The Women of Bulol Kilot
Through Gabriela’s support, the women of Bulol Kilot will always be at the center of their community’s struggle.
For many years, the B’laan people in the village of Bulol Kilot have been fighting off attempts to drive them away from their ancestral land. Situated along the coast of Sarangani Bay in the town of Alabel in southern Mindanao, the land has in recent years been coveted by big fishing companies as an ideal site for the expansion of their canning factories.
The village name, Bulol Kilot, was derived from a sacred hill (bulol, sacred; kilot, hill) located a few meters accross the village. The community believes that the hill is the abode of the spirits of the forests as well as their ancestors; it is where they perform their rituals and say their prayers. They say it is the source of their identity.
“If we lost Bulol Kilot, we will lose everything, even our existence,” said Margie, the chairperson of Nagkakaisang Kababaihan ng Alabel (NAKASA -United Women of Alabel), a local chapter of Gabriela. The village is one of the areas where Gabriela is carrying out the right to health program with Third World Health Aid.
Advocating a rights-based approach, Gabriela aims to strengthen the capacity of the organization to organize and mobilize the community to claim their rights and engage policy-makers for policy change and accountability.
Its program includes raising the awareness of the community about their rights and the need to organize themselves to achieve change. It provides training to the community and their leaders to raise their capacity to manage their organizations focusing on campaigns and advocacy for their rights, especially the rights of women and children. In the case of Bulol Kilot, the program has enabled NAKASA to effectively lead the community in their campaign to assert their rights.
At the frontline of struggle
Today, NAKASA is on the frontline of Bulol Kilot’s ongoing struggle to defend their right to ownership of their ancestral land. The courageous women of Bulol Kilot are, in fact, the face of the village resistance against corporate land grabbing.
A few months ago, the community was suddenly alarmed by the sight of a backhoe forcing through the area where the sacred hill stands. For the B’laan, it is an act of desecration. To the surprise of the driver, a group of women suddenly appeared in front of the backhoe blocking its way. They then confronted the driver who was not able to resist when they took away the keys of the backhoe.
“We refuse to become mere housewives, we will defend our land because that is all we have, “ said Margie.
Ironically, the women of Bulol Kilot and the community at large have paid the price for asserting their right and defending their land. In 2010, a certain Angie, a broker of the family that has been claiming the land, filed a case against them for unlawful detainer (keeping possession of land without a right).
The family is the heir of a settler who arrived in Alabel before World War II, and who had allegedly usurped the land from their ancestors to set up a cattle ranch there.
In 2013, the court dismissed the case, but Angie was so intent on removing them from the land that she refiled the case last year.
No help from government
Worse, those that are mandated to help in their struggle seem to be conspiring against them.
The National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP) was created “to protect and promote the interest and well being of the indigenous peoples with due regard to their ancestral lands, self-governance and empowerment, social justice and human rights, and cultural integrity.”(NCIP Vision and Mission)
But the Bulol Kilot community could not hide their disdain for the seeming lack of interest of NCIP to protect them; instead, they feel that the agency is colluding with the fishing companies in driving them away from their land.
They have good reasons to show distrust to NCIP. First, the agency has refused to recognize the tribal chieftain that the community has chosen to represent them in the municipal council.
The big irony is that NCIP appointed his younger sister who has not gained their respect to lead them let alone to represent them, the community asserted.
“It is very clear that the NCIP is trying to sow division among us,” said Margie. “If it is really working for our interest, it should have followed the traditional process of the selection of our chieftain.”
“The NCIP-appointed chieftain does not even care if we were driven away from our land. All she cares is the salary and perks that she is receiving as our representative to the municipal council,” added Margie.
Second, the agency has been delaying the issuance of the Certificate of Ancestral Domains Title to gain recognition of the ownership of their land after it subjected the community to the overly bureaucratic process of obtaining the said title.
“They are always telling us to wait claiming that it is a very complicated process,” said Margie
Third, it has never carried out any process of gaining the free prior and informed consent of the tribe in the case of the plan of the fishing companies to build canning factories in their ancestral land.
The town mayor is more upfront about his intention of offering the land to corporate interests. He has been trying to persuade the people to accept a relocation plan for the community to make way for the construction of canning factories.
“The mayor told us that the factories will bring development to our community, but we need to move away first,” Margie said.
"So development for whom?” she asked.
A few days ago, the women of Bulol Kilot mobilized the community to seek an audience with the mayor to demand the replacement of the NCIP-appointed chieftain by the one chosen by the community. The mayor refused to recognize them knowing that it is inimical to the corporate interest.
They have a suspicion that the mayor has been resorting to bribery in exchange for the NCIP-appointed chieftain's subservience to his whim.
“Do not resist because you will also enjoy what your chieftain has been receiving once you agree with the project,” they quoted the mayor as saying.
But the women of Bulol Kulot remain steadfast to what they are fighting for.
“We resist because we are defending our land. When we fight for our land, we fight for our life and our children’s right to enjoy the fruits of the land... because the land is our life. Without the land, we have nothing.”
Through Gabriela’s support, the women of Bulol Kilot will always be at the center of their community’s struggle. #