Inquirer Southern Luzon Thieves strike at Mangyan burial caves By Madonna Virola

Inquirer Southern Luzon
First Posted 22:19:00 07/28/2010

Filed Under: Philippines - Regions, Crime, history

LIKE THE IBALOI tribe in northern Luzon, the Mangyan people in Mindoro are alarmed and angry over the missing skeletal remains (“but-ol”) of their ancestors in over a hundred sacred burial caves in the southern part of the island.

Only 30 percent of the remains are now left, said Aniw Lubag, president of the Pinagkausahan Hanunuo sa Daga Ginurang (Phadag).

The Phadag has a direct application with the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) for a certificate of ancestral domain title on 32,139.69 hectares of land covering the towns of Roxas, Mansalay and Bulalacao.

The Hanunuo Mangyan, numbering some 26,000 in the towns of Mansalay and Bulalacao, as well as their relatives in Roxas town, are bothered by the loss of their ancestors’ bones, said Lubag, 40.

They suspect that “enterprising” lowlanders hiring unscrupulous natives are behind the theft.

The Kabayan Caves in Kabayan town in Benguet, where the Ibaloi people keep their ancestors’ mummies, had also been desecrated by thieves.

“The complainants have been frequenting our office in Banti (Bulalacao), following up on their search,” Lubag told the Inquirer in an interview when he visited the Kapulungan Para sa Lupaing Ninuno (KPLN) office in the City of Calapan in Oriental Mindoro on July 12.

Phadag officers said they had received reports sometime in October last year about “Japanese bones” being found in Barangay San Antonio in Mansalay town. But some residents believe that those were really Mangyan remains taken from a cave in Palaypay in the same town.

Lubag said his group had asked Romeo Morente, community development officer of the NCIP in Oriental Mindoro, to help investigate the theft in a letter dated March 19.

When representatives from the Church-based Mangyan Mission, Mangyan Heritage Center and the KPLN, a provincewide tribal federation, trekked to a burial cave in Dangkalan, Bulalacao town, near the sea, they found only small bones.

The complainants noticed the disappearance of the skeletal remains when they brought their newly deceased for final burial in the cave.

Tribesmen Dinayo (only one name), who is in his 80s, Badbad (from Tambangan) and Unaw Ganay showed the fact-finding group the emptied cave in Danaw, Sitio Banti, Barangay San Roque.

“They were heartbroken, Dinayo was crying, and we saw outside the cave the dead’s clothes and new G-string placed on stones,” Lubag said. He himself learned that the remains of his relatives were also missing.

Traditionally, the Mangyan dead is dressed nicely when buried. Nine to 12 days from death, food is served in a community ritual called “panhugutan pintal.”

The buried body is dug out nine months to one year later in another ritual called the “pangutkutan.” Food is again served, after which the remains are brought to the cave.


Lubag said a Mangyan named Joel Dagud referred the group to Lito Salibio, of San Juan, Bulalacao town, who claimed that the “damuong” (Tagalogs or non-Mangyans) were behind the theft.

Salibio had told Morente and Lubag that he learned from his “sandugo” (Mangyan friend) Ingkoy that several Japanese bones were in the caves when he informed him that he had relatives with Japanese contacts who were looking for Japanese remains.

“The Japanese came with Tagalogs and showed permits to the Mangyans,” Salibio said.

Morente had told Salibio that the recovery of the bones was illegal.

When the NCIP officer went on a leave of absence, the investigation slowed down, Lubag said. The Phadag officers decided to convene the “talaghusay” (council of elders) and invited other Mangyan leaders and set to arrest the violators.

On June 27, they found three Mangyan men—Danum Cusi, Onaw Bado and Panding Ukbong—hauling skeletal remains in sacks of charcoal, and arrested them the next day in Sitio Bait.

The barangay chair, Tano Ingo, led the investigation of the suspects, which was witnessed by Aniw Lubag of Phadag, Para Igong of the NCIP and barangay secretary Edgar Ayun. Tonyo Uybad and Noel Merano, staff members of the Mangyan Mission, helped in the documentation.

Japanese remains

The three said they were resting and chewing betel nut in the Malang-og River when the damuong came and asked them to haul three sacks of Japanese remains from the Kaguray river (between Mansalay and Bulalacao).

The damuong introduced themselves as Ronnie Maligalig of Bongabong, Oriental Mindoro, and Jerry Salibio (son-in-law of Lito Salibio).

The suspects said the non-Mangyans called the items “kalakal” (goods) and that they would be paid P500 per sack across the Cagancan River (Sugdaan ng Malapad), where trading was done.

Maligalig and Jerry Salibio claimed that they had a “permit” to move the items, Lubag said. But he told them that Phadag did not recognize the permit or whoever issued it because the group was not consulted about the transfer.

The Phadag coordinated with Mayor Joel Maliwanag of Mansalay and Dr. Ely Cabrera of the municipal health office for the safekeeping of the “evidence.”

Bad spirits

The Mangyan people believe that the dead inside the caves should not be disturbed because bad spirits were behind some deaths. They claim that native healers called “daniw” are able to talk with the spirits and that their anger shows when farms are destroyed.

“It’s my first time to witness this—worms ate up our palay, corn, Singapore gabi; even the cogon grasses like in Banti are gone. Our animals are dying, like two weeks ago, only in a week’s time—two cows, two carabaos and a goat died in Sitio Balugo, Barangay Budburan (in Mansalay town),” Lubag said.

He warned that eating food from money earned from the sale of skeletal remains was like “eating the dead.”

He said the violators should be penalized, including the imprisonment of the non-Mangyan. “In the customary law, the violators will have to pay all the expenses incurred during the burial of the dead. For example, one dead I know spent four cows and five cavans of rice to feed the community.”

He wished that concerned agencies and officials would help them find justice and help for the tribe.
News posted from, Philippine News

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