Mindanao (Philippines): Mt Firis revisited by hostilities – Its history and value to the Teduray and Lambangian tribes

A briefer on Mt Firis and its value to the Teduray and Lambangian tribes in Maguindanao province collated by Alim M. Bandara in 2012. Alim Bandara is currently a member of the Council of Leaders (Minted Sa Inged) and formerly the Supreme Chief (Timuay Labi) of the Timuay Justice and Governance. TJG is the Indigenous Political Structure of the Teduray and Lambangian tribes.

The sacred Batew at Mt. Firis


Mt. Firis is a place that is filled with histories of joys and sorrows and of contentment and miseries among the locals, their guests and visitors. But the locals in contemporary period mostly Teduray, Lambangian and Dulangan Manobo live a life always on the balance.

The guests and visitors include among others several commanders from the time of the so called Blackshirts, then the MNLF-BMA, the MILF-BIAF and currently the BIFM-BIFF. In addition, kidnap for runsome groups also love to stay in the area though understandably, they are not stationary. At one time, a certain commander Toothpick also became one of the guests. And because of this concrete situation in the area, it is impossible to think that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) not to focus their lenses on said area. This alone is enough to explain that the neighborhood is volatile and prone to hostilities.

The questions many people are curiously looking for are why do the local inhabitants of Mt. Firis neighborhood do not want to leave the area? Do they have valuables that cannot be moved to other places or just simply taking the risk? Or do tribal leaders and government authorities keep a blind eye on the security issues of the people in the area?

Yes, lot of questions needed to be answered but this narrative will not attempt to clear the doubts posted above but rather share accounts on the extent of freedom enjoyed by the locals in the past, the ebb and flow of hostilities in the area and their beliefs and conviction to stay-put despite the fact that the place is again and again revisited by the “segoyong frayag” (spirit of the fire or wars). To them though, peace is elusive but not impossible. With this, the viewers, the interveners and decision makers will be able to visualize the area, the victims and significant events with the end view of asking everyone to join together in braving the way towards understanding the conflict and in building peace.

 Brief Accounts of the sacred places and the neighboring villages

The Mt. Firis neighborhood is a place treasured by the Teduray and Lambangian people in Mindanao. Accounts of famous leaders in the area are told in folklores and epics where the most prominent were Lagey Lengkuwos, Lagey Firis, Lagey Seboten and the most recent in history was 1Sgt. Mow or Maw all traced their origin from the neighbourhood now called Mt. Firis.

Lagey Lengkuwos and Lagey Firis became popular because of their hard work in building a peaceful and prosperous community and defended their people against cruel acts made by the “dumon keilwan” (fellow human beings) and the “tegelibaken” (bad spirits). They are brave, witty and charismatic leaders and at different period in history Lagey Lengkuwos and Lagey Firis completed their mission of liberating their people from “rasay” (sufferings) through “diyat” (going to heaven alive). The other one is Lagey Seboten who considered earth as mother to humanity, an expert in agriculture and cared so much to people even those who refused to believe him. He and his followers are believed by the Teduray as “senirung” (sheltered). Meaning they are still on earth but no longer visible to human beings. And the recent in history was Mow or Maw, a warrior during the Philippine Commonwealth period as member of the Philippine Constabulary with the rank of 1Sgt but on OWOL or Out Without Official Leave and preferred to personally assist and defend his tribe and people but was said to be imprisoned by the authorities in the early 1900s. To date there is no certainty as to his whereabouts though many believed that he is just around and alive.

Without mentioning details on the long stories of diyat, senirung and the imprisonment of 1Sgt. Mow I, we will just describe the best we can the significance of the Mt. Firis neighborhood to the Teduray by presenting the most prominent landmarks in the area – the uruk Lengkuwos (Mt. Lengkuwos), uruk Meringen (Mt. Meringen), uruk Firis (Mt. Firis) and Batew (stone).

Uruk Lengkuwos is where Lagey Lengkuwos took off when they go for the diyat and today it is located south-west of uruk Meringen. The poles of the tenines (worship house) of Lagey Lengkuwos turned stones after their departure to heaven are still found in the area. This made it sacred and second to Tawan-tawan (PC Hill, Cotabato City). And of the same importance and value is batew, a stone that grew and getting bigger and bigger afoot of Mt. Firis in its southern portion and is today located east of Meringen and uruk Lengkuwos. In between the two famous mountains is Ahan River that sneaked its way northward down to the Dohon river. Most likely as described in many folklores that the senirung are at the northern portion of Meringen but no landmarks can ever be traced to them. And the Mt. Firis, like uruk Lengkuwos; it was the take off place of Lagey Firis when he followed the foot steps of Lagey Lengkuwos in bringing his followers to heaven through diyat.

