Murder of Philippine Child Brings Support for Cause of Indigenous Tribal Rights
By Elliott Wright
The rights of indigenous people to control the use of ancestral lands was endorsed by the chief mission executive of The United Methodist Church in the wake of the killing of the son of a Philippine tribal chief opposed to illegal mining in the territory of his people.
"The United Methodist Church has a deep commitment to the rights of people to protect their ancestral lands from misuse; we honor those rights and also respect the earth and its resources that flow from God's good creation," said Thomas Kemper, general secretary of the General Board of Global Ministries, making reference to official resolutions of the denomination.
Eleven-year-old Jordan Manda was killed on September 4 as he rode on a motorbike behind his father, Timuay Locencio Manda, a chief of the Subanen people in the Bayog area of Mindanao, one of the main islands of the Philippines. Locencio—timuay is a title of respect—was wounded but not seriously injured. He is a major opponent of unlicensed mining of Subanen lands.
Global Ministries is linked to the cause of the Subanen people through its mission partnership with the ecumenical Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute. The agency currently has a mission intern, Clifford Pauley, assigned to the institute for an 18-month period beginning a year ago.
Kemper's statement was delivered to the Manda family and the tribe on September 10, the day ending a six-day wake for the young man being groomed to succeed his father as chief. It was translated into the local language by Mr. Pauley.
The Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute promotes peace and justice in situations of conflict and has a special focus at present on the Subanen situation.
Locencio Manda had been scheduled to take part in an institute training event on the day of the shooting, which occurred as he took Jordan to school in the early morning.
Longstanding tensions exist between commercial interests—mining and logging—and indigenous tribes in Mindanao. Timuay Manda, in a statement issued following Jordan's death, said that his opposition was to illegal mining that took no account of the rights of the people or the protection of the environment, not to all mining.
"The causes of the indigenous people of Mindanao are righteous and we are in solidarity with their objectives," Kemper said. "We are pleased to have a strong partnership with the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute as it works, in the words of Micah 6:8 to "do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God'."
Mr. Pauley, who is from Macon, Georgia, described the wake and funeral in an email report to Global Ministries. The final service was held in an open area in the family home barrio of Conacon, in the municipality of Bayog in Zamboanga del Sur Province.
During the six-day wake, friends, family, and other timuays gathered, totaling about 400 guests, all staying in the timuay's compound, which is also the tribal meeting area. The wake lasted until all expected guests could arrive. The burial followed the service about 500 meters away, with 600 mourners following the pallbearers.
Mr. Pauley said that the funeral combined Christian and traditional elements. The family is affiliated with the Alliance Church.
Carino Antequisa, another observer, was impressed by the number of government and mining officials at the funeral. Mr. Antequisa is a trustee of the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute and a representative of the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development in the United Kingdom.
Christine Vertucci, director of the peacebuilding institute, spoke at the funeral as a representative of the international groups working with the Subanen people.
Mr. Pauley said that the killing of Jordan and the wounding of his father cast a shadow on the institute's training event. "The representatives from Bayog were visibly distraught, since they had not yet grieved their loss."
Kemper's statement concluded: "May God bless and guide us all as we walk the pathways of life in the light of God's love and in the hope for a better world tomorrow. And may God watch over the family of Jordan Manda, who is too soon in the arms of heaven."