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Land is Life

An Advocacy Paper on the Land Claim and IKSP of the Aetas of Botolan, Zambales

by the:
Project Development Institute
Edited by Aurea G. Miclat- Teves

ABSTRACT
The Aetas’ concern to reclaim the Mount Pinatubo emerged out
of an ordinary community organizing works. The Aetas of
Botolan approached PDI to assist them on this issue. First PDI
created a consultation session with the Aetas themselves to
validate their concern, and then later on, with concerned
government agencies at the provincial and national levels to put
forward the Aetas’ demand. One important aspect of the Aetas’
claim in their ancestral land is their ethnicity and the land’s
ancestral value, which is evidenced in the Aetas’ narration of
their ancestors’ historical presence in the land. The Aetas are
using the IPRA law to reclaim the land. These are the ancestral
domain provision in the Indigenous People’s Rights Act (IPRA).
As of now, advocacy is centered in the land’s ancestral integrity.
It is, however, being stressed that the Aetas’ cause transcends
the land issue. Ultimately, it is the Aetas’ food security and
welfare, in the forms of economic and socio-political education
and empowerment as shown in their existing IKSP pertaining to
their food system, and the Implementation of government
policies with regard to IKSP and food security, that serve as the
main objectives of this Aeta Advocacy paper. Provision of
assessment and recommendation follows.

Acknowledgment:

In behalf of the Project Development Institute, I would like to thank Kathleen Ocampo
and Ruel Punongbayan who helped in the research work, to Analyn Osias for the technical
support and Ramon Ayco for the photo documentation . I would also like to thank the Area
Management Team of Zambales headed by Al Carillo and the Aeta LAKAS community in their
full participation and commitment to share their lifelong experiences.
INTRODUCTION

A. Context

The province of Zambales is home to one of the


major ethnic groups in the Philippines, the Aetas, small,
dark skinned, nomadic people. Mostly forest foragers and
hunters, the Aetas were a highly mobile people who
followed wild game, and gathered root crops and fruits
from the dense forested highlands of Zambales. The
demands of the hunting-gathering culture of the aetas
discouraged permanent settlement, and at the same time the
accumulation of material goods. While going about with
their daily lives, the only materials the aetas bring with
them are bows and arrows. They have also developed a
popular wind instrument called bansik, a four-holed flute
fashioned from mountain cane.

The ethnicity of the Pinatubo Aetas is the most significant aspect of their claim to their
land and life. Like any other indigenous groups, their life has an important, and almost cosmic,
link to their land. It is almost cosmic in the sense that their world consciousness and the
continuity of their way of life are rooted in the land where they were born and have defined their
humanity. Their land of origin in the mountains and forests of Mount Pinatubo is not only the
source of their sustenance, it is also home to their identity and culture.
The Pinatubo Aetas’ situation, however, need not be confined to this perspective. The
Aetas’ well-being may likewise be addressed from the perspectives of their economic capability
and their assimilation to the political diversity of the bigger Filipino society. The human
development of the Aetas, or for that matter, of any ethnic minority group, must consist of the

The Aetas’ Land and Life, p. 2


freedom to assert cultural identity and the opportunity to pursue economic and political
empowerment.

B. Framework:

Using the Participatory Action Research, the main subject of this paper is to document
the claim of the Botolan Aetas in their ancestral domain and the process of securing their
Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) and its important implications on their welfare
and development. The effort to cover and document the existing Indigenous Knowledge System
(IKSP) pertaining to their food system will
be done , including the assessment of the
government’s implementation with regard to
policies on IKSP and food security. With
this humble contribution, this paper intends
to advance the Aetas’ demand for their
CADT. At this point, the primacy of this
clamor is to gain actual title to strengthen
their ownership of their ancestral land and
advance their food security.
A meeting to trace the boundary of Aeta villages covered The paper is outlined as follows. The
with lahar as prerequisite for the granting of Certificate of
Aetas’ socio-cultural profile and their
Ancestral Domain Title (CADT).
experience during the Mount Pinatubo
eruption serve as a preliminary part. It contextualizes the discussion within the Aetas’ indigenous
world—their environment, culture, society, religion, etc.—and their traumatic experience during
the Mount Pinatubo eruption. From here, the emergent need and condition of the Aetas were
presented. Part Three particularly deals with their ancestral claim and the available methods of
action the Aetas can take to assert their right over it. Part Four then tackles the welfare concern
of the Aetas.

C. Methodology

The IKSP's of the Aetas have already treaded quite a long history. There are many but
only a few have been recorded. However, the people keep a huge stock of information,
knowledge and stories handed down through generations through oral traditional and continuing
practices. The methods used for this study entailed discussions with the individuals familiar with
their indigenous practices.

1. Key Informant Interviews – several individuals from concerned agencies and


organizations were interviewed for this case study: (1) Mayor Roger Yap – Municipal
Mayor of Botolan, Zambales, (2) PENRO Cesar Estrada – Head of the Provincial
Environment and Resource Office in Zambales, (3) Ms. Myrna Encinares – Officer-in-
Charge of the National Commission for Indigenous People in Zambales, (4) Mr. Alcade
Fallurin – Coordinator in a mining company in Zambales, (5) Mr. Carlito Dumulot –
Tribal Chieftain at LAKAS Community in Bihawo, Villar, Botolan, Zambales, (6) Al
Carillo – Area Coordinator of the Project Development Institute at Zambales

The Aetas’ Land and Life, p. 3


2. Group Interview with the Key Leaders of the
LAKAS Community
3. Focus Group Discussion with key leaders of
LAKAS-Kabataan
4. Interview with Yalong Cosme, the Treasurer
of the LAKAS Community
5. Interview with Helen Abarra, former staff of
Franciscan Missionary of Mary who is also a
current resident of the LAKAS Community
and coordinator for the PDI’s Aetas'
Alternative Learning System
6. Informal Participation in the conversations of the people in LAKAS

Integration with the community paved way for direct observation and participation in the
practice of existing IKSP related to the food security of the Aetas. Related literature especially
those in relation to the socio-economic profile and other ethnographic data used in the
processing of CADT security of the Aetas in Botolan were also reviewed.

The study complied with the standard rule on free and prior informed consent and
process required by the community. In this regard, a letter seeking permission was addressed to
the tribal chieftain, Carlito Dumulot, was first forwarded to the community before proceeding
with the data gathering. Data gathering commenced only after the leaders of the community had
granted permission.

The brief ethnographic profile and other pertinent information about the Pinatubo Aetas1
and their way of life provided here are based mainly on studies and researches about the Aetas
of Pinatubo. These written documents include The Pinatubo Negritos: their useful plants and
material culture by Robert Fox (1952); Pinatubo Negritos: revisited by Calixto Barrato Jr. and
Marvyn Benaning (1978); Pinatubo Aytas: Continuity and Change by Hiromu Shimizu; and
After Duwagan: Deforestation, Succession, and Adaptation in Upland Luzon, Philippines by J.
Peter Brosius (1990).