 The contemporary Leaders at Mt. Firis neighborhood

1Sgt. Mow I was a Philippine Constabulary officer and is considered one of the contemporary leaders who took the lead in re-establishing a typical Teduray settlement at Mt. Firis specifically at Batew. He formed “timanan” (communal farms) and established the core leadership structures in Batew. He stands as the overall Chief with a justice officer to resolve conflicts, spiritual chieftain, economic officer, alliance officer, defense chief and a spokesman with the title Linggi-o Derer (a term synonymous to thunder). With this, people from as far as dogot (meaning the coastal area of Upi but now DBS), Awang to Upi and Tran came to Batew for the rituals. The birth of Batew as a new spiritual center carried out by the spiritual chieftain of 1Sgt. Mow in the early 1900s reinforced the faith and beliefs of the people and strengthened their conviction to stand guard over the historically respected, honored and revered places of Mts. Firis, Lengkuwos and Meringen.

Aware that their customary-governance and justice systems, economic activities and spiritual practices are endangered by the “kolonia” (Teduray corrupted word for colony or colonial), the defense chief of 1Sgt. Mow organized the alangkat (fence/shield), a movement for the protection of the territory, the preservation of the customary-governance and justice system, economic activities and spiritual or traditional beliefs system through mass education led by the bliyan during “kanduli/tulak” (rituals) on the practice and exercise of customary laws.

But the Philippine Commonwealth was so jealous that some government and military officials suspected the officialdom of 1Sgt. Mow of initiating an uprising against the Commonwealth government. And instead of knowing what were the issues and concerns of the tribe, the Commonwealth government ordered their police to apprehend the ritualist and discourage traditional mass education during rituals and special gatherings. Because of this, 1Sgt. Mow voluntarily submitted himself to the authority to protect his followers from embarrassment and harassment.

After leaving Mt. Firis, the people started to disperse and went to as far as Awang, dogot, Upi, Tran, Kauran and other areas. The bliyans were at a time afraid to perform their rituals. And there was a lull in the installation of leaders at Mt. Firis. For several decades the people who choose to stayed experience cases of repression, killings, harassment, cattle rustlings and the likes from the “tulisan” (bandits).

After the World War II, the tribal leaders begun to re-establish their leadership structures beginning from the time of Chieftain Yey Takilid, a former close in follower of 1Sgt. Mow, then followed by Masla Mama Takilid as tiniente del bario of Ahan. In 1960s, Antonio Batitao was appointed the first kapitan del barrio of Ahan, the youngest at the age of 15. It was at the time of kapitan del barrio Batitao that running battles with the bandits happened from 1968 to 1970 when the Teduray allied with a certain Commander Toothpick who introduced himself as the son of 1Sgt. Mow. This time, the recovery program at Mt. Firis was destructed again by hostilities. Houses were burnt and work animals were taken by the bandits. The people of Firis went to neighboring villages and to the poblacion of Maganoy. Other leaders went to Esperanza and South Upi.

Then in early 1970s, Chieftain Banda Paglis took the leadership and stayed at Ahan. He tried to befriend all people including the bandits just to ensure that peace will prevail in the village. For a time, there was harmony but when the bandits ordered him again and again to fill up 20, 50 or 100 empty sacks with palay and asked him to deliver it to where the commander wanted it to be, the Chieftain felt bad and so hurt for he felt no longer the Chieftain of his people but of the bandits so he decided to stop being the Chieftain and took a rest at Esperanza and simply focused to his family.

In 1975, Gogon Ignacio, daughter of 1Sgt. Mow took over the position of Banda Paglis. This time, the bandits’ hideouts were taken over by the MNLF and Gogon with all respect coordinated with the rebel forces and even agree to give sakat or revolutionary taxes. But as time passed by, she observed that some elements of the MNLF were doing things other than their commanders ordered them to do and her complaints to the commanders also fell to deaf ears.

Because of those experiences, she decided to go to Maganoy. But at the poblacion, lives were difficult for farmers like her followers. And in 1984 through the order of Maganoy Mayor Datu Akilan Ampatuan she brought back her people no longer to Ahan but to Batew at Mt. Firis. And with the fertile soil and some assistance from the Mayor, their farming activities fast develop and transforming their community into a normal and typical village life without experiencing food crisis and other materials except things that can only be obtained with money.

Since then, they live a simple but happy life at Mt. Firis. They continued to befriend the MNLF Commanders with renewed commitments. But in 1996 with the GRP and MNLF peace agreement, the MNLF camp at Mt. Firis was taken over by the MILF under Umbra Kato and made popular as camp Omar. Though the followers of Kato were known as the disciplined forces, the Teduray were also critical to their Islamic policies that at times conflict with their local beliefs. And in 1998, Chieftain Gogon Ignacio died and was buried at Batew. Her position was assumed by Salipada Kaul and later taken over by non IP leaders.

