Mindanao, Philippines: The Téduray Path to Peace


By Merci  Llarinas-Angeles. Peace Women Partners, Philippines

Since 1970, over 100,000 have been killed, and 11.31 billion dollars spent by the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP), in the armed conflict with Filipino Muslim revolutionary groups (the Moro)  in Mindanao. The forty-eight year conflict is rooted in the historical injustices against the Moro, whose territories were included against their will after Philippine independence from Spain in 1898. The Moros and other peoples of Mindanao claim that they are deprived of access to political power and are not given equitable share of Mindanao’s rich natural resources [1]. Despite its natural wealth, most of the poorest regions of the Philippines come from Mindanao.

Yet, while the struggles of the Moro are well-known around the world, little is heard about the peaceful non-Islamized indigenous people, the Lumad, who live among them, and their struggle for self-determination. Like many indigenous people around the world, they fight to preserve their culture and ancestral lands. The Lumad living within territories that will be part of the Moro autonomous political entity continue to demand that the Moros and the Philippine Government include them in the peace talks and recognize their right to self-determination.

The Téduray and Lambangian tribes are among the Lumad whose ancestral domains are in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) [2] where the Muslim population is fighting for autonomy from the government. Thus, the Lumad are caught in the crossfire between armed groups (whether bandits and rebels) and the government’s military and paramilitary. Despite the violence committed against them, they continue to practice their own system of governance, peacefully asserting their right to self-determination, and making a sustainable living from their sacred lands.

Non-Islamized Indigenous Peoples at the Margin
On December 31, 2017, while many were celebrating New Year’s Eve, 61  Téduray homes were burned down by renegade Moro fighters in the village of Mount Firis, Maguindanao. This was a continuation of earlier violence in which two Téduray men had been killed. The harassment of the Téduray continued through Jan. 2018 as they were caught in the conflict between the government’s military and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).  Though the fighting has stopped, Téduray residents in Mount Firis continue to live under threat from BIFF attacks.

These acts of violence against the Teduray are not isolated incidents. As early as 2012, the Lumad in ARMM had denounced the cycle of violence against the Téduray and Lambangian [3], who live in the mountain range where Mount Firis is located [4]. Mount Firis is a sacred mountain where the Téduray and Lambangian hold their rituals.


The Téduray perform their weekly rituals to worship Tulus (God) on the  sacred brown stone located near their sacred Mount Firis. (Photo from Timuay Justice and Governance)

Teduray oral history tells of how they lived in their ancestral domains [5] “since time immemorial”. They have their own system of knowledge, traditional justice and governance, and agricultural production preserving the fertility of the land, thus sustaining them through generations. Titay Bleyen (Assistant Supreme Tribal Chieftain) Santos Unsad of the Timuay Justice and Governance (TJG) [6] summarized their belief about land:  “Land is our identity and the root of our culture. [7]”  For the Lumadland is alive and cannot be owned by men, who are only stewards.

The Muslim population in the region emerged in the 13th century when Muslim traders converted a part of the indigenous population. Yet, the Moros and the Lumad coexisted based on an ancient peace pact between the brothers Apu Mamalu, who kept his traditional beliefs, and Tambunaway, who converted to Islam. Even now, despite the ongoing violence, the Lumad invoke this peace pact in which each would respect the other’s identity, territory, and culture, unite against common enemies and continue trading [8].

Unlike other parts of the Philippines, the Moros have managed to fight off colonizers and maintain their autonomy. The Spanish colonized the Philippines from 1521 to 1896, but were unable to subjugate the Islamized Filipinos. As the Spanish were unable to reach the uplands, the Teduray and  Lambangian tribes were able to live in peace and self-sufficiency. The Moro also sought refuge in their ancestral domains. Unbeknownst to the Lumad, in 1903-1913, their lands were included in the Sultanate of Sulu [9] making them a part of Moro territory [10].

With American colonization and the establishment of a Commonwealth, the Regalian Doctrine [11] was enshrined, and the lands of the Téduray, the other Lumad, and the Moros were declared public lands. The Téduray went on the defensive when the Commonwealth threatened to arrest the Baglalan (tribal title holders). To protect their way of life, they established the alangkat in hiding, so that they could carve spaces of autonomy for the protection and promotion of customary laws and spirituality [12].  