On their experiences during the Mount Pinatubo eruption, the following materials have
been used: Disaster-response: lessons from Mount Pinatubo by Eufracio Abaya, et al (1993); In
the Shadow of the Lingering Mount Pinatubo Disaster edited by Cynthia Bautista (1993);
Eruption and Exodus by LAKAS (1991); and Fire and Mud: Eruptions and Lahars of Mount
Pinatubo, Philippines edited by Christopher Newhall and Raymundo Punongbayan (1996).

1
The name “Aeta” is also spelled “Ayta” in this paper. These different spellings are due to the lowlanders’ different
adaptations in the English alphabet.
The Aetas’ Land and Life, p. 4
Mount Pinatubo

II. THE PINATUBO AETAS AND THEIR INDIGENOUS KNOWLEDGE SYSTEM


AND PRACTICES: A BRIEF SOCIO-CULTURAL & HISTORICAL PROFILE

A. Aeta Profile

Location. The Aetas of Zambales are


known for being the indigenous inhabitants of
the Mt Pinatubo, which is located along the
boundaries of Pampanga, Tarlac and
Zambales and is part of the Cabusilan
Mountains in the southern part of Zambales.
Its reported elevation in the pre-eruption
period was 1,745 m or 5,730 ft. J. Peter
Brosius (1990:37), in his research study done
in this area before the eruption, said that the
Mount Pinatubo “in profile is clearly an
extinct volcano”.

Prior to the 1991 eruption, the Aetas Aeta families who evacuated due to volcanic eruption
inhabit peacefully the mountains and forests in 1991 are now going back to their original villages
of Mount Pinatubo. There were 25 near Mount Pinatubo. Photo shows an Aeta old man
leads in tracing the boundary of their village, Villar.
established Aeta villages in Mount
Pinatubo
(LAKAS, Exodus and Eruption: 1991). These were Tarao/Makinang, Manggel, Kalawangan,
Lukban, Belbel, Balinkiang, Yamot, Dangla, Kasoy, Moraza, Villar, Patal Anawo, Tipli, Ogik,
Burgos, Quitomboc, Tuko, Poonbato, Maguisguis, Kayanga, Mayasan, Nacolcol, Palis, and
Dolawan.

The Aetas’ Land and Life, p. 5


The Aetas’ Land and Life, p. 6
The Aetas have long considered the surroundings of the volcano as their natural
dwelling-place. Their oral tradition contains tales and stories about their ancestors inhabiting this
land long before the Spanish period. Back then, the reach of their vision is the limit of their
movement and activity.
Robert Fox’s account (1952:250) explains that, based on the type of plants they used, the
Aetas of Pinatubo may have lived originally in the lowland. It was only in the latter period that
they were forced to transfer to the upper regions. He reported:

I strongly suspect that lowland and coastal regions were commonly within the
movements of the Zambales Negritos during early prehistoric times, for much of
this area was previously uninhabited. When other expanding people, such as the
Sambal, began to move into the coastal and lowland regions, the pygmies were
forced into the mountains… [They] have been forced into the upland regions
through population pressure.

Aeta leader Carling Domulot Aeta generation: from grandmother Aeta children help fetch drinking
to mother and child water.

Population. The Aetas belong to the Negrito group, which is one of the six major
ethnographic groupings in the Philippines2. As of 1997, there are 56,265 Aetas in the Zambales
Province based on the statistics of the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP). This
is 43.4% of the total population (129,516) of Aeta/Agta/Aeta-Abiyan/Aeta-Remontado group
around the archipelago. The total Aeta population has increased more than six times while the
Aetas of Zambales grew by more or less five times since the 1975 Census. The entire Aeta group
comprises one per cent of the 11,778,190 indigenous people in the country.
The Aeta/Agta/Aeta-Abiyan/ Aeta-Remontado group is scattered in six regions and 16
provinces in the country. Note that while most of them are original settlers in their areas, such as
the Aetas of Zambales, there are some who are recent migrants to other provinces. Among the
provinces with recent migrant Aetas include Benguet, Kalinga Apayao, Mount Province and
Pangasinan. To digress a little: in looking into the welfare of indigenous people, it may be worth
investigating the phenomenon of migration among the indigenous people and the cause of or
reason for their migration.

2
The six major ethnographic groupings are the Igorot Tribes, Caraballo/Cagayan Valley group, Negrito,
Mindanao Lumad, Muslim Groups, Palawan group, and the Mangyan Tribes. Cited from TABAK, Tribal
Filipinos and Ancestral Domain: Struggle Against Development Aggression (1989).
The Aetas’ Land and Life, p. 7
POPULATION OF
AETA/AGTA/AETA-ABIYAN/AETA-REMONTADO GROUPSn1 n2
By Region and Province
National Commission on Indigenous People
Region/Province Population
CAR
Abra 122
Benguetm 27
Kalinga Apayaom 639
Mount Provincem 6
Region 1
Pangasinanm 170
Region 2
Cagayan 1,791
Quirino 38
Region 3
Bataan 11,963
Tarlac 9,638
Pampanga 9,791
Zambales 56,265
Region 4
Aurora 562
Rizal 4,945
Quezon 5,732
Region 5
Camarines Sur 22,372
Camarines Norte 5,455
TOTAL 129,516
mRecent IP Migrants to the Province
n1NCIP borrowed data for Regions 4-13 from the Ibon Facts and Figures, updated
in 1997. The data for the remaining regions were based on the Listing Operation of
the former Office of the Northern Cultural Communities, updated in 1995.
n2These data are not quite consistent with the data found in Katutubo Directory

(1996). They are used, however, because of the regional and provincial breakdown.

B. The Aetas Indigenous Knowledge System and Practices: Relation of Aetas to Their
Environment.
Anthropologists familiar with the Aetas of Pinatubo attribute them with keen and
sophisticated knowledge of their environment. Regarding this matter, Robert Fox (ibid.:187-188)
is worth quoting at length:

[One] characteristic of Negrito life, a characteristic which strikingly demarcates


them from the surrounding Christian lowlanders, is their inexhaustible knowledge
of the plant and animal kingdoms. This lore includes not only a specific recognition
of a phenomenal number of plants, birds and animals, and insects, but also includes
a knowledge of the habits and behavior of each. This inclusive knowledge of nature
is, of course, a product of their way of life; continual hunting, mobility, dependency
upon vegetation, as well as a survival of their historical association. The Negrito is
an intrinsic part of his surroundings, and what is still more important, continually
studies his surroundings .... Most Negrito men can with ease enumerate the specific

The Aetas’ Land and Life, p. 8


or descriptive names of at least 450 plants, 75 birds, most of the snakes, fish insects,
and animals, and of even 20 species of ants…

Moreover, the Aetas have

a thorough and sensitive ecological awareness. Many plants have no direct use or
value in themselves, but are important to the Negritos because of the relationships
of the plant with the animal and insect world.

Aside from their knowledge of the content of the environment and their appreciation of
the ecological interconnectedness, the Aetas are also attributed with knowledge of ways to deal
with the environment. Jocano (1978:5) said:

Harsh environmental conditions highlight the precarious situation of the Pinatubo


Negrito. How they survive in the face of such conditions is a tribute to their
ingenuity. The ingenuity is evidenced by their creative adaptation to the ecological
environment.

