Editors Note: Many people of diasporic communities maintain deep ties to their home countries. Jersey City, NJ resident, Filipino farmer/organizer Christiaan Delgado-Pfeifer is developing their skills as a student at Farm School NYC so they can share knowledge and support the sovereignty of young people in the Philippines. We're grateful to them for sharing their story here.
Seeds of Resistance: A Personal Account of the Lumad Struggle for Land Sovereignty
by Christiaan Delgado-Pfeifer
“Revolution is based on land. Land is the basis of all independence. Land is the basis of freedom, justice and equality." - Malcolm X
A cool breeze washes through a starry night in Compostela, a deep stretching valley in the southeast region of Mindanao, Philippines. As I enter the green gates of Community Technical College of Southeastern Mindanao (CTCSM), I know I have arrived home. Several students approach me in the deep evening speaking Bisaya, the regional language. They ask me where I come from and about my new role as a volunteer teacher. I do my best to speak in broken Filipino languages. Despite my hardship we communicate in laughter, share home-made herbal medicines, and exchange simple lessons of their tribal languages.
I have come here to learn from and be in solidarity with the struggle of Lumad youth, the collective term for the 18 indigenous, non-Muslim tribes in the countryside and mountainside communities of Mindanao. Mindanao is the southernmost major island in the Philippines. It holds landscapes like the Pantaron Range, which contains the last remaining 1.8 million hectares of virgin rainforest in the country that provide a home to vast biodiversity, waterways, and indigenous communities. But despite it’s natural wealth, Mindanao is home to 11 of the Philippines 20 poorest and most heavily militarized national provinces. In the rural hinterland communities of indigenous people, basic social services like education and health are severely limited, while the presence of large-scale mining and logging grows larger. The fact of both military and corporate presence in these lands is no coincidence.
This reality is the undertone of our new exchanges. Living in the breath of their excitement is a collective yearning for empowering knowledge-- tools to liberate ourselves and the ancestral lands on which we stand. Schools like CTCSM provide homes to new generations of land & water defenders, agriculturalists, and community organizers. It is one among hundreds of community schools built by Lumad activists and human rights defenders to address the real-life needs of poor indigenous and peasant communities. Most schools have their own farms for communal crop production, medicinal herbs, and demonstration areas to apply organic agricultural techniques. In the classroom, we study the actual history of Lumad struggles against colonialism, their collective rights as indigenous people, and global current events. Here, the students and their teachers come together to create deep knowledge and lasting action to defend the earth and struggle for justice in our homeland.
The sun rises each morning through the valleys-- steam lifts off the tall grasses, roosters crow loudly, and children harvest firewood to prepare our morning meal. Youth sing songs as they cook on the blazing fire-- embedded in the lyrics is our vision of a new culture of unity in defense of their ancestral lands. This school is a haven for young people to learn, who are often the first in their lineage of farmers to receive a formal education. And while this space meant to be a safe haven, the children also sing stories of death, stolen land, and forced evacuation from ancestral domains under the rule of Martial Law.
Several hours north in Caraga, Lumad children, teachers, and families evacuate their lands after months of bombing, drone surveillance, and occupation by the Armed Forces of the Philippines. A few hours west in Kidapawan, Lumad teenagers picket outside of the Department of Education, demanding to reverse the forced closures and red-tagging of their schools. An hour south in Tagum, Lumad families from tribes in Davao del Norte live in evacuation camps where teachers continue to educate their youth in makeshift classrooms. Lumad and peasant peoples make the most sacrifices under Martial Law in Mindanao, established by President Rodrigo Duterte in 2017 as a massive “counterinsurgency” effort throughout the country. His violent military tactics aim to suppress popular opposition to his military terror and rampant extrajudicial killings of peasant organizers and indigenous environmental activists. Schools have been targeted in Duterte’s backlash against vast organizing occurring in Mindanao to educate youth, nourish the land, and resist corporate landgrabbing that has military backing.
In 2017, the Duterte administration claimed, “I will use the armed forces, the Philippine air force. I’ll really have those [schools] bombed … because you are operating illegally and you are teaching the children to rebel against government.” In the eyes of the Duterte administration it has become illegal rebellion to teach children how to farm organically, how to defend the collective rights of indigenous people, and to speak out courageously against military terror. In this situation, who are the real criminals? Is it the Lumad who are sustaining and preserving the soil for future generations? Or is it the Duterte administration who has invested over 8 trillion pesos (roughly 418 million USD) from the World Bank and United States government to attract open pit mining, industrial agriculture, and large scale logging on Lumad and peasant ancestral lands?
One late afternoon as the sun begins to fall for it’s nighttime reprieve, the realities of Martial Law grossly evident across other parts of the region begin creeping into Compostela Valley. Pro-Duterte hecklers harass the school with pro-martial law picket signs. The Armed Forces of the Philippines establishes military checkpoints near the school farms. The local government begins building new access roads for the nearby banana plantation. Chatter hums throughout the school halls, along the dirt pavement on the way to the farm, in the offices of teachers. Fear brings a mild tension to the community. Nonetheless, farming continues, classes proceed, our struggle for land remains discussed out in the open.
