Part 3 of 3: Manilakbayan

In commemoration of Philippine Solidarity Week, the BAYAN Peace Mission Northeast delegates have decided to collaborate and publish a 3-part photo blog reflecting on their recent exposure trip. Part 3 is about Manilakbayan or “Journey to Manila”, a people’s mobilization with more than 700 participants marching from the island of Mindanao to the capital city Manila. It aims to bring national attention to the militarization and plunder of the Lumad and Moro ancestral lands. Manilakbayan demands to stop large-scale mining, land-grabbing, and the increasing gross human rights violations by the armed forces of the Philippines against civilians, environmental activists, and community leaders.

The following are reflections and photos taken by some of the BAYAN Peace Mission Northeast delegates. We invite you to join us at the Long Live International Solidarity: ILPS 5th International Assembly and the BAYAN USA Peace Mission Report Back today, February 16th where we will discuss how to strengthen anti-imperialist alliances and solidarity between different struggles in the US and around the world.

Mindanao was full of checkpoints – massive tanks that would point as you passed, half hidden behind the trees. Soldiers flashing lights in your eyes. We had to resist petty urges to take photos and document, to not agitate an already dangerous situation.

But Mindanao was beautiful! So much lush green filling your eyes. Driving in a jeepney passing water and trees and kids playing outside their homes, I thought – they love their community like I love mine. And I saw why this community would resist. There is so much beauty and ancestry to defend. So much community built, and history embedded in the earth and the soil.

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The campaign of Manilakbayan was one of the most inspiring moments in the Philippine national democratic movement to me. For a community to migrate from Mindanao to Manila to share their story – to migrate as a demand and a purpose – is incredibly powerful.

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There was a moment when we were in Mindanao when a kasama came back from Manilakbayan. Everyone welcomed him home and asked how it was.  He responded that it was hard, especially getting hit with the water cannon at the APEC rally.

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I was shocked – here was someone who was in the front lines of the rally, strategically placed to protect international protesters, after migrating thousands of miles to bring awareness to #StopLumadKillings. The bravery of my kasamas despite all out war of the state on indigenous peoples was inspiring. I will always carry their stories with me.

Katrina Cortes, Anakbayan New York

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I came to the Philippines last November to be a delegate for the International League of People’s Struggle 5th International Assembly. Several months before, I had integrated with a Lumad community in the southernmost island of Mindanao. This specific community was in Surigao del Sur, Caraga near the Alternative Center for Agriculture and Development (ALCADEV), a free high school that experienced the murder of three of its community leaders. These leaders were killed before their entire communities a mere few weeks after I left the Philippines for the first time. Coming back a second time, I didn’t know if I would see my friends and host family again because the Assembly was set to be in Luzon. But it so happened that Manilakbayan 2015, a people’s caravan of rural communities across Mindanao, was in town to confront President Aquino on the escalating spate of human rights abuses happening on their home island. More than 700 people across many different sectors of society traveled the length of the Philippines by ferry, motorcycles, and foot to raise awareness on the militarization and plunder of the mineral-rich Mindanao.

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Very soon after arriving on Luzon, I headed over to a cultural solidarity night happening in Liwasang Bonifacio where the “Lakbayanis” (Manilakbayan heroes) were camping out. Liwasang Bonifacio is a city square in front of the Manila Central Post Office that is famous for a bronze statue of Andres Bonifacio in the center of the plaza. As the father of the revolution, Bonifacio’s statue stood proudly behind the colorful “Stop Lumad Killings” stage that showcased beautiful performances from indigenous groups and activists across Manila spreading the message of justice for the Lumad people. Several sets into the show, I caught sight of my former team leader, Nell. I was so happy to see him because I didn’t know if I’d ever see him again and led some of us international delegates to the back of plaza where the Lakbayanis slept. No one was allowed back there without accompaniment and I felt honored. It felt like returning but under much different circumstances.

I saw some ALCADEV students who were part of the cultural team. They complained about the polluted Manila air and said they missed home. I was then happily surprised to see my host father, Jose Campos. I asked about the missus and the rest of his family. “They are okay,” he laughed. “My children have grown up in ‘bakwit’ (evacuation).” Sharing space with these people who I thought I would never see again in my life was unbelievable and short-lived. Nell told me about how much they had suffered in the aftermath of the killings. “I would duck at anything loud, anything like gunshots,” he said with sad eyes.

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Later on, I learned that there were Moro communities that were also part of the Manilakbayan. The Moro communities were heavily militarized, possibly even more so than the Lumads. They had experienced years of all-out war under President Estrada and it was resurging again in 2015 in the aftermath of the Mamasapano massacre. Their schools were illegally occupied by the Philippine army and encounters between revolutionary groups and government forces were frequent.

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Manilakbayan was an innovative form of protest and people’s mobilization that I’d never experienced anywhere else in my life. The peoples of Mindanao forged solidarity with sectors like youth and students, professionals, church people, and many others throughout the rest of the country. Some friends of mine who had walked the 1,000 kilometers with the toiling masses of Manilakbayan told me that they left a changed person.

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May we all carry the example of the Lakbayanis with us as we move forward on this journey as National Democratic activists. May we always carry the interests of the people close to our hearts and link arms with the toiling masses as we march towards national liberation and genuine democracy together.

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Nina Mariella Macapinlac, Anakbayan New Jersey

All photos taken by participants of the BAYAN Peace Mission unless otherwise stated. Please do not use without permission. Please direct any questions to bayanusa.ne@gmail.com.

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