Tumandok epic: The Panay indigenous people’s struggle for land*

The Hinilawod, the Hiligaynon epic of Central Panay, tells the story of the adventures of the three brothers Labaw Donggon, Humadapnon, and Dumalapdap, sons of the Goddess Alunsina and the mortal Datu Paubari.

They would cross plains, mountains, rivers and valleys to seek the hand of virgins, fight monsters in duels, be enchanted by sorceresses, and test the anger of Gods, before returning to settle down in the heartland of Panay.

These fantastic stories remain a significant part of the history told and retold from generation to generation by the Tumandok people of Central Panay.

It is through these narratives that they pass on their traditions from their ancestors, including their long history of resistance to foreign colonizers and oppressors from the lowlands.

Their way of life

The Tumandok remain the largest indigenous people’s group in Panay. They have a population of 94,000 in the municipalities of Calinog, Jamindan, Lambunao, and Tapaz growing out of the communities that their ancestors have built along the snaking Jalaur and Pan-ay Rivers and the mountainous borders of Capiz and Iloilo.

Mostly slash-and-burn farmers with bisaya rice as the main crop, the Tumandok also engage in hunting, fishing, and foraging for fruits and root crops. They practice different forms of communal production in the form of hil-o, dagyaw, or sagiben in agriculture, dagsaw in fishing, and pamatong in hunting.

On the basis of this subsistence economy rooted in a land that isolated the Tumandok from the rest of society for the most part of history arose a distinct way of life and rich culture.

The oral tradition of the Tumandok people gives an account of their legends, community affairs, and agreements. They continue to sing or chant their epics or sugidanon in an archaic dialect called dagil or ligbok.

They also carry on the holding of the panimo ceremony before eating newly-harvested rice to appease the spirits. Pangasi or rice wine is prepared for the panimo.

The traditional practice of training binukots who are secluded from the community upon turning three years old and taught to chant sugidanon to command a good dowry has already disappeared.

The Binanog, depicting the movement of the hawk and danced to the beat of gongs and a zarzuela-type interchange called ambahan which is sung in dagil are continued to be practiced during important occasions.

Anti-people development

But development in the form of dam construction, big commercial mining, and eco-tourism projects taken on by the Noynoy Aquino and past administrations threaten Tumandok communities.

The Noynoy Aquino government’s P11.2 billion Jalaur Mega Dam project will completely submerge the indigenous communities of Barangays Agcalaga, Garangan, and Masaroy in Calinog, Iloilo and further dislocate an estimated 15,000 Tumandoks in seven other affected barangays.

Large-scale mining by the TMC International Corporation and Quarry Ventures threaten 5 municipalities in Capiz, including Dumalag, Jamindan, Mambusao, Sigma, and Tapaz. The TMCIC will occupy 10,344 hectares while the Quarry Ventures will occupy 8.524 hectares.

“We are not against development. We are against the stealing of our land for projects that the Tumandok cannot even benefit from. We fear losing our land, our livelihood, and our culture,” said Tumandok leader Roy Giganto.

These development projects will give enormous profits to foreign corporations and their local big comprador and landlord partners at the expense of the people’s homes and livelihood and the plunder of the environment and natural resources.

Tourism projects meanwhile tend to commercialize and therefore trivialize indigenous culture by transforming them into commodities for sale in the world market.

Driven away by land-grabbing, extreme hunger, and poverty, the Tumandok are forced to journey, like the great heroes of their epics, to the plains and cities to seek jobs as helpers, trisikad drivers, odd-jobbers, etc. while waiting for the harvest.

But always with the memory of their land in their hearts: “Our ancestors have shed blood on this land. For us, it is sweeter to be felled by bullets than to die of hunger in the lowlands.”

Struggle for ancestral land

Living by the belief that their continued bond to their ancestral land is essential to their survival, the Tumandok remain committed to the struggle to defend the land of their ancestors.

But the Philippine government and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) persist in depriving the Tumandok of their ancestral land.

The 3rd Infantry Division of the Philippine Army is claiming 33,310 hectares of land in Jamindan, Libacao, and Tapaz as a military reservation utilized for military exercises and weapons testing by virtue of President Diosdado Macapagal’s Proc. No. 67 issued in 1962.

This reservation holds the largest military camp in the country which became the base for the AFP’s Rapid Deployment for Visayas and Mindanao and even US forces during the Balikatan military exercises.

“Our rights are being violated as military operations cause havoc to our lives and livelihoods,” said Giganto, describing the effects of the militarization of indigenous communities involved in the defense of their rights.

The army maintains detachments in barangay halls, schools, clinics, daycare centers, gyms, and other civilian public spaces in order to dominate them. Military forces continue to threaten, harass, abduct, and kill the Tumandok with impunity.

The people’s epic

History is often treated like a dead museum piece. But among the Tumandok people of Panay the past lives on, not as a justification of an unjust social order or nostalgia for a fictitious past, but as a continuation of their people’s epic, their people’s struggle for land.

The challenges confronting the Tumandok have further tempered them as a people. The Tumandok have resisted Spanish domination, American colonization, Japanese occupation, the onslaughts of the brutal Marcos dictatorship, and the continuing oppression under the present social order.

The extent of injustice against their people also led many of the Tumandok’s finest sons and daughters to take up arms and joined the Communist Party of the Philippines-led revolutionary movement in the island.

In 1996, 30 local indigenous people’s organizations established the Tumanduk nga Mangunguma nga Nagapangapin sa Duta kag Kabuhi or TUMANDUK as an alliance to defend their ancestral land, livelihood, and culture.

Lola Elena, the celebrated Cultural Center of the Philippines Awardee for Oral Literature and the last of the binukots before her death, sang, in the words of Gelacio Guillermo, “not for show or entertainment or remuneration, but to give voice to the anger of her people against the military forces wrecking havoc on their lives, their land, their livelihood, the honor of their women, the education of their children, the peace of their communities.”

The Tumandok continue the bravery and heroism of Labaw Donggon, Humadapnon, and Dumalapdap, against real forces that threaten their lives and culture.


Gelacio Guillermo, “On Indigenous and Contemporary Poetry,” August 2002.
Karen Faith Villaprudente, “Access to Ancestral Domain: The Basis of Food Security among the Tumandoks of Panay,” March 2004.
Roger F. Salditos, “Ang mga Sulodnon sa Pan-ay: ang iila Tradisyon kag Kultura,” undated.

* This is a slightly edited version of an article I wrote three years ago after the 8th Tumanduk Assembly last October 28, 2011 in the West Visayas State University campus in Calinog, Iloilo. The 9th Tumanduk Assembly was held last January 16-19 in barangay Aglinab, Tapaz in Capiz.

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