Bai Bibyaon Ligkayan Bigkay, a lumad (national minority) woman leader, received the 3rd Gawad Tandang Sora award from the UP Diliman (UPD) College of Social Work and Community Development (CSWCD) on Feb. 23 at the CSWCD Bulwagang Tandang Sora.
We are bestowing the award to a person who shares our vision and mission of continually striving for peace, justice and sustainable well-being of the Filipino and global community, of being committed to and being one with the marginalized people. This ceremony is a milestone event of the College as we celebrate our 50th anniversary,” CSWCD Dean Jocelyn T. Caragay said in her welcome remarks.
Bai Bigkay. An indigenous woman leader, she is the only female chieftain in the history of the Manobo tribe. Bigkay has led the defense of the Manobo ancestral land since 1994. She was among those who led the “pangayaw” (tribal war) against the intrusion of a destructive logging company that threatened to destroy ancestral lands in the Pantaron mountain range of Talaingod, Davao del Norte in 1994.
“Bai Bigkay is an inspiration to all of us younger than her to continue serving and fighting for the rights of Filipinos especially those who are oppressed and underprivileged,” UPD Chancellor Michael L. Tan said in his message. He also said she joined the multi-sectoral rally in UPD “and walked around the Academic Oval” this February calling for the resumption of peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front.
“Her exact age, estimated between 70 and 90 years, and parents’ names cannot be determined because she has no birth certificate. But she was already alive during the Japanese occupation,” Sr. Noemi Degala, SMSM of Initiatives for Peace in Mindanao said when she introduced her.
“By the Indigenous Peoples of Mindanao, she is called the Woman Warrior of Talaingod. To women’s groups, the Gabriela Silang of Mindanao. Today, she is to be honored as CSWCD’s Tandang Sora. By the Philippine government, a ‘rebel.’ By social workers of the previous administrations, ‘a victim of a large-scale kidnapping disguised as internally-displaced’. And by the paramilitary group Alamara, ‘a coveted trophy for war,’” Degala said.
In accepting the award, Bai Bigkay needed two interpreters for her response. Her fellow Manobo chieftain Datu Aylo Buntolan translated her speech to Visayan and Degala translated the Visayan version to English.
The awardee first remarked on her name. “My first name is Ligkayan and my last name is Bigkay. ‘Bai’ is a dignified honorific title given to Mindanao women of stature while ‘Bibyaon’ is my title as my tribe’s chieftain,” she explained. She was forced to lead when their datus died defending their land and people against government forces in the service of mining and logging interests decades ago.
Among her other accomplishments were organizing other indigenous women leaders and forming the “Sabokahan to mo Lumad Kamalitanan” (Confederation of Lumad Women) and being instrumental in the growth of the “Salugpungan Ta Tanu Igkanugon Learning Center” which started in her community but now runs around 50 elementary and high school campuses for indigenous children.
“I am happy because of the recognition of my contributions for our community and the country. But I am sad at the same time because I am still wanted by the military in the Pantaron range,” Bai Bigkay said.
“My advice to the youth is that education and protest actions are not only on the “kapatagan” (urban areas) but also in the “kanayunan” (rural areas). They should also defend the environment and the cause of the oppressed people in the rural areas, particularly the right to preserve their ancestral domain,” Bai Bigkay said in closing.
“As Bai Bigkay receives the Gawad Tandang Sora award, we are not only honoring her, but in truth, she was bestowing honor to us as a college,” Dr. Judy M. Taguiwalo, Gawad Tandang Sora Committee Chairperson, said. She was a CSWCD professor and was appointed Secretary of the Department of Social Work and Development by Pres. Rodrigo R. Duterte in May 2016.
Gawad Tandang Sora. The award is bestowed upon outstanding academics, practitioners or organizations that rendered excellent service in the fields of social work, community development, women and development, and social development. The award is named after Melchora “Tandang Sora” Aquino, the “Mother of the Philippine Revolution,”
The first recipient of the award was a CSWCD academic, Prof. Flora Lansang, who fought against Martial Law in the 1970s. She was honored during UP’s centennial celebrations in 2008. The second awardee, Salvacion “Nanay Salve” Basiano, is the founding president of the Confederation of Older Peoples’ Associations of the Philippines (COPAP) and an advocate of the rights and welfare of women and the elderly. She was honored during the bicentenary celebrations of the birth of Tandang Sora in 2012. The award is given only during important events.
In addition to the certificate of recognition, Bai Bigkay also received a trophy made by UP Artist and College of Fine Arts professor and former dean Leonilo Doloricon and a cash award from the Office of the Chancellor of UPD. (With reports from CSWCD)