The Aetas’ ancestral land is the repository of their knowledge and world-views. Their
clear awareness of the environment and their keen respect for its natural processes constitute for
them a kind of intellectual identity.

Mode of Subsistence. Aetas are commonly known as hunter-gatherers and there is a


tendency among lowlanders to pigeonhole them in that activity. There are evidences, however,
showing that the Aetas might have engaged in swidden agriculture long before the Spanish
colonial era. J. Peter Brosius (1990: 23) noted:

The Aetas’ Land and Life, p. 9


Based upon historical accounts, the present degree of environmental degradation,
the current large number of cultigen varieties, and current population densities, the
initial adoption of swidden agriculture by Ayta cannot have been a recent
phenomenon.

Accounts that single out hunting-gathering activities as the Aetas’ sole means of
subsistence are either biased, pre-conceived notions or they point to the far and mythical past of
the Aetas’ history.

Aeta old tools

According to Brosius, the first wave of expansion of the Aetas’ swidden system began
with the introduction of so-called Old World crops of Southeast Asia, such as taro, yams,
bananas and rice. The second wave occurred with the introduction of New World (American)
crops, such as sweet potato or kamote, corn and cassava.
The Aytas’ swiddening system and diet evolved in a way that it became highly dependent
on New World crops. In Fox’s research of Aetas’ diet in the 1950s, it revealed that 70% of it was
consisted of New World crops and 53% was even derived from a single New World crop, which
is sweet potato. On the other hand, Shimizu (1989:27) observes that contemporary Aetas now
have high demand for rice. Root crops, however, remain as their major source of food because of
the low productivity of upland rice farming.
In addition to swidden agriculture, which until now remains as their primary means of
livelihood, the Aetas also depend on terrestrial, avian and riverine resources. These complement
their carbohydrate-rich diet with proteins. The Aetas also engaged in trading.

Settlement. The typical Aetas or Aeta groups may be characterized with extreme
variability and mobility. This entails an equally unsteady pattern and style of settlement.
Fox (1952:186) also observed the transient settlements of the Aetas and he attributed it to
at least three factors. First is their practice of kaingin since the decrease in soil fertility compels
them to look for other cultivable fields. The second factor is superstition as they tend to leave
their present house if there is frequent sickness or somebody died in it. The third is a

The Aetas’ Land and Life, p. 10


psychological factor because they seem to have a “fear of modern responsibilities of citizenship,
taxation and governmental control”.
Brosius (1990: 30-31) reported that “Ayta settlements range in size from single isolated
lean-tos, to rather large communities of five to fifteen or more thatched houses”. Cluster of two
or three huts is most common. In his account on relatively large settlements, he cited economic
consideration and conflicts as possible reasons for dispersal. The Aeta settlement will commonly
be found within the 500 to 1000 m in altitude.
Note, however, that the Aetas are only semi-nomadic people. Their mobility is limited to
the village and the swidden sites. Shimizu (1989:7) explains that “the Aytas change the location
of their swidden fields but situate these near and parallel to the center”. This center being
referred to is the village, which is the largest Aeta political unit as described below.

Institutional Structure. The Aetas’


institutional structure has three levels: [1]
the nuclear family or mitata-anak, [2] the
family grouping or camp, and [3] the
village (Brosius:1990; Shimizu:1989). The
nuclear family shares in household and
socio-economic activities, primarily in
clearing and working in one or two
swiddens per year. It is also common
among Aeta nuclear families to live
together with elderly parents.
The family grouping unit may be
composed of a single household or a group
of households. The members include
parents and their married children. They Aeta Family in Belbel, Baytan, an original Aeta village in
also communally share food and work in Botolan, Zambales near Mount Pinatubo. They are among
the fields. the Aeta families who decided to go back to their old
village.

The village or district level, also called sakop, is a recognized and named area. These
villages, according to Brosius (1990:33), average “between 15 and 20 square kilometers in size
[but] are not discrete bounded territories”. Most members of a sakop are related by blood.
In the political dimension, which exists mainly in the village level, Brosius (1990:34)
identified a kapitan as “an influential individual who functions as a mediator of both internal and
external conflict or who, in the case of an open conflict, may assume a leadership based on
popular support.” The elders also have a particularly special role in decision-making in the
Aetas’ social life.
At any rate, the most prominent features of the Aetas’ social set-up are its family
orientedness and their strong sense of “mutual cooperation and interdependence”. Perhaps the
downside of these features is the “mutual distrust” among Aetas not related by blood or
marriage”.
The Aetas’ Land and Life, p. 11
Spirituality. The spirituality of the Aetas is best manifested in their concept of health and
disease. The curing ritual is the Aetas’ most important ritual, of which the manganito séance is
the most refined and well-developed.
The Aetas believe in the soul, or kaelwa, as a separate entity dwelling in the body. Any
disturbance in the body, such as disease and long illness, is attributed to the weakening of the
soul. In the case of death, on the other hand, the Aetas believe that the soul remains existing.
According to Shimizu (1989:47-48), the Aetas do not have a clear idea of death, but there is a
belief that the dead proceeds to the “summit of Mount Pinatubo” and live in unity with the
“collective minaci (all the dead)”. The Aetas believe that the dead can bring sickness and bad
luck. This is, in fact, as mentioned above, one of the reasons for their constant movement from
one settlement to another.
The spiritual realm of the Aetas includes the belief in environment spirits, who co-exist
with humans. There are two types of environment spirits, namely anito or the good spirit and the
kamana or the bad spirit. These spirits may reside in the “forest, trunk of a huge tree, bamboo
thicket, rock, stream, cave, and other places or objects.” The Aetas try to maintain harmonious
relationship with the anitos. And although anitos are basically friendly, they may retaliate
harshly at humans when their territories were harmed or they were offended. To overcome the
anito’s displeasure, a langgad3 or gift must be offered.

Because of this belief in


environment spirits, the Aetas regard nature
with extreme caution. This sets an implicit
rule among them that natural resources
should not be abused and exploited. This
also affects their agricultural activities. For
instance, they make offerings to the anitos
before they start working on a swidden
field.

Culture and Society. Shimizu


(1989:1) describes the Aetas’ culture and
An Aeta dance mimicking wild animals. society as “cold” (based on Levi-Strauss
model, 1962). Generally, it means that the
Aetas’ are not so receptive to external influences. Shimizu (ibid.:11-14) cited two reasons for
such “coldness”. One, population pressure from the lowland settlers. Two, “the frequent armed
attacks and kidnappings of their people for enslavement by the Sambals”. These pushed them
farther up in the mountain throughout their history. Another factor that perhaps contributed to the
Aetas’ cold society is the strong social relation based on family grouping.