Specifically for the residence of Batew, a certain Rogelio Sangkupan led the people and continued the relationship with the MILF at Camp Omar under commander Umbra Kato. Then in 2000, major changes happened when His Excellency President Erap Estrada ordered the all out war against the MILF where camp Omar was bombarded by the military. It was also on this year that Chieftain Rogelio Sangkupan together with Tony Ulama were believed to be salvaged by the rebel forces and their bodies were not recovered.

On the same year, the followers of Chieftain Rogelio Sangkupan that time led by Lorhe Met and Allan Balinto gathered at sitio Kemeder also of Mt. Firis east of camp Omar. The tribal leaders coordinated their security situation to the military assigned at Hill 224 detachment and prompted decision to transfer the civilians from sitio Kemeder to Hill 224. That started the exodus of more than 200 families from camp Omar an MILF camp to Hill 224 a military detachment. Later, the able bodied males were given military training and issued firearms to augment the limited number of regular army to defend the detachment turned settlement for the more that 200 families.


From the 2000 all out war to the 2007 MOA-AD conflict and now the BIFF attacks plus minor skirmishes and at one time, a clearing operation against the so called Penthagon kidnap group not to mention the troubles created by the tulisan and Toothpick gangs in the past. In the current wars, the military use the full force of their mortar cannons and air powers to demolish enemy positions. And in the same manner, the rebel forces employed their full force and strength. For outsiders, it is easy for them to understand the impact and effects of those wars to the living conditions of the Teduray and Lambangian resettled at the Hill 224. But other community experiences are still unknown to stranger and with the permission we got from the community, we can now discuss with all respects and honesty the “melef”, an antic Teduray escape mechanism when in danger, under attack by enemy or of any perceived incoming bad elements. In simple term, a sidestep.

Much is our desire to make it clear for outsiders to understand the subject matters but borrowed language makes it difficult to explain and the only way possible to convey the idea is to make a comparative presentation of experiences with high note that this is not illustration of who is right or wrong but simply to communicate the untold stories of the people of Mt. Firis neighborhood, and presented as follows:

1. At Hill 224, a military detachment turned evacuation center and settlement for more or less 200 households, if there is no assistance for food and war implements at times that they are under attack; they felt that the “dunya” (world) is against them; and,

2. The Teduray, Lambangian and Dulangan Manobo who took refuge just along the creeks and rivers and or beside the mountains, under the trees and bushes or in extreme situation just jump few steps from their ladder to ensure that they are at least outside of their “fesayawan” (household playground) is “melef”, and if unhurt; they look at the “dunya” (world) as their rescuer and saviour.

The two (2) cases depict higher tolerance to violence plus signs of declining trust and confidence to government interventions from one group. There is also glaring contradiction between courage and hopelessness among the communities. In both cases, there is “lunson” – both are equally dangerous because lunson is an act with a suicidal tendency.

The “bito krara” concept: a situation where somebody/group wish to please each of the opposing groups in good faith. At Mt. Firis neighborhood the AFP/PNP and the rebel forces are always at war. If bito krara is applied at Mt. Firis by the people, it can be miss construed as traitor – a war crime.

But in all indications, actors in both cases are heroes of Mt. Firis neighborhood. In the past, the prize of their heroism is “diyat” but it’s a thing of the past now. Today, we are living in the new era, in a democratic society where the power of the state resides on the people. Sadly however, democracy is still elusive at Mt. Firis neighborhood. Had it been realized in words and deeds at Mt. Firis neighborhood, the Teduray, Lambangian and Dulangan Manobo had been quick to translate democracy into the present day interpretation of diyat.

But however good the new interpretation is, it doesn’t follow that the introduction of a new system will change the condition of the people of Mt. Firis from bad to better. It is proven in history that the development they enjoyed before were product of their hard work and wisdom of their leaders to establish a peaceful community. These were not imposed from outside; they worked it out within the village level without discounting however the important contributions from outside thru the “seayunon” (alliance) with neighbor tribes for mutual assistance but constantly interrupted in time. Today, it seemed that the only way forward is to establish a new social order . This is a common desire among the people affected by the conflict including the Teduray, Lambangian and Dulangan Manobo who once again re-affirmed their commitment to stand guard over their “fusaka inged” (ancestral domain) and continue the work started by their ancestors in building their own future. And in view of the call to unite, the “lumut minanga” (pluralist), a traditional framework for unity is good to try: that equal recognition and respect to commonalities and the differences begets strong and lasting unity among peoples. And if applied at Mt. Firis case, RECOGNITION OF THEIR DISTINCT IDENTITY AND RIGHTS would mean a space to participate and to be in UNITY with others for the establishment of the desired new social order.

Alim Bandara