Last February 2019, the Philippine Army stumbled upon a community of 140 families living deep in the jungles of Davao del Norte, Agusan del Sur, and Bukidnon. This Sept. 11, 2020, a few government officials finally paid the tribe a visit for the first time.
Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) Secretary Emmanuel Piñol shared the details of the visit on his official Facebook page accompanied by a short video entitled “Beauty & Bounty of Mindanao.”
Discovering the Ata-Manobo tribe
The community comes from to the Ata-Manobo tribe, which has survived for decades without any government intervention. Before getting “discovered” in 2019, they were almost completely detached from modern society.
Troops discovered the community by accident while pursuing communist rebels. Piñol tells us most of the rebels are also members of the Ata-Manobo tribe and that the tribe has been, in fact, controlled by the New People’s Army (NPA) for over 4 years prior.
The soldiers described the village houses as “similar to birds’ nests built out of round timbers with cogon and Abaca leaves as roofs.” They reported that the community “lived on yams, bananas, camote and the native Ata rice or Kamad-an whose seeds they preserved for generations.”
Members of the Ata-Manobo tribe went on an 8-hour trek from their village in order to meet with government officials.
Most of the women were half-naked and only a few from the community knew how to speak Cebuano. The men, who were the only members of the tribe with contact to the outside world, had to walk 2-3 days to reach San Fernando, Bukidnon. There, they sell their products, such as stripped Abaca fiber, which sells for P50/kilo.
The government promises to help
Since their discovery almost two years ago, the Army has already established an informal school with soldiers as teachers. Piñol reports that three teachers from Kapalong town in Davao del Norte walk 6-8 hours to reach the “Lost Tribe.” The provincial government of Davao del Norte has also opened a road to get to the village easier but it would still take hours.
Davao del Norte Governor Edwin Jubahib has also been preparing housing and livelihood packages for the tribe.
Mindanao Development Authority Secretary Manny Piñol meets Datu Bansing Balanban of the Ata-Manobo tribe for the first time on Sept. 11, 2020.
On Sept. 11, Piñol together with Jubahib, Cong. Pantaleon Alvarez, Mayor Tess Timbol of Kapalong, and Maj. Gen. Ruben Basiao of the 10th Infantry Division delivered food and other basic items for the community. They spoke to the tribe leaders who had to walk 8 hours from the village to meet them.
During the meeting, Datu Bansing Balanban, the leader of the tribe, put forward the needs of his community. This included a school, a water source, a health center, planting materials, and even shotguns for defense against NPAs.
Today, officials are working on building a road to the village so visits could be easier in the future. Piñol also assures everyone that MinDA “would craft a program which would make the village people feel that there is a government that cares for them.”
Piñol has also started the “Adopt-a-Tribal Family” program which calls on generous Filipinos to help disadvantaged tribal families in Mindanao. Click here to know more about how you can help.
Next Time You’re in Batanes, Stay at These Rustic Ivatan Stone Houses on Airbnb
Get Away From It All with These Beautiful Rustic Bahay Kubos On Airbnb
Dip Your Toes in These White Sand Beaches Near Manila