Interview With Bro. Martin Francisco – Unsung Hero of Indigenous People
With the Amazon rainforest raging fire scenario– and other forest fires happening almost “in great symphony” in Spain, France, Turkey and Indonesia, Mother Earth is now in painful limp due to environmental toxicity and all. Amid this greed-related reality, am honored and in great pleasure having this rare chance to shoot questions with one great man in the field of IP advocacy, forest preservation initiative and ancestral domain fight for the indigenous people around. Folks, am referring to one person, none other than Bro. Martin Francisco! Welcome and Mabuhay po!
Let’s get to the bottom of the matter before our passion turns into embers… going, going, gone!
1. How long have you been passionate about helping indigenous people, particularly the Dumagats?
Since my younger years in high school, I had been aspiring as a soldier of Christ like Saint Francis of Assisi, working in mission to far flung mountains. I knew what I wanted in life then, and I thank God now for such calling.
2. During the course of your work as forest ranger/leader defending destruction of Sierra Madre from the claws of greed- illegal loggers, poachers, etc… what, to you, was the worst incident you faced, and realizations you ever had?
The worst thing is when the death threats never leave me, and for seven times, they were harassing me, closer and closer, even to the point that I have to move my residency every two years; or when I felt their (illegal loggers) presence. I have been in Sierra Madre since 1994, first 2 years in Quezon, and then the rest in Bulacan. I have even decided to get my own legal gun, to protect myself, since I cannot afford a security or personal bodyguard.
3. Connecting with people, here and abroad, could spell a big difference in your advocacy, right? So how do you make connections?
I actually do pray for God’s protection, and that He will send people who will help me. It’s very hard to get connections. Good thing, some local media notice my advocacy helping the IPs and saving the Sierra Madre Forest. Foreign funding is very strict– and elusive to me–since it is very hard to meet their paper and legal requirements. Through social media, and with good friends who referred me to civic groups, NGOs, Foundations, we are able to survive. Even the LGUs and government agencies have realized the importance of my presence since I know much about the Dumagat IPs and their Sierra Madre ancestral domain.
4. Since you have been living with the Dumagats, you are familiar with their cultural identity, and been in the know of their fears, dreams, and all… so how do you assess them as a group of people, with dignity and respect of which everybody should recognize?
It’s really hard for us non-IPs the essence of the Dumagat culture and it took me so many years to understand them by living with them. The Dumagats are great people with unique ecological culture that we outsiders must realize if we must survive in this Climate Change thingy. The sad thing is their indigenous culture is losing its appeal or importance among the IPs, especially the young ones. We need to help the IPs protect their rich culture vis-a-vis with their forest/ancestral domain.
5. Share a story of which you have been touched by their kindness, sort of extending their appreciation to all your effort done to their well-being.
There are so many situations that the IPs had saved me from dangers; even death threats, but one thing I would always remember is when I was almost drown in a river, with rolling logs, in a flash flood. Good thing, a Dumagat, named Dokha, saved me even though he was so small and I am almost 6 foot tall; he was able to pull me up! With his indigenous knowledge and skills,am still alive today.
6. To those who would like to help out in your advocacy, what are ways they could extend help?
I really need volunteers. Very few people would dedicate their talents and time even their life and security in this dangerous mission. But, of course, not all can do what I have been doing since I have dedicated my life here. If only there is a group or foundation that would finance our forest protection as an NGO volunteer/ forest rangers, perhaps it will be easy for me, and my IPs companions, to protect our forest and engaged regularly with illegal loggers head on. As of now, due to our limited fund or donations received, we do more on intel gathering and monitoring.
7. With the Amazon forest being ravaged by fire, what comes to your mind, and how this could affect global warming, global catastrophe which any time soon could happen and bring havoc to earthlings?
Unless our government and the international community, and, we, people in the local community will unite to stop this deforestation, and leaders with political will, our world environment is surely heading to total destruction. We talked so much. We always have meetings and summits. What we need are sustainable forest protections before any livelihoods. We must stop even government wrong projects and programs that will destroy our diminishing forest like the Amazon’s. There’s so much greed and capitalism around.
