Indigenous people hold program honoring brave national minority leader Bai Bibyaon

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Various indigenous groups and minority rights advocates gathered at the University of the Philippines (UP)-Diliman to commemorate the life and legacy of Bai Bibyaon Ligkayan Bigkay, valiant leader of the Talaingod Manobo and national minorities, on June 5. Bai Bibyaon passed away on November 20, 2023 with his loved ones by her side.

“If I am gone, I will be a shining guide for all of you. Don’t give up, instead continue the struggle,” these were Bai Bibyaon’s last words before passing away, according to the Sabokahan Unity of Lumad Women on December 6, 2023 when her death was announced.

Bai Bibyaon comes from a remote Lumad community in the Pantaron Range in Natulinan, Talaingod, Davao del Norte. She was born 90 years ago to parents who were both Matigsalug-Manobo. The surname Bai is a tribute to her and “Bibyaon” was added when she became the leader of her tribe. She was the first female leader appointed in the Talaingod-Manobo tribe.

Since 1980, Bai Bibyaon has led the Lumad’s struggle for the right to self-determination. She played a major role in driving away the Alcantara & Sons company’s destructive logging from the mountains of Talaingod in 1993. Her role was valuable in uniting the Lumads to launch a “pangayaw,” a traditional Lumad call to arms for the defense of ancestral land and livelihood.

Bai Bibyaon collaborated with communities in establishing the Salugpungan Ta Tanu Igkanugon council in 1986. This council spearheaded the establishment of Lumad schools in Mindanao that were violently closed under the US-Duterte regime.

Bai Bibyaon was also part of the assembly of the Lumad Mindanao Peoples Federation (LMPF) in 1986 that gathered in response to the threat of genocide, and united to use the term “Lumad” to give political power and binding identity to the 18 ethnolinguistic tribes in Mindanao.

She is also the founding chairman of Sabokahan To Mo Lumad Kamalitanan or Sabokahan Unity of Lumad Women. She was closely involved with other national minority groups in the formation of national associations and organizations in the defense of ancestral lands and the right to self-determination. Bai Bibyaon received various local and international recognition for her principled stand for national minorities.

The awards program featured cultural performances from various groups. They vowed to continue the message and legacy left by Bai Bibyaon.

“May her eternal legacy be a beacon to the Lumads and other indigenous peoples,” Lumad leader Eufemia Cullamat, spokesperson of the Sandugo-Movement of Moro and Indigenous Peoples for Self-Determination said.

AB: Indigenous people hold program honoring brave national minority leader Bai Bibyaon