History of Mindanao and the Tībolis

For over a thousand years, the island of Mindanao, the second largest island in the archipelago of the Philippine Islands, has been occupied by tribal people, believed to have migrated from Indonesia and Malaysia. These people have lived for centuries in the same tribal customs, sustaining themselves in the rich tropical forest through hunting and foraging. Through these years they developed a very rich culture founded in the tribal traditions and in harmony with the nature around them. They remained untouched by Western Civilization and in contact only with other tribes living in similar fashion to theirs.

Six major tribes still exist in the province of South Cotabato. They no longer enjoy the freedom of their ancestral territories, but are in a constant struggle to retain their sacred lands. They must try to cope with an avaricious civilization intent on tribal destruction. Many of the rich agricultural lands, tropical forests and precious minerals found on ancestral lands, were depleted and destroyed, leaving the six remaining tribes, the T’boli, B’laan, Maguindanao, Ubo, Manobo, and Kalagan, to face imminent extinction.

Western encroachment began unsuccessfully four hundred years ago, with the Spanish traders and conquistadores, who had conquered other islands in the Philippines. In three hundred years of Spanish rule, they were unable to break through the Muslim tribes entrenched along the Mindanao coast. After the Spanish–American War, the Philippines were granted to the United States as a protectorate. It was during this time, (early 1900’s), that the Philippines took a page out of American history and opened Mindanao for homesteaders. Land–hungry settlers broke through the Muslim barriers, and grabbed up the island areas forcing the native tribes into the mountains.

Although Mindanao was occupied by both Japanese and American troops during the World War II, the mountain tribes of South Cotabato had a little or no contact with them and continued to exist in their ancient ways without disturbance. After the war, the Mindanao Island was declared resettlement area for the people from the Visayan and Luzon regions. Many left their Visayan homes to settle in the still open land of Mindanao. The settling of the agriculturally rich flat lands of South Cotabato did not take long and contact with the mountain tribes more frequent.

Agri-business, lumber and mining companies saw opportunities for exorbitant profits in the agriculturally rich flat lands, vast forests and mineral deposits discovered by the settlers. They were quick to take advantage of obtaining possession of the lands and resources they wanted. Soon the tribal people were forced to the mountain territories cultivating unproductive marginal lands.

Today, only forty years later, one can no longer find rich forests, and fertile lands in the mountains. The lands have depleted. The game is scarce. Recent landsliders have even taken away depleted lands leaving an area of naked destruction.

In Southern Luzon and Visayan islands, Tribal Filipinos are at the verge of extinction. In Mindanao an estimate of 2.0 million Tribal Filipinos, like thousands of plant and wildlife species are under heavy assault. The Tribal habitat, traditional ancestral lands, have been invaded in the past forty years by loggers and miners clearing vast tracts of tropical forests. Continuous incursion to the tribal lands was experienced thru unending resettlement of lowland migrants from Luzon and Visayas regions along with ranchers and multinational agri–business corporations, all intent on exploiting the once–fabled natural resources of Mindanao, “The land of Promise.”

In South Cotabato, there are some 500,000 Tribal Filipinos belonging to six tribes – Kalagan, Ubo, Manobo, B’laan, Maguindanao Muslims and the most populous the T’boli tribe. All these six tribes are involved in the Santa Cruz Mission School, Inc. programs for development.

The present day picture of the T’boli people (being the most populous tribe) and their land is one characterized by desperate existence at the marginal degraded environment. They are landless people in their homeland. Their situation is a typical life situation of other tribal people in the world – tribal people labeled as exotic and primitive, exploited of their land and driven further in the remaining forests of trying to cope with rapidly changing lifestyle.

A typical T’boli family of 8 – 10 members is undernourished, frequently eating but one or two meals a day of staple root crop, (camote or taro), and earning less than P6,000.00 per annum. The family members suffer from major diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria, intestinal parasites, amoebic dysentry and upper respiratory tract infections aggravated by the lack of access to safe potable water. These heartbreaking situations were gradually responded by the Santa Cruz Mission School, Inc. health projects, livelihood programs, and other environment–friendly programs. Unlike other tribals elsewhere, the T’bolis and other tribe in South Cotabato have access to education from primary to college as a result of SCMSI education program which has presently three (3) primary schools, two (2) high schools and one (1) college.