Following the Lumad, from Bukidnon to Manila

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Brgy. Malungon, San Fernando, Bukidnon. The determination of these Manobo children to go to school to achieve their aspirations is kept alive through the help of alternative schools that provide a culturally-responsive education. Photo by PAU VILLANUEVA

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — As a photographer, establishing the connection I have with the Lumad people began with mere curiosity. It started with the question: “Who are the Lumad?”

The largest indigenous group in the Philippines, the word “Lumad” is a Cebuano term which also means “born of the earth.” Simply stated, they are the indigenous people of Mindanao. Broken into 18 ethnolinguistic groups and distributed all throughout 19 provinces in our country, they are among the national minorities who are victims of oppression, discrimination, and violence. These people are among our farmers, the protectors of our mountains and forests — our fellow Filipinos who continuously struggle in their quest to oppose policies our government has been taking liberties at their expense.

Just recently, our national minorities traveled to Manila for the annual Lakbayan ng Pambansang Minorya. The Lakbayan 2017 aims to provide an avenue for the Lumad and other minorities to push for their rights to self-determination and just peace. Together with the help of youth and human rights advocates, the national minorities prove the power of collective action. Travelling from their homelands, and leaving their ancestral domains and livelihood behind, they have endured unfamiliarity in order to reach us in our urban havens. There are no excuses not to witness and hear their realities first hand.

Brgy. Sanepun, Kibawe, Bukidnon. The Manobo-Pulangihon community situated along the Pulangi River strongly opposes the mega dam constructions to keep their ancestral lands afloat. Being able to hand over their sacred lands to the next generation of Lumad children serves as their main motivation. Photo by PAU VILLANUEVA

The misrepresentation and discrimination towards the minorities ignite the need for a much deeper dialogue between different societies linked by one descent. By engaging in the discourse of human and environmental rights, we gain empathy that allow us to put ourselves in the position of the oppressed. We may come so far as to break the ethnocentrism and the misappropriation of our genuine culture by consciously educating ourselves of the indigenous people.

Photographing them from various contexts — in Bukidnon, through "Ila-Ila Lumad," an interfaith exposure program, through field research for Rural Missionaries of the Philippines - Northern Mindanao Region, and for Lakbayan 2016 and 2017 — I have learned, along the way, that the enthusiasm to experience and the willingness to listen were all I needed to join the advocacy. I am reminded that, like them, I am human first before I am a photographer.

Brgy. Manalog, Malaybalay City, Bukidnon. Hinabol weaving, an art and textile production of the Higaonon community in Barangay Manalog, serves as their main source of income. The women weavers have kept the craft alive by making it to the local and international market. Photo by PAU VILLANUEVA

Brgy. Butong, Quezon, Bukidnon. The Tindoga is a Manobo community known to be uncompromising in their values and in their decision to stay in their ancestral domains despite the numerous attempts forcing them out of their community. Photo by PAU VILLANUEVA

Brgy. Butong, Quezon, Bukidnon. A feast is held at the back of a Tindoga leader’s home after a successful opening of an alternative literacy school attended by the International Catholic Mission Australia. Photo by PAU VILLANUEVA

Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon. Multinational companies have made a fortune out of the land’s rich soils. Lumad pineapple contractors bear the heat of the sun in the middle of one Sunday afternoon so they could bring home food to their families. Photo by PAU VILLANUEVA

Brgy. Butong, Quezon, Bukidnon. The Lumad take responsibility in protecting nature and the earth. They believe that they are nothing without their land. Photo by PAU VILLANUEVA

UP Diliman, Quezon City. Tribal leaders from different indigenous groups in the Philippines perform a blood ritual in front of the Oblation to start off Lakbayan 2016 activities. Photo by PAU VILLANUEVA

Mendiola Street, Manila, Philippines. Datu Segundo Milong from Brgy. Dagohoy, Talaingod, Davao del Norte, stands firm in his objection against imperialism. Photo by PAU VILLANUEVA

UP Diliman, Quezon City. The UP community, along with Chancellor Michael Tan, welcomed the national minorities during the start of Lakbayan 2016. Photo by PAU VILLANUEVA

UP Diliman, Quezon City. Participants for Lakbayan 2017, all of them indigenous peoples coming from the Bangsamoro, were greeted by the UP community in its 'salubungan' for the 'lakbayani.' Photo by PAU VILLANUEVA

UP Diliman, Quezon City. The Lakbayan participants call to end attacks in Lumad schools, to lift Martial Law in Marawi, and to stop the imperialist plunder of Moro territories, among others. They will stay in Manila until the end of September. Photo by PAU VILLANUEVA