The cold society of the Aetas, however, does not entail a rare interaction with lowlanders.
The Aetas’ relation with Sambals could have transpired even during pre-Spanish times. The
Aetas’ use of the Sambal language, the lowlanders’ language, according to Shimizu (ibid.:11),

3
Langgad is also offered as a sign of reconciliation with or apology to a fellow Aeta. See below.
The Aetas’ Land and Life, p. 12
indicates a long relationship of the Aetas with the lowlanders, including the locals, the Spaniards
and the Americans.
These outside forces generated different reactions from the Aetas. Some decided to be
covered under the municipal jurisdiction while others chose to stay in the higher altitude of the
mountains as a form of resistance.
According to Shimizu (ibid.:146-147), the Aetas are not exactly closed to, but are rather
very selective of, external influences. They adapt only those that they find useful in a certain
period of need. Those influences that were adapted were then synthesized within their social
norms and institutions. The Aetas’ social mechanisms are, however, so strong that new things are
easily neutralized. This is manifested in the phenomenon of langgad, which is a compensation
offered to the offended party. Such compensation aims to pacify the offended party and
symbolizes the desire to maintain social order. The Aetas are basically peace-loving people.

C. The Mount Pinatubo Eruption

Aetas as the major casualty of the


eruption. The major eruptions of the Mount
Pinatubo occurred from June 12-16, 1991. Task
Force Pinatubo (cited from Bautista, “The Mount
Pinatubo Disaster and the People of Central
Luzon,” in Fire and Mud, 1996:153) estimated
the number of Aetas affected by the eruption at
7,800 families or 35,000 persons. Bautista and
Tadem (1993:12), in the book In the Shadow of
the Lingering Mount Pinatubo Disaster,
remarks:
Mount Pinatubo eruption in 1991

However one looks at it, the Aytas were the prime victims of the volcanic eruption,
if secondary effects like lahar and floods are not taken into account. Not only were
they displaced much earlier but also moved from one evacuation to another,
trembling in fear as they watched explosions of fire and brimstone which signified
their God’s displeasure over human transgressions against the mountains. An
uprooting from a total way of life became their lot.

From what has been discussed earlier, the effect of the eruption on the Aetas can already
be gauged. It destroyed their livelihood and it created turmoil in their psychological and socio-
cultural universe.

The experiences of the Aetas during the eruption are beyond description. Their flight
from the mountains in search for a safer place was indeed life-threatening. The book Exodus and
Eruption documented this life-and-death adventure of the Aetas. Bautista (1996:153) remarked
based on the book’s account:

The Aetas’ Land and Life, p. 13


They changed sites with each extension of the danger zone from a 10- to 20-km
radius of the volcano, from 20- to 30-km, and finally from 30 to 40 km. Some
moved nine times in 1991 before they found semi-permanent relocation sites.

The people were evacuating due to Mount Pinatubo eruption in 1991.

The transfer of the victims to various evacuation centers was the next phase of the
disaster control. Both local and international agencies contributed to the establishment of the
evacuation centers and for the evacuees’ basic needs. Abaya, et al (1993:7) reports that there
were a total of 44 evacuation sites built through the efforts of the governments and some non-
government organizations (NGO) in 1991. The sites accommodated a total of 120,000 people.
Out of the 44 sites, the Aetas could be found in twelve evacuation sites. Latter reports (October
1993) indicated that there were 159 evacuation centers built and operated by the Department of
Social Welfare and Development, excluding those under the management of non-government
organization. These housed about 11,455 families or 54,880 individuals. The Aetas comprised
2.4% of the families or 1.6% of individuals affected by the eruption (Fire and Mud, 1996).
The poor living conditions in the evacuation centers were the worst problem encountered
by the evacuees, most especially the Aetas (Abaya et al, 1993:7-8). This led to different types of
sickness, such as measles, diarrhea and pneumonia, which were also major causes of death. Of
the 538 cases of death recorded by the DOH in one month, 93% were Aetas. Further, 80% of the
recorded deaths among the Aetas were children 0-10 years old. Half of the Aeta children were
also found malnourished.
The medical volunteers partly blamed the Aetas for their indifference towards, or perhaps
fear, of the medication and immunization being provided for them. Thus, the problem of culture
arose again.
Abaya et al noted, however, that if it is any consolation, the evacuation of the Aetas from
the Mount Pinatubo, no matter how difficult, informed the government of their needs. It exposed
to the public the government’s negligence of the Aetas’ welfare.

The Aetas’ Land and Life, p. 14


The Resettlement of the Aetas. From the
Aetas’ several stop-overs in semi-permanent
evacuation sites during the eruption episodes, as
first phase, to their entry to the actual evacuation
centers, as second phase, the Aetas’ initial and
partial recovery from the disaster culminated in the
establishment of resettlement projects. Botolan, a
municipality of Zambales, was a major
resettlement location for the Aetas.

There were two resettlement areas and one evacuation center in Botolan that
accommodated the Aetas after the eruption. These are Baquilan and Loob-Bunga Resettlement
Sites and Bucao Evacuation Center. The areas were subdivided into sitios, which are composed
of contiguous clusters of houses. The Aetas named the sitios in the resettlement after the same
name of their sitios in Mount Pinatubo.
The overall coordinating body for the resettlements was the Task Force Mount Pinatubo.
It coordinated the projects and activities of the government agencies, non-government
organizations and the residents in the resettlement sites. In both resettlement sites, various
government agencies extended assistance, such as water sources, roads, health programs and
school buildings. A settlement manager in each resettlement site was also assigned to coordinate
local activities of various concerns, namely social services, infrastructure, resettlement and
livelihood. Moreover, tribal councils were also formed for administrative and/or political fu
nctions.
Holding culture and social upbringing as important aspects of survival, the Aetas
expectedly experienced difficulty adjusting to this new “environment”. First, they now live in a
different place with very different environmental features and content as compared to that in
Mount Pinatubo. Second, they are now more accessible to lowlanders and to lowland lifestyles.
Similar to their previous encounters with “outsiders” or what they call mga unat, the experience
in the resettlement areas generated different actions and reactions from them. Some were able to
adapt to their new situation. Some simply expressed resigned satisfaction, i.e. they simply
accepted the fact that the resettlement site is an unavoidable substitute for their land in Pinatubo.
This is their new home and what is important now is to learn how to get their living from and out
of it. But the others, after some time, followed their urge to return to their former home in the
Mount Pinatubo.

III. Pinatubo Aetas after the Eruption

By any economic standard, the Aetas, in general, live below the poverty threshold. This
simply means that they still lack the capacity to meet the basic food and non-food requirement
needed to live a healthy life. The National Census and Statistics Board stated in October, 2000,
that a family of five should have a monthly income of at least P4,835 satisfy their basic needs.
According to an August 2005 study conducted by PDI entitled “Freedom from Hunger: The
Aetas’ Quest for Food Security”, the Aetas, on the average, earn a meager P1, 789 monthly (See
Table 2).

The Aetas’ Land and Life, p. 15


The eruption of Mount Pinatubo brought more miseries, especially in the first years.
Before the eruption, they could still plow their farms so that they had some food during the
harvest season. They could still gather food from their surroundings while waiting for their crops
to bear fruits.

