By Jed Roland Wong
DAVAO CITY – Around this time last year, upland communities of indigenous peoples (IPs) in Davao City host different fun and community-based activities for the members of the tribes, especially the children.
At the same time, in downtown Davao, the entire city would sparkle and light up during the night and Christmas songs are played in public parks where families would gather around and wait for Christmas shows and other activities lined up for the annual Pasko Fiesta celebration.
When Mayor Sara Duterte returned to the City Hall in 2016, the local government has brought Christmas to the IP (lumad) communities. Food packs, gifts, and basic services would be given to members of these communities, allowing them to experience the so-called ‘Christmas spirit’ of generosity and thanksgiving — although they do not traditionally and culturally celebrate Christmas.
Somehow, these simple community-based activities became enough reason for the members of the upland tribes not to descend to the city for their yearly exodus during Christmas.
Before this, they would often come down in hordes of thousands and stay in the city for over a month for the so-called ‘panaygon’ — a Visayan term for caroling. They would knock on doors and offer songs and dances, accompanied by their traditional tribal musical instruments in exchange for coins, used clothing, food, and other items that they find useful.
They would experience the good and the bad side of the city. Some people showed them generosity, while some ridiculed them. There were also instances when very young lumad children carolers would meet accidents on the road, apparently, because the city is a new, strange and complex concrete landscape for them.
Although Christmas is not part of their tradition and culture, they would dare come down and take the risk until recently, when the local government started to bring Christmas to their villages.
Last week, Mayor Inday Sara Duterte clarified that everyone is welcome to visit the city, including the lumads. However, she noted that no one is spared from complying with the requirements to enter the city, which has been declared as ‘restricted’ since November.
Even IPs should check whether they are Authorized Persons Outside Residence (APOR) or non-APOR and make sure that they comply with the requirements set for them.
Today, the LGU has started to put up Christmas decors and lights around the city.
But the usual “Merry Christmas Greetings” were replaced with banners that say: “Save Money, Save Lives, Stay Home.”
Clearly, the celebration in Davao is somber.
Mayor Inday has announced that for Christmas, all IP community events are canceled. She said Davao City will no longer have Christmas events usually lined up for the Pasko Fiesta celebration — including the IP community-based celebrations.
She made the decision in the midst of the pandemic, as the city has revived stricter measures to contain the rising cases of Covid 19 infections. But the mayor said the annual "Pahalipay sa mga Lumad", the LGU’s gift-giving program for the IPs will continue.
“We will not have the programs, games, and activities that can be the possible source of mass gathering of people where the minimum health protocols such as wearing of face mask, distancing and handwashing cannot be followed,” she said on Tuesday.
She, however, said the local government will still give gifts to identified sectors, including the lumads.
“Wala na ang kalingawan pero naa gihapon ang gift-giving so mao na lang to mabilin sa Christmas activities (The festivities will not be there but the gift-giving will remain for our Christmas activities),” she said.
Aside from the IPs, the sectors that will receive noche buena packs are daycare volunteers, community-based and center-based children, people living with HIV, persons with disabilities, and senior citizens.
Lawyer Marlisa Gallo, head of the Davao City Social Welfare and Development Office (CSWDO), said the LGU will give around 30,000 lumad families gift packs this Christmas.
Her office has started the distribution on December 3, in two sitios of Barangay Malabog. On Dec. 4, gift packs were distributed to residents of Barangay Paquibato Proper. The activity will continue until December 16.
She ensured that standard health protocols, social distancing, and the prohibition of mass gathering are observed during the distribution of Christmas packs.
“We still have something to celebrate and we are still giving Christmas gifts to our lumad brothers and sisters amid the pandemic. But we won't allow them to come to us since we won't have any program as mass gathering is prohibited,” she said.
The LGU, she said, will ensure that the IPs will have something to share among themselves for ‘noche buena’.
Meanwhile, in her Christmas message, Mayor Sara highlighted the role of all the Dabawenyos in the fight to overcome the Covid 19 pandemic.
We will not be broken
“Let us help in the fight against the spread of the infection. And in our unity, we will be able to show our strength. And through our strength, we will not be broken,” she said in the vernacular.
The LGU’s call is for the Dabawenyos to celebrate Christmas with their families — at home.
“The impact of Covid-19 into our lives is very glaring. It will continue to be a threat to all of hs and this is a crisis that will continue to haunt us for the next many years,” she said.
She stressed the importance of being cautious in our celebration that “our families are spared from the infection that has taken the lives of hundreds of Dabawenyos and thousands of Filipinos.”
“Our call is for everyone to celebrate Christmas with our families. Avoid gatherings. Turn down invitations,” she said.
Celebrations, she said, are more meaningful when it is shared with your loved ones and when every member of the family are healthy.
“This is the best gift that you could give your family and everyone in the community,” she said.
And because the impact of the pandemic is seen to last for more years, the mayor said Dabawenyos must save money and spend only on things that are important.
“Do not spend on things that do not matter — for example, firecrackers,” she said.
She also urged everyone to pray for the end of the pandemic.
“Let us pray and hope together that the world will soon be freed from Covid 19 pandemic,” she said. (PNA)