The setting sun pours calm shadows through the palm trees and I walk with students at our farm. We harvest okra, lemongrass, taro, and other fresh herbs. We speak about the intimidating military checkpoints established nearby the farms. The more timid students express deep fear and terror; they worry if their families are ok in their more highly militarized countryside communities. And others, courageous and loud student leaders, remind classmates about their collective fire, why we farm, why it is our duty to fight. They remind each other that their schools still struggle with basic things like food security, that we must continue developing our farms so we can feed one another, that we can’t let our oppressors have power over us. Some tell stories of where they come from, the struggles they’ve overcome, and what role they wish to bring to our movement for land and liberation. They speak simply, they laugh, they find bits of internal resolve. They remember that their individual fears pale in comparison to the strength they have in unity. They remember their commitments to one another.
We continue our harvest and bring it back to the humble kitchen of our farming instructor. We cut vegetables, pound herbs, and begin our cooking in the dimming sunlight. Each ingredient of the soup we make is like the distant communities from which we all come. And as is customary in Filipino cooking, with time, gentle fire, and the softening power of water, ingredients meld together. We become united- much richer, much more nourishing than the parts of the whole.
If I could boil my lessons as a teacher in these schools down to one thing, it is this. Unity built through hardship and collective struggle is a life force necessary to put an end to a system that steals each day from the farmers and workers That exploits the land of it’s rich minerals, waters, and elements without returning anything to the soil. That murders those who dare to stand in defense of what is rightly theirs. Our principles of unity, self-determination, and interconnectedness of all beings, is the food of our struggle. In spite of the violence, poverty, and exploitation that our people face under Martial Law and in a colonial relationship with the United States, we unite to win. It is my belief, and of those with whom I struggle, that this is the only way forward in creating a new society, a more whole relationship to the land, waters, and one another.
It is my last few days at CTCSM and rain pours from the cracked skies, allowing orange and white light to cascade across the campus. I sit underneath the awning of the school buildings with some students and fellow teachers; we laugh, hold quiet moments, and speak about the future.
“Asa ka muadto kuya? ” (Where will you be going?).
“Mobalik nako US. Pero gusto ko magpuyo diri kuyog sa mga Lumad. Gusto ko matindog, makigbisog. Balik nako usa o duha ka taon pa.”
(I’m going back to the US. But I want to be living here with the Lumad. I want to stand, I want to fight. I’ll be back in one or two years.)
“Ah sige, kauban. Balik ka, oi. Hulat lang me nimu. Isulti man ka amung mga stories sa mga kauban nimu.” (Ok, comrade. Make sure you come back. We’ll be waiting for you. Tell our stories to all of your friends and comrades.)
My heart aches at my departure and I am equally full with the blessings of my community, the land, and the struggle we take part in to transform this world. I take very seriously their call to propagate their stories across the world, to all those with whom I cross paths.
They ask me to share especially their call to bring people to the Philippines with me to witness and take part in their struggle. They request that I galvanize material support for their schools like sustainable agriculture skill shares and financial donations for supplies. They tell me that these resources will aid in developing their farms and schools, especially in the wake of Martial Law. They fill me with determination that international solidarity is a crucial ingredient in our struggle to heal the land, provide free education, and fight to end Martial Law.
My feet land upon earth in indigenous Lenape territory, otherwise known as New York and New Jersey. The soils are cold, the wind is brisk. I wear bundled clothes and I place dried cayenne peppers in my socks to keep me warm. This land feels both familiar and foreign. Familiar because the touch of soil is universal; the struggles of farmers and indigenous peoples for land sovereignty are interwoven. Foreign because people in the US are not as quickly mobilized to tirelessly heal the earth and defend the rights of the people who work it. I feel the grief of these differences in my bones. And I remind myself that the land is what binds us in struggle and gives us strength to carry on. This is one of the many difficulties that diasporic people face.
In this place of internal struggle, I find deeper purpose in studying how to cultivate and heal the soil. As a student in Farm School NYC, I begin developing agricultural knowledge to exchange with farmers in the Phillippines. I remember the calls to action made by my comrades. So I heed their call to teach them what they wish to learn as we strengthen our struggle. In my classes, I delve into popular education pedagogies, seed saving of indigenous and ancestral plants, how to nurture crops in ways that honor the needs of the soil as we take from it. As I learn, like minded classmates inspire me as we exchange stories of how our communities are rising to take back what is rightfully ours.
Folks speak of the scarcity of land in New York, the violent gentrification of poor Black communities, the rising fascism of police brutality and growing prison systems. They remind me that we must be rooted in our communities, organize our people to action, and work the land by any means necessary in order to sustain our bodies outside of an exploitative food/labor system. I share stories of peasant farmers and indigenos people in the Philippines occupying their ancestral lands, I speak of brave martyrs in the fight for freedom from state fascism, colonial occupation, and modern-day slavery on the land. My classmates and I mirror one another — our only choice is to fight and create a new society. The land is the basis of all independence and revolution.
The seeds planted within me and my comrades here on Lenape territory and in the Philippines are ones of hope. They are sturdy trees and crops growing deep roots in an interconnected way. These are seeds that are sure to heal the soil despite devastation and bloodshed. I hope that my readers are moved by this story to get involved in the global struggle for land sovereignty, education, and modern colonialism. If you wish to donate to Lumad schools or visit Mindanao to integrate first-hand with peasant and Lumad organizations, email me at [email protected]. I’d be more than happy to find ways for you to connect your work on the land here in the US with those who struggle for land in the Philippines. It is in these connections that we find deep wells of power and solidarity.
FOR FURTHER STUDY:
(19 mins documentary)