The catastrophe changed all these. Because their farms were buried under thick piles of
lahar, they have to settle for what the government and other Table 3
private donors distributed during their relief operations. A Frequency of livelihood sources
culture of begging unwittingly developed in the process of (responses), Aeta (LAKAS), August
giving relief goods and dole-outs. It should be noted that this 2003
occurred because the Aetas could not return to their farms Livelihood Source Frequency
due to the threat of volcanic debris and that the Aetas, Crop Farming 26
themselves, refused to. Given the opportunity, they would go Seasonal/occasional hired
labor 23
back to the mountains and cultivate the soil so that they
Tenant farming 7
could provide for themselves. Livestock raising 3
Total 59
After 13 years, and several relocations since the
eruption, most of the Aeta groups in Zambales are now able to establish their new communities.
Some were able to establish new livelihoods.

The same August 2003 study indicated that at the


Table 4
Frequency of tenurial LoobBunga Resettlement Center the largest source of livelihood in
agreement (residence), Aeta their newfound community is still farming, as shown in Table 2,
(LAKAS), August 2003 with 26 out to 59 respondents relying on it (See table 3). However,
Tenurial around 40% of them (23 respondents) engage in seasonal labor to
Agreement Frequency augment their income derived from farming.
Leased 27
Owned 2 Of 31 persons asked, only two owned a piece of land while
Usufruct 1
27 leased the farms they were working on (See table 4). This
Other 1
suggests that land security is still a problem in the area.
Total 31

This is a sad state. Considering that the Aetas were


the original inhabitants in the area, majority of them have no Table 5
Number of daily meals, Aeta (LAKAS),
right to claim ownership of the land that their ancestors August 2003
developed. Ironically, Shimizu (1989:6) discovered that as
Frequency f %
early as 1917, the American colonial government made a twice a day 5 16.1
declaration, establishing two reservation areas for the Aetas. thrice a day 26 83.9
Total 31 100
If the Aetas don’t posses the right to land by virtue of Mode thrice a day
the Torrens system of land titling, they also don’t have the
luxury to assume that they cannot be kicked out of the land they are cultivating. The experiences
of their ancestors continue haunting their memories.

The Aetas’ Land and Life, p. 16


Land security is also food security. If they
Table 6 don’t have enough land that can produce what they
Perception on food availability, Aeta need then they must produce something to sell to
(LAKAS), August 2003 obtain cash to buy things they need. The Aetas, or any
Response F % farmer for that matter, should have sufficient farm are
Enough of the kinds we
in order to do this.
want to eat 1 3.2
Enough but not always
the kinds of food we
want 28 90.3 Although the Aetas have limited resources at
Sometimes not enough to the moment, majority of them (83.9%) still eat at least
eat 2 6.5 thrice a day. This is shown in Table 5 of the study
Often not enough 0 0 conducted among the Aetas in LoobBunga. The food
Total 31 100
they eat is not always nutritional and good for their
Enough but not
always the kinds of health and well being.
Mode food we want to eat

When asked if food shortages occur in the Table 7


household, 83.9% of them responded in the affirmative,
while 16% said that they don’t experience food shortages. Incidence of food shortages -- household
Moreover, 73.1% said that they seldom experience food level, Aeta (LAKAS), August 2003
shortage while no family is frequently short of food. When Response F %
there is a lack of food, the most common response of the No 5 16.1
Aetas in LoobBunga is to seek food from outside of the Yes 26 83.9
Total 31 100
community. They usually seek other jobs outside the
community. Sometimes, and they are sad about this, they Mode Yes
beg for alms.

The study further showed that about 95% of the Aetas in that area go to the local store or
the market to buy some provisions. The local market is around five kilometers from the
community and could be reached by public transportation in five minutes. About one-third or
29% of the respondents said that they experienced health problems as a consequence of food
shortage.

The survey shows that providing food for the Table 8


family is already hard enough that they could no Food shortages -- household level, Aeta
longer provide for the other basic necessities like (LAKAS), August 2003
clothing and education. Food shortages still occur at Response F %
the family or household level. Rarely 6 23.1
Seldom 19 73.1
Occasionally 1 3.8
It should also be noted that the survey Often 0 0
clearly shows that the food requirements of the Frequently 0 0
Total 26 100
Aetas have not been adequately met by their meager
Mode Seldom
resources. A major step must be taken to stop this.

The Aetas’ Land and Life, p. 17


IV. RECLAIMING THE AETAS’ LAND

It started with an ordinary community organizing work of PDI wherein the Aetas were
able to relate their community need for an agricultural land and their desire to reclaim their
ancestral domain. The Aetas in the resettlement areas, or more particularly those who decided to
remain there, were the pioneer proponents of pushing for this need as they begin to suffer one big
limitation of the resettlement program. This limitation was the program’s inadequate, if not lack
of, provision for agricultural lands for people, such as the Aetas, who depend on farming for
their livelihood.
PDI first validated this need with the
Aeta communities after which a series of
consultations was conducted in connection with
the Aetas’ land claim. These consultations have
solicited involvement and actions from both the
LGU, NCIP and PDI. Among the government
agencies who got involved were the National
Commission for Indigenous People (NCIP), the
Department of Environment and Natural
Resources (DENR), Philippine Volcanology and
Seismology (PHIVOLCS) and the Department of
Agrarian Reform (DAR). From the non-
government sector, the Project Development
Institute (PDI) had the most visible engagement
activity with the Botolan Aetas.
The consultations being referred to are the following:
1. Agrarian Reform in Zambales: Development within Reach, held last July 27, 2000 in
Zambales;
2. Ang Lupang Ninuno ng mga Aeta ng Botolan: Consultation-Workshop and Planning,
held last August 15, 2000 in Zambales; and
3. The Aetas’ Land and Life: Prevailing Issues on the Tenth Year of the Mount
Pinatubo Eruption, held last September 21, 2000 in Quezon City.

The Aetas elevated their concern to a public forum when they spoke in the July 27
provincial conference. It was a simple follow-up on their request to go back to their home on
Mount Pinatubo.
Realizing the Aetas’ predicament, PDI invited the Aetas to a consultation-workshop on
August 15. It was supposed to be an in-depth and focused discussion on three aspects of the
Aetas’ living condition, namely land security, delivery of support services and organizational
maturity. In the discussion on the land component, the Aetas narrated stories of their ancestors’
historical presence in the Mount Pinatubo. This introduced a very substantial land claim for the
Aetas based on ancestral domain. This is even strengthened by the fact that a CADC awarded to
the Aetas in 1996. Nevertheless, in the formulation of their plan of action, they stipulated their
intention to pursue the acquisition of the ancestral value of their land and despite lahar risk.

