“Even before the Spaniards came, we were already on the land. We have lived here for centuries, and we’re still here up to now.
By DEE AYROSO
She has been called many names: “anti-development,” Leftist, even “rebel-supporter.” But foremost of all, Aileen Catamin, 44, a mother of seven children, is a Tumanduk, an indigenous peoples tribe in Panay island. And she is fighting the Jalaur River Multipurpose Project II which will submerge their homes and ancestral territories.
Catamin hails from Tacayan village, Tapaz town, Capiz and is the secretary general of the Tumanduk nga Mangunguma nga Nagapangapin sa Duta kag Kabuhi, or the Tumanduk Farmers in Defense of Land and Life (Tumanduk).
“Even before the Spaniards came, we were already on the land. We have lived here for centuries, and we’re still here up to now,” she said.
Catamin cannot see why a project for “development” must bring destruction and displacement for the indigenous peoples.
“We need to resist, because if we don’t, we will lose all our lands, our livelihood and we will not be able to preserve our culture and traditions of the Tumanduk,” said Catamin.
In 1962, President Diosdado Macapagal signed presidential Proclamation 67, which declared the Tumanduk lands as a military reservation of the Philippine Army.
The area covers 33,310 hectares of farm lands, grass lands and forests along the Pan-ay River in the towns of Tapaz and Jamindan in Capiz province. It was converted into the training base of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, Camp Macario Peralta Jr.
The Tumanduks resisted the intrusion through the decades, which include the imposition of “tumado,” a form of land rent by the military. During martial law and in the succeeding regimes, military troops terrorized the communities, through strafing, burning, looting of homes and killing.
But the Tumanduks stood their ground. Even though the government had not yet driven them out, their right to their lands continues to be threatened.
In 1996, Catamin said they strengthened their stand with the formation of their organization, called Tumanduk.
“We formalized the organization in 1996,” Catamin said. “From every tribe in each community, there are leaders for political tasks, culture, education. They consulted with each other and managed the groups.”
In the first assembly, more than 600 Tumanduks came from the four towns of Lambunao, Calinog, Jamindan, and Tapaz. Then they started forming the municipal chapters.
“We wanted to form an organization so that we have a force to lean on as we fight for our right to our ancestral lands,” said Catamin.
“If we had no organization, they could have easily swept us all away,” she said.
The Tumanduk made resolutions calling for the repeal of Proclamation 67, forming alliances with provincial, sectoral groups and church organizations. The group continues this work up to the present.
In 2012, the 3rd ID announced plans to open the camp to private business for ecotourism projects. The Tumanduks promptly opposed this, which led to a congressional investigation. The military continues to accommodate tours to the camp, flaunting the beauty of nature in the Tumanduk ancestral territories.
The Tumanduks are now faced with two dam projects – the Jalaur River Multipurpose Project II, and the Pan-ay river dam – which are just one of the energy infrastructure projects that the Aquino administration is pushing for, to solve the “looming power crisis.”
The $208-million Jalaur megadam, which will rise up to 109 meters, will generate 6.6 megawatts of hydropower, as well as provide irrigation. It will also submerge 500,000 hectares of lands, covering 19 villages in Capiz and Iloilo provinces, affecting 17,000 Tumanduks.
The Pan-ay dam affects 18 villages and, Catamin said, the military are now “clearing” these areas.
As the dam projects threaten to submerge their communities, these had already created a division among the Tumanduks.
In 2011, the National Irrigation Authority (NIA) started consulting with community residents in the lowlands. They acceded.
Then the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) came to the communities. The NCIP had been condemned by indigenous peoples groups as representative of private companies bringing their projects, and acquiring the indigenous communities’ Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), through bribery or threats.
Along with the NIA, the NCIP presented the project to selected Tumanduk leaders, and they gave their consent.
“The Tumanduks became divided. One side, those who were formed by the NCIP, consented to the project, and these are the ones that they now regularly consult with. But most of the indigenous people did not sign. When they conducted a feasibility study, many stood up against the project,” Catamin said.
The government agencies reportedly cited free education, health services and jobs for the Tumanduks, but did not mention the adverse effects of the dam.
Consensus-building for the project is finished, but six villages refused to give in. At present, repairs are being made to roads and drainage canals are being constructed.
Politicians are now chasing after the six resisting villages of Agkalaga, Alibunan, Garangan, Masaroy, Imbuniugan, and Cahigon, Catamin said.
Environmentalists have warned that the Jalaur megadam is “environmentally destructive.” Its location is 11 kilometers away from the active West Panay fault line, said the Center for Environment Concerns (CEC).
Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) also warned that the Jalaur mega dam will submerge “vast areas of vegetation that is home to various flora and fauna,” including plant species for food, therapeutic purposes as well as giving balance to the ecosystem. Threatened wildlife will also lose their homes.
‘Let the rivers flow’
On March 14, the Philippine Task Force for Indigenous Peoples’ Rights (TFIP) called for a stop to building large dams in indigenous peoples’ territories, saying that these are an “essential part” of their lives, communities and their development.
“Let their rivers flow free to nurture lives,” said Jill Cariño, TFIP convenor. She said the government should instead look for sustainable sources of energy.
“Rivers form part of the territories of many indigenous peoples and serve as good sources of food and water for household and agricultural uses,” she said.
“Numerous cases around the world show how indigenous peoples who were forced to move from their ancestral homes by dam construction have disintegrated from once cohesive and self-sufficient communities to scattered peoples suffering from hunger, unemployment and rampant social problems,” Cariño said.
Indigenous communities were “physically and culturally displaced” by the construction of dams such as the Ambuklao, Binga, San Roque, Magat, Pantabangan, Casecnan, and Pulangi IV dams. With no relocation, tribe members were forced to scatter, and integrate in non-indigenous communities.
The TFIP recalled the killing of indigenous peoples’ leaders who opposed dams, such as Macliing Dulag who led the Kalingas against the Chico river dam project, and Nicanor delos Reyes, the leader of the Dumagats who resisted the Laiban dam.
Catamin said that for her part, paramilitary men linked to politicians have threatened “that something bad” will happen to her if she doesn’t agree to the dam project.
“I’m scared, who won’t be? But if we let fear prevail, nothing will happen,” she said. “We will continue to fight through the legal process.”
Catamin said her eldest child is only in high school, and the youngest is nine years old. “The next generations of Tumanduks, our children and grandchildren would have a harder life, if we don’t struggle,” she said.