Their situation worsened in the 1970s, when President Marcos unleashed the Ilagas, paramilitary from another region, against the Moro in Mindanao. The Teduray and Lambangian have been caught in the conflict between the Moro and the government. Many were forced to evacuate their lands. Those unwilling to leave their ancestral lands took refuge in the wilderness. The first wave of conflict arose in 1972, when Moro rebels who were fighting for self-determination against Marcos put the Teduray and Lambangian lands into the middle of the conflict by seeking refuge in the latter two’s lands.

In 1996, when the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) signed a peace agreement with the government, the Teduray and Lambangian lands were included in the new  Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) without their consent. The Philippine Government awarded more than 40,000 hectares of Téduray and Lambangian lands to Moro rebel returnees as lucrative logging concessions. The logging concessions were later revealed to be part of a deal with former MNLF commanders to coax them to put down their arms [13]. Since then, the Téduray and Lambangian have suffered land grabbing and occupation of their farms, forests and mineral resources. Open areas within the ancestral domains are targeted for banana, oil palm, cassava, napier grass, coconut and other plantations by local politicians. Prospectors scour the mountainous areas for gold, copper, nickel and coal [14].

The second wave of conflict engulfed the Lumad as a group of Moro rebels opposed to the peace treaty broke from MNLF, formed the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and continued armed struggle. In the 2005 peace negotiations with the MILF, the government once again granted MILF the lands of the Teduray and Lambangian tribes.  Yet, again in 2008, another armed group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) broke away from the MILF and continue to harass and place the Téduray, Lambangian and Dulangan Manobo [15] into the middle of their conflict.

Téduray and Lambangian Continue to Advance Peace
A less hardy and determined people would have been scattered and defeated after such institutionalized actions to wipe them out. But the Téduray and Lambangian continue to struggle nonviolently for self-determination in their ancestral domains.

Since the 1990s, the Téduray and Lambangian, as well as the other indigenous peoples of Mindanao and the Philippines, worked hard for passage of the Indigenous People’s Rights Act (IPRA) in the Philippine Congress. This law recognized the rights of the indigenous peoples to:  (1) ancestral domains; (2) self-governance and empowerment; (3) social justice and human rights; and, (4) cultural integrity [16].

The Teduray and Lambangian have seized the opportunity by the IPRA to openly acknowledge the formerly underground Timuay Justice and Governance as their legitimate self-governance system.

The Timuay Justice and Governance
The Timuay system is an ancient traditional form of leadership and tribal system based on self-governance practiced by the Téduray and Lambangian. Their indigenous political structure is composed of a legislative, executive and judicial department. Representation is provided for women, youth, and the tribal warriors. Their Tegudon (customary practices)  and Ukit (guidance in governance, analogous to a constitution) were codified into laws during their 2002 Summit (Timfada Limud). Dowoy (penalties) are meted to those who violate the laws through the tiyawan (hearing/judicial process [17]). The Mindanao People’s Peace Movement, a Mindanao-wide network of organizations of Moros, Lumad and migrants, considers the Timuay Justice and Governance (TJG) as a model among all Indigenous tribes in Mindanao for their political structure [18]. This is characterized by collective leadership and free participation of the magingéd (citizens) through assemblies and forums called for by the Baglalan or tribal title holders in the different lines of work in the Timuay system of governance.


The Timfada Limud of the Téduray and Lambangian held last April 17-19, 2017. (Photo from: The Tripeople’s Journal of Mindanao People’s Peace Movement )

Assertion of the right to self-determination

On Apr. 2017, around 2,000 Teduray and Lambangian indigenous people from 85 tribal villages in Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat provinces of ARMM — representing 127,268 Teduray and Lambangians [19] — convened in the 3rd Timfada Limud or tribal congress in Upi, Maguindanao.  They discussed their united position especially regarding the peace talks, ancestral domain and other important issues about their political future in ARMM.

Indigenous people’s assertion of self-determination is anchored on their identity and self-governance of their ancestral domain.  The main example of this is the Téduray and Lambangian claims in the core area of the proposed Bangsamoro Territory. They identify their ancestral land as the Téduray, Lambangian and Dulangan Manobo Ancestral Domain Claim (TLDMADC).  In 2017, they succeeded in delineating 207,000 hectares of their ancestral domain and submitted it to the National Council for Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), the body charged by the IPRA with approving the legality of ancestral domain claims [20].