The Aetas’ Land and Life, p. 18


For a broader discussion, PDI decided to bring the Aetas’ land issue to the national level
through the conference, The Aetas’ Land and Life: Prevailing Issues on the Tenth Year of Mount
Pinatubo Eruption,” held last September 21. One output of the conference was the assurance
from Dr. Punongbayan of PHIVOLCS that lahar risk categorization must not apply if the land
will be used for agricultural purposes. Another output was the reaffirmation of the ancestral
value of the land and the critical question on ownership of the land.
Summing up, the Aetas’ struggle to reclaim their ancestral domain started since 1957
wherein, there have been a series of dialogues on the ancestral domain claim of the Aetas.
Advocacy Directions
The government awarded four Certificates of Ancestral Domain Claim or CADCs to the
Aetas of Botolan, Zambales. The four CADCs cover a total area of 44,803 hectares. These are
located in the barangays of Poonbato (CADC-069: 8,700 ha), Villar & Burgos (CADC-068:
22,400 ha), San Felipe (CADC-043: 7,500 ha) and Cabangan (CADC-042: 6,203 ha).
The Aeta CADCs were given through the DENR Administrative Order No. 2, Series of
1993. This order provides rules for the “identification, delineation and recognition of ancestral
lands and ancestral domains” of indigenous people or indigenous cultural communities. Note,
however, that the CADC merely establishes the claim of the indigenous group. It does not
guarantee the tenurial right of the claimants.

Such limitation of the


CADC was finally overcome when
the Congress passed into law the
Indigenous People’s Rights Act
(IPRA) of 1997 or Republic Act
No. 8371. Through this law, the
indigenous people can avail of the
title of ownership for their ancestral
domains or ancestral lands, among
other rights and privileges.
Currently, the Aetas are in
possession of CADC and they have A meeting for signing of Memorandum of Agreement between
already applied for the conversion Aeta Organizations, Project Development Institute (PDI),
of these CADCs into CADT. National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), and the
Section 56 of IPRA has a provision local government unit in Botolan, Zambales was held at Botolan
on Existing Property Rights Municipal Hall on December 29, 2005. Photo shows Region III
NCIP Director Salong Sunggod explaining the significance of the
Regimes, which stipulates as meeting.
follows:

Property rights within the ancestral domains already existing and/or vested upon
effectivity of this Act, shall be recognized and respected.

In view of this clause, the concern now is the processing of the ancestral domain title for the
Aetas to reclaim the Mount Pinatubo.

The Aetas’ Land and Life, p. 19


The organized Aetas, together with the PDI, LGU and the NCIP formed a Special Provincial
Task Force (SPTF) to focus on the work of processing the ancestral domain title, as follows:
planning of activities to be undertaken, tasking on who should do the work, after which
participatory action research was done through consultation and interviews with the tribal elders
to trace the genealogy of the Aetas. Validation with the Aeta communities followed to verify the
genealogy. What follows is an Information and Education Campaign (IEC) to orient the Aetas
on the IPRA law, their roles and responsibilities, their rights and welfare as stipulated in the
Indigenous People’s Rights Act.

After gathering the primary data,


developing the genealogy and the IEC, ocular
and land survey to identify the boundaries and
landmarks were conducted. Revalidation of the
area maps with the communities ensue after
this. Documentation of their socio-cultural
profile through their traditional practices and
culture were also done. These documents were
filed into one claim book and submitted to
NCIP. The NCIP provincial office first
endorsed the claim book to the NCIP regional office. The second endorsement was made by the
NCIP Regional office to the national office. The NCIP National office submit the claim book to
the Commission, the highest policy making body of NCIP, for endorsement and proper titling of
the ancestral domain. The Claim book was posted and published at the provincial level for thirty
days for any counter claims. After 30 days the Claim book was approved. The Claim Book for
the Botolan ancestral domain title has already been approved by the DENR. The Claim book
goes to the LRA for the Certificate of Ancestral Domain Titling. Hopefully the CADT will be
awarded to the Botolan Aetas this September 2009.
The Ancestral Domain and Sustainable Development Protection Plan (ADSDPP) is now
being developed, through a tripartite arrangement between the Aetas of Botolan, PDI and the
LGU. Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) is now being practiced.
One significant aspect of their claim is the preservation of what is left of Mount
Pinatubo. For the Aetas, part of what is left after Mount Pinatubo eruption is the Mount Pinatubo
itself in its post-eruption tranquility. The Aetas believe that the relatively peaceful state of the
volcano right now is sufficient reason to inhabit its surroundings once again, notwithstanding
another eruption.
An Aeta leader says,

“Huwag mong tingnan ang panganib. Ito’y isang sapalaran para mabuhay ang
pamilya.”4

It is difficult to read the minds of the Aetas with respect to Mount Pinatubo because it is
both a symbol of a sacred home, according to tradition, and a looming danger, based on
experience. Thus, their willingness to take risk in this area is quite puzzling to outsiders and a
4
“Don’t bother with the danger. It is a gamble where the family’s welfare is at stake.”
The Aetas’ Land and Life, p. 20
stubborn attitude for authorities. At any rate, the Aetas’ long experience with the volcano entitles
them to give a remark like this:

Alam namin kung kailan puputok ang bulkan. Nararamdaman namin iyon.5

This remark does not say that the Aetas


are not afraid, but only that they need not be
afraid of their situation. While this remark did
not save many Aetas during the 1991
catastrophe, it can be understood as a statement
of independence and self-reliance. From the
development perspective, allowing the Aetas
such independence, as manifested in this
capacity to decide for themselves, can perhaps
help in developing in them political maturity.
This is not a wrong decision, trusting them to
understand the direction of their decision and An old Aeta woman relates their history and belief
the way to correct it allows them to experience about Mount Pinatubo in PDI-NCIP sponsored
Genealogy Census and Consultation Workshop held
a healthy political process.
in Pasambot, Botolan, Zambales on March 10, 2005.

The government can contribute in this political process. It need not contradict the Aetas’
brave choice to stay in Mount Pinatubo, for that may somehow curtail their autonomy given the
incalculable value of the place to them. The government may rather support them with constant
monitoring, advisories and other protective measures.

IV. RECLAIMING THE AETAS’ WELFARE

Clearly, it is not only about reclaiming the land. At the core of it are the Aetas, and their
will to survive in their own unique way. But whether or not it pushes through, the need to uplift
the Aetas’ living condition must still be attended to. The condition there speaks of how the
government’s national development program grossly failed to reach out to remote rural areas,
particularly where indigenous people live.

A. Threats to Food Security:

It will take at least 2-1/2 hours to cover the distance by motor vehicle from the foothills
of Mount Pinatubo during dry season but half a day to traverse the road during the rainy months.
Since the Aetas ordinarily use carabaos, it takes them half a day to reach the market. This makes
transporting and marketing of goods very difficult.

The Aetas deliver their fresh produce to the town market twice a month. They can do it
weekly if not for the transportation problem. Such constraint also puts them at a disadvantage in
the market. Their fresh produce must be sold as soon as possible time to avoid spoilage. The
5
“We know when the volcano will erupt. We feel that.”
The Aetas’ Land and Life, p. 21
Aetas do not have a competitive edge and they are forced to give in to the very low price offered
by some traders, and become unwitting victims of unfair practices.

The impoverished condition of the Aetas is further aggravated because the Aetas are
largely unorganized. There is a need to consolidate and strengthen their ranks.

