Like most indigenous peoples living on the Philippines island of Mindanao, the Higaonon people used to live in the coastal lowlands.
Constantly driven by developers into the forests, the Higaonon eventually made homes in the jungles and mountains of the island’s interior.
But even there, their communities were threatened. In the 1960s, a logging boom saw the arrival of timber companies in their territory. The companies cut through Higaonon lands, sparking resentment and anger. Settlers flooded into the indigenous lands, building houses alongside the new logging roads.
This month, a Cree Construction team travelled to Mindanao to begin study on a plan for the first-ever paved highway across the island. Experts of the country say the road will cut through the heart of Higaonon territory.
When thje logging first got under way, some village chiefs agreed to the offers of cash payoffs, but a group of defiant Higaonon leaders led by Daw (chief) Mangkalasi Mandahinog opposed the logging. Mangkalasi’s assassination by a hired killer in 1972 sparked the modern-day Higaonon rebellion.
Higaonon rebels proceeded to blow up logging trucks and bridges, and killed guards and other employees of the forestry companies in an effort to put an end to the development. Communist guerrillas moved into the area to lend their support to the Higaonon.
The forestry companies have fought back by hiring thugs to kill and intimidate Higaonon leaders. Assisting them is the military, itself involved in illegal logging.
The army has launched massive assaults on the Higaonon, including deadly air and artillery strikes that have been criticized by human-rights organizations.
Throughout this period of “development,” the 200,000 Higaonon people have faced great economic difficulties. Mindanao’s poverty rate is 66 per cent, health care and education facilities are in poor shape, and corruption is rampant.
– Sources: Oona Paredes;
“The Higaonons’ War,” article by Filipino journalist Romi M. Gatuslao