“Why are they depriving people of their lands?” – Mayeth Corpuz, an Agta, secretary general of the Samahan ng mga Katutubo sa Sierra Madre (SKSM)
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA — At the People’s State of the Nation Address on July 28, about 100 indigenous peoples came down from their mountain villages in Luzon and joined protesters in Metro Manila to call for a change in government policies, and President Aquino’s ouster.
From the Igorots of the north to the Mangyans of southern Luzon, indigenous peoples decry the same development aggression, dispossession of their ancestral lands and militarization.
Among the indigenous peoples at the People’s SONA were the Aytas from Tarlac and Pampanga and Agtas from Aurora who joined peasants from Central Luzon. From Southern Tagalog, the Mangyans of Mindoro came with peasants, workers and urban poor from Cavite, Laguna, Quezon and Batangas. The protesters from the two regions have been on the road since last week, some of them as early as Thursday. They had encamped in front of the Department of Agrarian Reform since Saturday, July 26.
“What can we expect in this situation? It has been four years and he did nothing for us tribal peoples even as we brought our issues to him. Instead, government deployed soldiers on us,” said Mayeth Corpuz, an Agta and secretary general of the Samahan ng mga Katutubo sa Sierra Madre (SKSM). Corpuz had left her home in San Luis, Aurora after soldiers threatened her life in 2007.
She said that droves of soldiers continue to operate in the Agta communities, as the indigenous peoples of Aurora province resist the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport (Apeco). Corpuz said APECO exemplifies how a project that was put into law supposedly “for the people” are divesting people of resources.
“Why are they depriving people of their lands?” Corpuz said farmers can no longer use once-productive farmlands that have been turned into an airport. She added that some parts of the national road and farm-to-market roads in Dibet, Casiguran are now inaccessible to farmers because these were covered by APECO.
Other government “development projects” have been eating into the farm areas in the ancestral domains of indigenous peoples.
Edwin Danan, secretary general of the Central Luzon Ayta Association (Claa) cited the Clark Green City, which spans 36,000 hectares of ancestral territories in Capas and Bamban in Tarlac province and in Angeles City in Pampanga.
“They will construct big buildings, golf courses, and subdivisions, while some indigenous peoples will be kept as tokens for ecotourism,” Danan said.
In his hometown in Porac, Danan said, the government refused to acknowledge the people’s refusal to allow the Aboitiz Geothermal plant in their communities. Instead, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) is trying to convince the Aytas to accept the power project. The plant will affect up to 20,700 hectares of ancestral lands in Porac and Floridablanca, Pampanga, and in Olongapo City and Botolan in Zambales.
Danan said government tactics range from bribing indigenous peoples to threatening them. In Sta. Juliana village in Capas, Tarlac, the presence of soldiers of the 56th Infantry Battalion in the community drove up to 20 Ayta families to leave. They are now living under a bridge in Angeles City, Pampanga. “Many others are able to keep their ground because they are resisting,” Danan said.
Among those threatened with displacement are the Aytas of sitio Suclaban, Anupol village in Bamban. The Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) had put up a large signboard saying that the land in their community is a private property of the BCDA and any other occupant is an informal settler.
“They called us informal settlers in our own ancestral domain,” the Aytas lamented.
The same situation goes for the indigenous peoples down south of Luzon, the Mangyans of Mindoro.
“We joined the SONA to express the problems of the indigenous peoples, who are one of the most marginalized sectors of society, deprived of social services and support from government, such as education, health and livelihood,” said Amit Gabriel, 50, secretary general of the Hagibbat.
Hagibbat stands for the seven Mangyan tribes of Mindoro island: Hanunuo, Alangan, Gubatnon, Iraya, Buhid, Bangon, and Tadyawan.
“We never felt any benefits from DAP. There were no facilities built for schools in the mountains. The government has scholarships but these are for a selected few, and very few indigenous peoples benefit. It also becomes a platform for traditional politicians to promote themselves,” said Gabriel.
In Mindoro, there are 99 mining applications covering ancestral lands and threatening displacement of indigenous peoples.
Gabriel said the Mangyan’s main livelihood come from swidden farms, which are getting smaller and smaller with the entry of mining and government projects. This means less income and less food to eat.
Pepe Mendoza, a Mangyan of the Tadyawan tribe, said they are barely keeping up, with the prices of their products very low, while other basic goods are skyrocketing. Bananas are sold at P80 ($1.80) per 100 pieces, with at least 20 pieces thrown in for free. Meanwhile, rice is priced at up to P44 ($1) per kilo, even just after harvest time.
“Tribal peoples are very industrious, specially the youth,” said Mendoza. “But what good will it do to make the land productive, only for the mines to come in and destroy the land.”
“Land to the indigenous peoples is our life, our school, our home,” Claa’s Danan said. “As we call for respect to our right to ancestral domains and self-determination, we join other sectors in the efforts to oust the Aquino regime.”