The Timuay Justice and Governance state that they support the proposed Bangsamoro Nation, consistent with their principle of peaceful co-existence, but they also demand that the Teduray, Lambangian and Dulangan Manubo territories be recognized and allowed autonomy to practice and promote their culture through the tribal and customary of their commonly accepted Tribal Governance [21].”

The Lumad  have criticized the lack of genuine representation of indigenous peoples  in the peace talks between the GRP and the MILF. The Téduray and Lambangian, through the TJG, continue to lobby with the Philippine Government and engage with other peace groups to support their own demands. On Apr. 2017, the Mindanao Indigenous Peoples Legislative Assembly for the Bangsamoro Basic Law was organized  by the GRP with Titay BleyenSantos Unsad as the Majority Floor Leader.  Through this Assembly, the TJG has a voice in the legislation of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

Despite peace talks, wars continue in Mindanao, but the Téduray and Lambangian continue their non-violent strategy for peace in the midst of conflict.  They have proudly preserved their identity, governance and justice system since time immemorial. Like all peoples of the world, they deserve self determination. It’s time that the world know of their nonviolent struggle for self determination and stand in solidarity.


  1. These include mineral resources, petroleum, natural gas, coal, and uranium
  2. The Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao was recognized in the Final Peace Agreement between the Moro National Liberation Front and the GRP in 1976, but peace was not attained. Thus, while technically the ARMM is autonomous, in reality it is still a contested land.
  3. The Lambangian were born from the intermarriage of the Téduray with the Dulangan Manobo tribe in the 1600s.
  4. Unified Statement of the Non-Islamised Indigenous Peoples in the ARMM issued on Aug. 17, 2012
  5. These are in the areas of Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat in Mindanao under the current geographical divisions in Mindanao.
  6. The TJG is the indigenous political structure of the Téduray and Lambangian
  7. From an interview conducted by the author with Titay Bleyen Santos Unsad Feb. 13, 2018.
  8. “Teduray and Lambangian Right to Self-Determination Struggle”, presented by Titay Bleyen Santos Unsad at the Asian No Nukes Peace Forum in Malabon, Philippines on Feb. 10, 2018. The Sultanate of Sulu was founded in 1405.
  9. The Sultanate of Sulu was founded in 1405.
  10. “Teduray and Lambangian Right to Self-Determination Struggle”, ibid.
  11. Under this concept, private title to land must be traced to some grant, express or implied, from the Spanish Crown or its successors, the American Colonial Government, and thereafter, the Philippine Republic. The Lumads and Moros did not have titles for their lands, so these lands were declared public lands belonging to the State.
  12. The Timuay Justice and Governance, unpublished document provided by Titay Bleyen(Deputy Chieftain) Santos Unsad.
  13. Gerard van Dorp, The Voice of the Lumad, Cotabato City: CCFD: Terre-Solidaire, 2014, p. 13
  14. Situation of Indigenous Peoples in the ARMM, their Ancestral Domain/Lands and Peace in Mindanao, powerpoint presentation by Titay Bleyen (Deputy Chieftain) Santos Unsad.
  15. The Dulangan Manobo is another Lumad tribe that lives within the ARMM territory; it has another system of governance.
  16. The Timuay Justice and Governance. ibid
  17. “Teduray and Lambangian Right to Self-Determination Struggle”, ibid.
  18. Mindanao People’s Peace Movement, Working Paper for the Katawhang Lumad Pre-summit, Oct. 2013, unpublished document.
  19. The number is based on a 2014 survey cited in Titay Bleyen Santos Unsad powerpoint presentation “Teduray and Lambangian Right to Self-Determination Struggle”, presented at the Asian No Nukes Peace Forum in Malabon, Philippines on February 10, 2018.
  20. From an interview conducted with Titay Bleyen (Assistant Supreme Tribal Chieftain of the indigenous people in the area)Santos Unsad on Feb. 13, 2018.
  21. “NON-ISLAMIZED INDIGENOUS PEOPLES of Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and Portion of Sultan Kudarat Province”, Powerpoint presentation by the Timuay Justice and Governance.