By ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
BOTOLAN, the Philippines — What I saw when I went to the Loob Bunga Resettlement Area in Botolan, Zambales, sometime last month was different from what I had expected to see.
I had gone to Loob Bunga as one of the speakers for the first Art Camp organized by the Kabataang Artista para sa Tunay na Kalayaan (Karatula or Youth Artists for Genuine Freedom) in cooperation with the Sangguniang Kabataan (Youth Council) of Barangay (village) Maquisquis, where the venue for the workshop is located. Zambales is a province 280 kms north of Manila.
A first of its kind for Karatula, the art camp was a three-day series of workshop sessions on the various artistic genres held at the Loob Bunga High School, and I was the speaker for creative writing – with Orlando Castillo for visual arts, Erwin Forte for theater, and Louie Eslao for music. Residents of Loob Bunga, particularly of barangay (village) Maquisquis, joined members of Karatula’s affiliated groups and local chapters in Metro Manila and Pangasinan in the workshop sessions.
I had headed for Loob Bunga expecting that the majority of our students would be from the Aeta, an indigenous group in the mountainous areas of Luzon who physically resemble several ethnic groups in Central Africa. Loob Bunga, after all, was one of the areas where residents of entire Aeta villages were relocated following the 1992 eruption of Mount Pinatubo. But in the four days that we stayed there, we hardly saw Aetas.
Children in Zambales performing during the art camp. (Photo courtesy of Karatula)
According to Victor Perido, a teacher at the Loob Bunga High School and one of the participants in the creative writing workshop, Aetas made up the majority of settlers at Loob Bunga in the years immediately following Mount Pinatubo’s eruption, but their number has dwindled as many among them have been forced to search for livelihood opportunities elsewhere. “Aetas now comprise only about 20-25 percent of the locals here today,” he told Bulatlat.
Perido did not say why this was the case, but the Aetas’ nomadic character – a consequence of their hunting-gathering culture – may have played a part in this.
Perido also shared that among the few Aetas who remain, the sense of identity is fast eroding because of the influence of pop culture.
The same goes, he said, for the locals who are part of the Sambal, the indigenous group after whom the province is named.
Indeed, I noticed that many of the Sambal youths who attended the workshop sessions could give Metro Manila youngsters a run for their money when it comes to fashion. They wear their hair short in front and long at the back, and often with blond streaks at that, as well as T-shirts one or two sizes too small, and long checkered shorts – the popular combination among pop culture-obsessed young people in Metro Manila these days.
If these Sambal youths were anywhere in Metro Manila, you would find it impossible to distinguish them from Metro Manila youth, unless you hear them speak.
Many in their community, especially among the young people, also tend to look outward, Perido shares.
“Many go away to study or work in Olongapo City and in major towns like Subic and Iba,” he said.
This phenomenon has resulted, among other things, in parents being unable to properly monitor their children as they grow up. Because of this, Perido said, many youths in the community often choose to marry anywya and do not finish their studies. He also mentioned family dysfunction and drug addiction as among the problems this phenomenon has brought about.
These problems were tackled in the output of the participants in the theater workshop. The participants in the visual arts workshop came up with mini-murals reflecting questions of identity as highlighted by the conflict between indigenous culture and pop culture. The music workshop’s participants came up with songs about social change and equality, as well as one encouraging people to come to Botolan. The participants in the creative writing workshop came up, among other things, with poems dealing with the environment and social justice.
The workshop participants’ output was showcased in a cultural night held on May 14. The mini-murals from the visual art workshop’s participants served as the backdrop for the stage where those who participated in the other workshops performed their own pieces.
The event was well-attended by the community residents. Many of the community youth as well as some of the elders were amused at seeing their relatives or friends among the performers, but they applauded the performances despite problems with the sound system.
The reception to the performances showed that “they will remember (the activity) for a long time,” as Eslao put it.
Many participants hoped that activities like the art Camp will lead people like the Loob Bunga locals to take a look at questions of vanishing identity and culture. (Bulatlat.com)