Philippines: Local politician rebuked over botched ‘rescue’ of displaced tribe
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Philippines: Local politician rebuked over botched ‘rescue’ of displaced tribe

When someone rages at you without even glancing at your face, you know there is not only anger and hatred.  There is the feeling of being betrayed.

Once given a beaded necklace by Ata Manobo tribal chieftain Bai Bibiyaon Ligkayan Bigkay, Cotabato Rep. Nancy Catamco is now despised by the tribe after she launched a botched ‘rescue attempt’ of  700 internally displaced tribe members seeking sanctuary at the heart of Davao City.

In a five-minute video clip posted by Kilab Multimedia, Bai Bibiyaon only glanced once at Rep. Catamco, holding the beaded necklace she gave the legislator.

“I gave you this bead necklace to signify we don’t want violence,” she said as she touched the memento.

At least two times, she told the lady legislator from Cotabao to shut up and listen.

“We don’t trust your words now,” Bai Bibiyaon bluntly and forcefully said.

Bibiyaon was speaking for members of her tribe who left their homes in the remote villages in Talaingod after the military occupied their houses and the schools.

“You said before you will come but the day you came you brought soldiers with you. That is painful to us,” she told Catamco, who continued to interrupt her.

Gotamco denied she brought soldiers but reports said two Army generals were with her when they forcibly entered the Haran Mission inside the compound of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines.

She was also with around 500 soldiers, Davao City riot police and members of the military-backed paramilitary group Alamara.

One of the Alamara members who accompanied Catamco tearfully hugged his parents who are among those seeking refuge at the Haran Mission.

“I don’t want to be forced to join the Alamara for our tribe will be split apart,” Bai Bibiyaon railed.

The tribal chieftain said they were angered when Gotamco brought with her precisely soldiers they fled from.

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Cotabato Rep. Nancy Catamco (holding microphone) brought with her two Army generals during a botched ‘rescue mission’ to bring back Ata Manobo tribes people to their conflict torn village in Talaingod, Davao City. Pic: Kilab Multimedia.

“In our times, it takes only two datus to sit and resolve our problems,” she said of the failure of authorities to address the problem.

In another scathing rebuke, she told Catamco, “Don’t look down at us because we have not been to school.”

A graduate of Ateneo de Davao University, Catamco was earlier quoted by the press to have said that the Ata Manobos stink.

“Did you say we stink?  Didn’t you see that our supply is limited and we have to pay for it not like in the mountains where water is flowing,” Bai Bibiyaon reminded the legislator.

Every time Catamco tried to interrupt, she was bluntly told, “Keep quiet. Don’t answer me.”

Among Philippines tribes, it is disrespectful to interrupt an elder, much more a chieftain, while he or she is talking. More so, if one is in a middle of discourse describing a litany of grievances.

Bibiyaon is no ordinary elder and chieftain of the tribe, she is one of a handful of women tribal chieftains in Mindanao.

In her younger years, in 1994, she led the ‘pangayaw’ (tribal war) against the Integrated Forest Management Agreement project of Alcantara and Sons (Alsons) in Talaingod which resulted into bloody and violent clashes between the military and members of the tribe aided by the New People’s Army.

Alsons eventually pulled out of the area.

Bibyaon said they thought they will be spared violence and harassment by the military in the city.

She was wrong.

Catamco wanted the evacuees to go back home and brought with her government trucks.

But Bibiyaon wants nothing of it.

“I will not go back because things will be the same.  I will face death in the hands of the soldiers and the Alamara,” she said.

Catamco eventually left empty handed.   Not a single soul from the evacuees went with her.

But that was not after acting Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte arrived and held a dialogue with the evacuees.

He made them choose between going home and staying behind.

They all chose the latter.

(In the aftermath, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte derided Rep. Catamco for going beyond her mandate and intruding into the executive function of the local government of Davao City)

Reporter’s note:  All quotes from Bai Bibiyaon Ligkayan Bigkay are lifted from English subtitles of the Kilab Multimedia video clip.  All photo credits also go to Kilab Multimedia.