This community profile and report is the product of the fieldwork done by the team last February 8, 2014 at the Aeta Community in Cabangan Zambales. The methodologies implemented in gathering the data include interviews mainly of the tribal leader and a handful of community elders, who provided an overview of the situation of the community, and on-site observations. As part of the main objective of the immersion activity, general descriptions of the community, along with its historical and cultural background provided by the natives were contextualized on mining and its effects on the area.
The Aeta Community is settled in Sitio Maporac, one of the barrios within Barangay New San Juan in Cabangan, Zambales. The total land area of the ancestral domain in Sitio Maporac is approximately 6, 203 hectares. The residential settlement in Sitio Maporac comprises only 10% of the total land area of the designated ancestral domain in Cabangan. Among the notable land formations in the area are the mountain ranges covered with a lush forest far up in the north and wide grassland area in the south. Its water system stems from the upland and flows down, collecting near the residential area. Going to the interior of Barangay San Juan where the Aeta community resides, one needs to cross a river which isolates (geographically) the Indigenous People’s (IP) settlement there from the rest of the community. According to the locals there, heavy rains can swell of up to more than 10 feet, completely denying access to the Aeta community. The mountain ranges which surrounds the ancestral domain also serves as the political boundary, in which we can see that the marker fences mostly, follow the peaks of the mountains. Mt. Sta. Cruz is the most proximate mountain with respect to the residential area. Up north into the center of the ancestral land is a protected area which has been found rich in biodiversity, and has flora and fauna species which are unique in that area. Lying also within the protected area are some sites which the Aetas regard as sacred based on their ethnic traditions. Scattered in places around the protected area are the burial sites of the Aetas. The whole territory has a deep spiritual and cultural significance to the Aetas, primarily because they believe that it is the abode of their Supreme Being, Apo Namalyari, and other spirits and deities. For them, their ancestral land is the source of their food, water, shelter, and medicine.
According to Mr. Salvador Dimain, leader of the Aeta community and commonly known as “Ka Badong”, there are approximately 200 Aeta families living in Maporac. The number of children per family ranges from 4-15 with an average of 7, making the estimated population about 1,400 individuals. Average life expectancy is higher in the area, ranging from 70-100 years, and according to the locals, one of their elders had already reached 92. A large proportion of the population belongs to ages 18 and above. Our group cannot exactly tell the general trend of the population, but it is important to note that according to the natives, there have been no cases of epidemics in their locality. In terms of literacy, the majority of the population can read and write even though there is a limited access to education.
Assessing the level of infrastructures established in the community, it can be said that it is still below standard and there is much more to be done in order to meet the basic necessities of the Aeta community there. The transport network of community is still far from being developed, as characterized by the dirt roads and the absence of at least paratransit modes like animal driven carts or tricycle, making mobility possible only through walking. In addition to this, the river running between the barangay proper and the Aeta community has no built-up bridge over it, totally cutting access in times of flooding. There have been some projects spearheaded by the barangay, such as 2 public toilets and footbridges. Access to potable water has been one of the difficulties in this community, mainly because the Aetas only get their water from the deep wells with no permanent access to water lines. Most of the households also have no access to electricity, as well as to sewerage system, which translates to poor sanitary waste disposal. The provision of basic public services in the community is also depressing, as the locals there said that most of the social services there were provided by Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) such as Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) and some were painstakingly provided by the Aetas themselves. San Juan Primary School, the only elementary school in the community, was jointly provided by an NGO and the National Commission for Indigenous People (NCIP), and only caters pupils up until grade three. In line with this, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) provided a Day Care Center to serve the needs of young Aetas in the community. While taking a tour around the IP community, our group saw a library which stores plenty of books donated by ATM. There is no health center within or proximate the area, so the Aetas need to go to the town proper to avail of medical services. The locals especially the elderly have relied on their traditional herbal medicines in treating diseases. On certain occasions like every once a month, NGOs hold medical missions which include free immunization for Aeta kids.
