SAN FRANCISCO, California – Her tears were not a mark of weakness but of overwhelming grief, disappointment, and love.
Bae Christine Banugan, chief of Mandaya tribe in Caraga, Davao Oriental, was not able to hold her emotions when a young Filipino American (Fil-Am) stood up and chanted in US accent “Stop spreading lies” during a forum of Filipinos with eight indigenous peoples (IP) leaders at the Philippine Consulate General in San Francisco on July 10.
“I am a victim of communist terrorists. Hindi ninyo naranasan ang mamatayan ng ama dahil pinatay ng NPA, ng komunista! (I am a victim of communist terrorists. You did not experience having a father murdered by the New People’s Army),” an emotional Banugan said.
The female Fil-Am “intruder” was no longer around, though, to listen to Banugan’s emotional outbursts as she and a few companions were immediately guided out of the forum venue.
Banugan, who is Mandaya tribe chieftain in Caraga, Davao Oriental, said the narrative of the IP leaders is the reality of what is happening in their lands.
“We are the ones living in our ancestral domain and not those telling us that we are spreading lies,” she added.
She admitted that it is not easy to stand up to the truth against the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed group, NPA, because it will hurt the group so bad. In fact, her family has been getting threats back home since she joined other IP leaders in a speaking tour in the US since late June.
Love for tribal community
At a young age after college, Banugan had to assume leadership of their tribal community when her father was gunned down by communists in December 2016.
“28 years old, pero anong ginagawa ko? Puwede akong magtrabaho pero nandito ako dahil mahal ko ang tribo ko. Mahal ko ang papa ko na pinatay nila na walang kasalanan (I am only 28 years old and could have just worked outside my community but opted to lead my community because I love my tribe and my father who was killed for no wrongdoing),” she added.
She appealed to Filipinos at the forum, which was temporarily disrupted by the presence of some militant group members who made way to the 5th floor of the Philippine Consulate building from their picket line outside, to help them disseminate the truth about the deception of the CPP-NPA – which is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the Philippines.
“Hindi ko alam ano ang basehan nila bakit kami sabihan na ‘stop telling the lies’. Pumunta kayo sa aming ancestral domain. Punta kayo doon, sumama kayo; bukas kung kailan kami mag-uwi (I don’t know what is their basis for telling us to stop telling lies. Go to our lands, come with us when we go home so you would know),” Banugan said.
She expressed extreme disappointment that there are Filipinos like the young Fil-Am and her several companions who accuse her and other IP leaders as liars.
“Were you brought up that way by your parents? Because our tribe didn’t. We did not come here to fight. We are here because we want the killings of IPs to stop. Enough of the bloodshed in our ancestral domain,” she said in Filipino.
Banugan also appealed to Filipinos in the US to discern all the information they get because the communist groups narrative is laced with deception.
“Puwede kayong mag-research about me. Hanapin po Christine Banugan, hanapin mo Copertino Banugan. Inamin ng NPA na pinatay nilayung papa ko – hanapin ninyo iyan. Nandiyan iyan sa news, nandiyan sa Internet kung sinasabi ninyo na nagsasabi ako ng kasinungalingan(If you think I am lying, you can research about me, my father through the Internet. It’s in the news that the NPA owned up to the killing),” she added.
Banugan went on to say that the militant forum intruder may have said she has been to Mindanao but it is only her tribes people, who lived in their lands since birth and experience sleepless nights due to continuing peace and order threats brought by communists presence.
“It hurts so much to be accused as liars. May you feel how it is to be a victim for you to understand how it is to have a family member murdered by communists,” she added.
She also negated allegations the government funded the IPs’ US trip saying their lives are priceless.
“What we risk is our lives, for the future generation of our tribes that we want to protect because we aim to preserve our tribes even for next one hundred years,” she added.
As a tribal chieftain, Banugan said the military coordinates with her anything that would require government troops to enter the Mandaya tribe domain, disproving allegations of militarization of tribal communities.
“The Army coordinates with me because they know about the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act. They know about the IP laws,” she said. “If the government indeed violates our rights, then we will be the first to rally against them.” Gigie Arcilla and photo by Mac Villarino PNA – northboundasia.com