8. Aside from defending the forest against greedy individuals and indigenous people’s rights like their ancestral home from being taken away from them, what are others things you are busy with?
I am quite preoccupied with the education of the young IPs through the help of MMC, WISAR also through health and disaster preparedness. I am also pre occupied with the development of our Punduhan ng nga Dumagat, as a model of Climate Change resiliency and its sustainability focusing on eco-agriculture, and tribal eco-tourism in order for us to stand on our own.
9. What are other things you would like to share about your advocacy?
Basically our mission here is being managed by Sagip Sierra Madre Environmental Society Inc. (SSMESI), a very small NGO group since 2008 though I have been here in the mountain as a religious brother of BSMC since 1996 working for the upliftment of the Dumagat indigenous people (IPs) and the protection of the Sierra Madre of Bulacan covering the three towns (DRT, Norzagaray, SJDM) for 22 IPs settlements in partnership with government ang NGOs.
Our five (5) main programs of SSMESI at Punduhan since 2014 are:
a.) Reforestation regulated by NAPOCOR 10 hectares and DENR for 25 hectares that needs maintenance and protection.
b.) Forest protection. All of our able- bodied Dumagats/IPs that will stay here at Punduhan must participate in our voluntary service as Sagip Forest Rangers (SFRs) to protect our forest and watersheds from all forms of illegal activities resulting into Sierra Madre of Bulacan deforestation (covering Angat watershed, Ipo watershed, DRT-Gen. Tinio watershed and Bustos watershed) as deputized by the government of NAPOCOR, PGB-LGU, & DENR.
c.) We are also giving IPs scholarship for 32 students (young and old) now in partnership with Metro Manila College (MMC) and DepEd ALS and we need food, transportation allowances and a house for lodging at Novaliches, besides or near MMC, for our Senior high and college. We actually depend on our FB benefactors’ generosity.
d.) Also, we have programs for Health focusing on the enhancing IPs capability as Wisar search & rescuer, tribal health workers and our on-going construction of Tribal Health center with Search & Rescue center located at Punduhan. We need constant trainings, SARs gadgets, medicines, clinic facilities. We have just 2 brother paramedics and we need more regular visiting volunteer-doctors, at least once a month to cater 22 settlements.
e.) Our fifth program is livelihood for our sustainability as food production (eco-agri) and our tribal ecotourism at Monte Cristo cave adjacent to Punduhan. We need trainings, components assistance and others target developments infrastructures in order to show and prove that this is our alternative livelihoods against illegal logging, illegal charcoal making, illegal mining, and kaingin system.
- If you had a chance to talk to President Duterte, what would you say?
I would ask our then- mayor-now- president Digong only of two things without second thought. First, I will ask him to please sign our Kabayunan CADT in order for the IPs Dumagat get their rights/benefits easily and readily. Second, I will ask him to order his government agencies to protect the Sierra Madre forest from all forms of illegal activities, logging, charcoal making, treasure hunting, mining, wild life hunting/trading, land grabbing and intrusion of so much non-IPs informal settlers, within ancestral domain and the watersheds.
So there you have it. Thank you, Bro. Martin for your time and benevolence giving me a chance to listen to your full of wisdom narration, and learn a thing or two about your advocacy, IPs and their journey, struggles and dreams to own their own land and be –free! May your tribe increase!
Bro. Martin Francisco is a missionary of the Blessed Sacrament Missionaries of Charity Brother in the spirituality of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. He is now 54 years old and has been a missionary since 1985 although in his younger years he entered in Oblates seminary in Cotabato for his education at NDU. He grew up in comfortable life with his parents at Mauban, Quezon Province, in a big happy Catholic family. He even said that his parents sent him to a Catholic school of Holy Trinity Academy at Quezon City, Manila, Philippines.