iris Gonzales a New Internationalist contributor

Iris Cecilia Gonzales is a Filipino journalist and blogger. At present, she covers economic news for a Manila broadsheet, but she also writes other stories here and there. She has been blogging since 2004 on various issues including women and children and human rights. She is among the winners in the TH!NK 3 global blogging competition organized by the Netherlands-based European Journalism Centre.

You may email her at [email protected]

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