Aeta leader Carling Domulot (left) leads Pasambot Aeta Pasambot Aeta farmers shows visiting Botolan Mayor
farmers in their vegetable product demostration. Yap (middle) their just harvested vegetable products.

Inadequate support services threaten the welfare of the Aetas on Mount Pinatubo, as well
as those who plan to relocate there, as follows: absence of health care, lack of education,
insufficient government assistance for food production. There is no intention of enumerating the
many basic services that the Aetas lack, but perhaps the ones mentioned already paint a picture
of their abject poverty and deprived condition.

Small and large mining corporations also encroach on the Aeta lands in Zambales
exploring for mineral deposits like chromite, nickel and ores to the detriment of the Aeta
communities. The mining causes land slides, erosion, and siltation. Carlito Dumulot, Chairman
of the LAKAS community, says that they are not against development; all they want is for the
mining corporations to be responsible and properly inform the people of the effects of mining —
whether it is good or bad. Definitely, there is some degree of environmental degradation in
Zambales.

Aside from this, the cash economy — one of the main features of the mainstream society
— was also institutionalized in the Aeta communities in the lowlands after the eruption and their
displacement. As one of the leaders put it:

“Ngayon, mahal na and bilihin. Ibinabayad na lang sa lupa ang mga naaani. Babayaran
mo ang pataba, babayran ang kuliglig, pag-aararo, pagbabayo. Babayaran mo ang marami
mong pinagkakautangan. Kaya sa karanasan namin, wala talagang natitira sa amin.” (Prices
are high these days. The harvests are just used to pay for the land. You will pay for the fertilizer,
the tractor, the harrow and the miller. You will pay for everyone you have become indebted to. In
our experience, nothing is left for us).

The Aetas’ Land and Life, p. 22


If they do not have cash in the resettlement areas, they will not eat, and will be left deeper
into abject poverty. The very producers of food are themselves food insecure.

The Aetas in the resettlement areas, who were able to get farmlands, realized that the
lands were not as productive as their own ancestral domain. The harvests in their ancestral
domain were bountiful due to its naturally fertile soil. But now their farmlands are very acidic.
The Aetas were influenced by the Department of Agriculture to use chemical fertilizers and high
yielding rice varieties from IRRI. The Aetas had no choice but to use these farm inputs.

Given these alarming scenarios, The Project Development Institute, which prides itself in
building self-reliant communities through people’s initiatives, began formulating plans with the
Botolan Aetas for a development program using agrarian reform as a framework for Aetas
displaced by the Pinatubo eruption. The issues addressed concern rural poverty, landlessness and
helplessness. The main methods used to combat these problems are organization building, skills
training, values formation and additional farm and off-farm livelihood activities for the Aetas.

(The Project Development Institute (PDI) was founded in 1991 and immediately started
its rural development and advocacy work to help the people of Zambales get over their immense
predicament. To consolidate its program in the province, PDI started the community
development program in Zambales to help augment the lives of the Aetas and farmers affected by
the Pinatubo eruption. Even with the pouring in of relief effort and rehabilitation from the
government and other development agencies to assist the displaced families, PDI believes that
giving them land is the key to alleviate their dire situation. Extra attention through guidance and
livelihood program will lead them to the road of self-reliance and attain a sustainable farm
production system. Through PDI’s effort of promoting a better and meaningful life amidst the
harsh living condition on the foothills of Mount Pinatubo, the people of Zambales will have a
better chance of conquering the ills they face and increase their chance of having a better life.)

B. Current Use of Indigenous Knowledge System and Practices that Address Food
Security

The Aetas’ traditional livelihood has been based on swidden agriculture, gathering of
forest products, backyard livestock raising, and growing root crops, vegetables and horticultural
crops. With assistance from the PDI, these traditional economic activities will establish their
foothold on their environment and solidify their claim over their ancestral domain.

PDI also provided assistance for the Aetas in ensuring the strengthening of their
organization by initiating values formation, and also providing them with training on tecl-mical
skills and enterprise development, including project development and management. The LAKAS
Aetas also developed a market/trading post where the Aetas can sell their products or trade them
with other goods. Aside from facilitating the release of their ancestral domain title, PDI has also
facilitated the land acquisitions for the Aetas in the lowlands through the agrarian reform
program of the government.

The Aetas’ Land and Life, p. 23


Social Capital Formations and Strengthening of People’s Organization.

PDI has placed social capital formation as a primary concern so that the Aetas may avoid
the fate of many people’s organizations and cooperatives organized in Zambales that are now
inactive. In the early years after the Pinatubo eruption, cooperatives and other organizations
started to fold-up because the basis of unity was financial, or the availability of funds. Many of
the cooperatives vanished after receiving loans from banks and other lending institutions.

Bukluran ng mga Katutubo sa Luzon (BUKAL) General Assembly held


in Project Development Institute office in Bangantalinga, Zambales this
June 25, 2009. Photo shows the elected (for the 2nd time) BUKAL
Chairman Carling Domulot presides over the assembly.

Learning from these experiences, PDI paid close attention to the formation and
strengthening of its P0 (People’s Organization) partners. Data gathering and regular visits to the
target areas were not enough to ensure the continuous flow of the program towards success. The
community organizers of the PDI immersed and integrated with the people in the target
communities to know the issues and how to help them cope up well with any situation. From this
organizing method a federation known as the Bukluran Ng Mga Katutubo sa Luzon (BUKAL)
was born.

After the acquisition of agrarian lands and the processing of the ancestral domain title,
the Aeta with PDI concentrated its effort on establishing off-farm and extra farm activities to
support the Aeta families engaged in production. The off-farm livelihood activities will provide a
safety net for the Aetas in the event of a crop failure. A thorough assessment and planning has
been conducted with the Aetas at the start of the year to fully prepare them for the coming
planting season, this is in consideration of their indigenous knowledge system and practices.

Through all these struggles, the Aetas of Zambales have sustained their indigenous knowledge
system and practices in planting crops.

The Aetas at the LAKAS Community in Botolan, Zambales, are known for the rituals that they
practice with regards to food security before and after the Mount Pinatubo eruption. They
conducted practices rooted on the ways of their ancestors. Inevitably, the use of these practices
continues up to today for the preservation of their culture and social practices. The settlement in
LAKAS Community further preserved their cultural heritage.

The Aetas’ Land and Life, p. 24


The Aetas depended a lot on agriculture as a primary source of food while hunting stands as
secondary source. In both livelihood activities, the Aetas managed to retain their indigenous
practices for their own protection and preservation. According to Carlito Dumulot:

“The preservation of their culture and tradition are critical for the well being of
the future generation. In order for the younger Aetas to be proud of their heritage,
for them to honor and respect their ancestral land because for them land is life.”

Today, Aeta farmers in Pasambot, Botolan, Zambales used organic method of planting rice.

