Bai Bibyaon Ligkayan Bigkayis a Lumad leader and environmentalist. She is the first and only female chieftain in the history of the Manobo people. She is an advocate of indigenous peoples’ rights and has been a defender of Manobo ancestral lands and the Pantaron Mountain Range since 1994.
“Our ancestral lands are being taken away and in its place we are given, for example, one kilo of rice and some canned goods,” Bai Bibyaon says. Through deception and repression, land grabs are severely eroding the basis for the tribe’s physical and cultural survival. Bai Bibyaon now lives in an evacuation camp in Davao City. Her people were forced off their lands by the military occupation, in the name of counterinsurgency operations that actually serve to facilitate land grabs. If they return, many—especially outspoken leaders like Bai Bibyaon —will likely be killed by the army; if they remain in the camps and lose their lands they will die off with nothing to leave behind. There is only one option: to fight back.
From the camp, Bai Bibyaon has continued to lead her people in protests and demand a safe return to their ancestral lands. A formidable figure, she has stood up to government officials and corporate representatives.
In the midst of displacement and disillusion with the government, the tribe still looks ahead. They have built their own schools to teach children to work the land and defend it. “I am inspired by the new generation – the young Lumads. I want them to have a better life than what I have experienced. I want the younger generation to harvest the fruit of our sacrifices.” Now in her seventies, Bai Bibyaon says the only hindrance she feels is the physical limitation of age. “But my fighting spirit is very high.”
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