Majority of the Aeta population is not employed and they have relied heavily on agriculture, raising farm animals such as cow and chicken, and other forms of subsistence livelihood like hunting and coal making. Because of the absence of an irrigational system and limited supply of water from the deep well, the natives could not plant rice but instead shifted to crops like sugarcane, pechay, eggplant, ampalaya, and kamoteng baging. Lahar which has remained from the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo has reduced the arable land in the area. The dry spells have also been a challenge to the community thriving from subsistence farming, drying up not only their crops but also their source of water. It can also be noted that although there are river systems within the area, fishing has not been an economic activity, because of the shallow waters that the river system have. Lack of access to secondary and tertiary education puts further struggle to the Aetas in looking for job opportunities aside from the ethnic discrimination that they are experiencing. Despite the desire of the families to improve their quality of life by sending their children to school, they cannot afford to do so, confining them to live by means of whatever their environment has provided them. Those that have been lucky ended up taking vocational courses provided by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), while there were already 2 members of the Aeta community that finished a degree in Forestry. The pervasive problems affecting the socio-economic condition of the community have become cyclical, but when we ask the natives on what they want to be prioritized, they responded education. They said that they have been surviving with their source of livelihood but it is access to free, quality education that would free them form the present living condition that they have.
The present Aeta community traces its origins back to the early permanent Aeta settlement (which became the present day Maporac) before the Spaniards came to the Philippines. Even during the Spanish Era, the natives were able to hold their claim over the land, as there were no accounts of successful conquests in the ancestral land by the Spaniards. Many generations have passed and while many of the ethnic traditions are long gone, there were still a handful that survived. As expected from an ethnic group, The Aetas have their own political structure, having a leader which is selected by the elders (members of the community aging 60 and above), and should first and foremost be a genuine IP to be qualified. Their laws are based from their so-called Customary Law which is comparable to a Constitution. Contained in their Customary Law are their traditions, like fixed marriages and prohibition marrying and outsider, and appropriate punishments for crimes like stealing. Ceremonial dances like the Talipi and Sikutin, a war dance, were also practiced before. The current leader of the Aeta community is Mr. Salvador Dimain, more commonly known as “Ka Badong”, and some of the elders that we have interviewed are Mr. Francisco Dacpano, Mr. Alfredo Alarba, and Mr. Gregorio Dela Cruz. The political dynamics between the Aeta community and the barangay government can be seen with the way community issues are resolved. As much as possible, if a problem arises involving Aetas, the community tries to solve it amongst themselves. However, if the issue involves an outsider, then that’s the time when the barangay jurisdiction comes in. Currently, a member of the Aeta community sits as a Barangay Kagawad in New San Juan.
Among the prevalent problems faced by the Aeta community, their struggle against mining activities and land grabbing in the protected areas has been their longest-standing battle. Ka Badong stressed during the interview that the community is not entirely against mining; however, companies wanting to establish mining activities in the area should first seek permission from the natives (Free Prior and Informed Consent) and should come up with an agreement with them on the responsible extraction of mineral resources. Most of the time, mining companies disregard the FPIC and assert their ownership of the land, resorting to fake documents like land title and tax declaration form, which the Aetas find it hard to contest. The struggle against opportunistic land grabbers has been going as early as 1927, according to the historical account of Ka Badong. During this time, a lowlander named Jose Pidenes learned that the lands have no titles and took advantage of it by applying for ownership. He was declared owner through a Tax Declaration. In the 1940s, the ancestral lands also fell victim from the intrusion of logging activities. A man known as Mr. Santos and Mayor Juan Pastor initiated logging operations in the protected areas. In 1950s, an order to bulldoze and fence the area was given by Jose Pidenes to prevent the resettlement of the Aetas. The Aeta community did not have a formal claim to the ancestral land until 1993, when Ka Badong initiated the application for the Certificate of Ancestral Domain Claim (CADC). Former president Fidel V. Ramos awarded the CADC to the Maporac Aeta Community in 1996. As of now, the only thing that keeps the land security from the Aetas is the Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title, which is yet to be awarded. Obviously, the Aeta community is left at the mercy of the NGOs that support their cause, for they receive little or no help from the Local Government. Chromite, nickel, and talc are among the rich mineral resources within the protected areas which attract the mining companies and drive them to do whatever means necessary to claim ownership over the area. The Department of Environment and natural Resources has approved 3 mining permits as of now, all of which are small scale. However, this small scale classification is kind of misleading because these companies employ heavy equipment in their extraction activities. The negative impacts of the extractive attempts on the protected areas were the displacement of the former Aeta settlement in Maporac, and the degradation of its biodiversity which includes the depletion of most of the forest areas, and the pollution of the deep wells. Aeta community’s battle in protecting their homeland and preserving its resources goes way beyond the socio-economic costs posed by the illegal extractive activities such as mining. Their struggle is rooted in their deep spiritual and cultural connection with their environment which they consider their “home” and their “life”.
-Feljune Pangilinan, 2011-10860