The Aetas have two main agricultural practices: swidden agriculture and lowland
agriculture. Swidden Agriculture is the traditional mode of farming that they learned way back
from the time of their ancestors. Palay-bundok (native rice) and other types of native fruits are
grown in the uplands. They have their own way of seed-banking to preserve the native plants to
be planted on the mountains. They were able to identify 15 kinds of palay-bundok such as
binundok, talibo, kinampanya, kinapitan and salumanay. The seedlings of paho or the native
mango, amucao or the wild banana, native guava, sweet potato, other fruit-bearing trees together
with wild trees called lawaan and pangili are also kept in the seed storehouse of each family.

Before any land preparation can commence, whether in the lowlands or in the uplands,
the Aetas stage rituals. They must pay homage to the lands and to the spirits that live on it. They
usually offer a native chicken to appease Apo Namalyari and provide them with good harvest.
Otherwise, they believe they would contract an illness once they continue clearing-up an area
unfavorable to these spirits. Then they would start sketching a cross in the target areas while
praying for premonitions which can be sent in dreams. When they were visited by bad dreams,
they would forego planting or transfer to another area. They call this practice pagpapatáw. The
farming process itself uses the “bayanihan” method or collective work which originated in rural
context. Farming in this area will persist if they receive favorable signs.
At present, pagpapatáw is still practiced as a prerequisite to swidden farming. The Aetas
in LAKAS, adults and youth alike, still go up Mount Pinatubo to do the swidden farming. These
indigenous practices are taught to the younger Aetas.
The Aetas’ Land and Life, p. 25
With the promise of a CADT, they now regularly go to their ancestral land to utilize the
lands through swidden farming.

The Aetas also believe that different


signs also affect success in farming. They
call this the paturô. The Aetas organize the
tudling, or the row of their plants, towards
the direction where the sun rises. They also
believe that the best time for planting,
especially of vegetables and sweet potatoes,
is during the season when the skies abound
with stars. They believe that the vegetables
will be much more fruitful and the sweet
Sweet potato plantation at Pasambot, Botolan, Zambales.
potato will be meatier during this period.

Indigenous practices are also practiced in the lowlands. The previously mentioned
Bayanihan system or what they call as tubawô persists as a practice even in the lowlands. At the
onset of new farming technologies like Sustainable Agriculture, the Aetas still practice tubawô to
help their fellow Aetas. Families which need assistance from their fellow community members
invite the nanays and tatays of the areas especially during land preparation, planting and harvest
seasons with no monetary returns. They receive no payment but they are provided with food
during the working period and a portion of their harvests. They call this practice bahaginan. The
sense of community of the Aetas has remained intact through the generations.

Hunting and gathering are the second source of livelihood for the Aetas. Bahaginan is
also done during the hunting activities of the Aetas. Once they are able to catch a wild boar or
any animal in the forests, they share portions allotted to other community members. Because
they were blessed with good hunting, they also offer thanksgiving to Apo Namalyari. Offering to
the spirits — often done in their respective homes — is still practiced by the LAKAS Aetas.

During harvest season, three sets of offerings are prepared. The first is for Apo Namalyari, the
second for the spirits in the land and the last for their ancestors. The offerings are food cooked by
the families to be served together with coffee. Pagtutulo or lighting of a candle is also done to
signify the start of the offering. This lasts for five minutes. The offerings are not thrown away or
consumed by the families. They continue to be gratified by good harvests and at certain times,
they offer a portion of their harvests.

A23- year-old youth leader, Noel, said:

“Mahal ng mga magulang namin ang lupa pati ang mga trabahong kaakibat nito. Gusto
nilang makitang kahit sa mga bata, ito ay nagagawa pa din sa kanilang komunidad. Masasabi
kong mahal ko ang lupa. (Our parents love the land and the tasks accompanying it which was
mainly farming. They want to see it being practiced by the youth in our community. I can say that
I also love our land).”

The Aetas’ Land and Life, p. 26


Aetas bring their children to the farmlands to assist them. It is one of the ways to transfer skills,
knowledge and the sense of value of the land to their children.

In terms of governance, the Aetas still follow their age old three-level institutional
structure: (1) the nuclear family or mitara-anak, (2) the family grouping or canip and (3) the
village. The nuclear family shares in household and socio_economic activities, primarily in
clearing and working in one or two swiddens per year. It is also common among Aeta nuclear
families to live together with elderly parents.

The family grouping unit may be composed of a single household or a group of


households. The members include parents and their married children. They also communally
share food and work in the fields. The village or district level, also called sakop, is a recognized
and named area. These villages average “between 15 and 20 square kilometers in size {but] are
not discrete bounded territories”. Most members of a sakop are related by blood.

In the political dimension, which exists mainly at the village level, the kapitan serves as
head and is “an influential individual who functions as a mediator of both internal and external
conflicts, or who, in the case of an open conflict, may assume leadership based on popular
support.” The elders also have a particularly special role in decision-making in the Aetas’ social
life.

At any rate, the most prominent features of the Aetas’ social set-up are its family
orientedness and their strong sense of “mutual cooperation and interdependence.” Perhaps the
downside of these features is the “mutual distrust” among Aetas not related by blood or
marriage.

The spirituality of the Aetas is best manifested in their concept of health and disease. The
curing ritual is the Aetas’ most important ritual, of which the manganito séance is the most
refined and well-developed.

The Aetas’ Land and Life, p. 27


The Aetas believe in the soul, or kaelwa, as a separate entity dwelling in the body. Any
disturbance in the body, such as disease and long illness, is attributed to the weakening of the
soul. In the case of death, the Aetas believe that the soul continues to exist. According to
Shimizu (1989:47-48), the Aetas do not have a clear idea of death, but there is a belief that the
dead proceeds to the “summit of Mount Pinatubo” and live in unity with the “collective minaci
(all the dead).” The Aetas believe that the dead can bring sickness and bad luck. This is, in fact,
as mentioned above, one of the reasons for their constant movement from one settlement to
another.

The spiritual realm of the Aetas includes the


belief in environment spirits, who co-exist with
humans. There are two types of environment
spirits, namely anito or the good spirit and the
kamana or the bad spirit. These spirits may reside
in the “forest, trunk of a huge tree, bamboo
thicket, rock, stream, cave, and other places or
objects.” The Aetas try to maintain harmonious
relationships with the anitos. Anitos are basically
friendly, although they may retaliate harshly at
An Aeta cultural presentation depicting death of a humans when their territories are harmed or when
love one. they are offended. To overcome the anito’s
displeasure, a langgad6 or gift must be offered.

Because of this belief in environment spirits, the Aetas treat nature with extreme caution.
This sets an implicit rule among them that natural resources should not be abused and exploited.
This also affects their agricultural activities. For instance, they make offerings to the anitos
before they start working on a swidden field.

V. Conclusions and Recommendations:

The welfare provision for the Aetas can be addressed through the collective effort of the
Aetas of Zambales with the support of NGOs, such as PDI, and other participants from various
sectors. These are sectors that are willing and committed to advocate for the Aetas’ right to their
ancestral domain and productive life. In all these efforts, the ultimate aim is to assist the Aetas in
the establishment of an autonomous and self-reliant community.

The advocacy for the Aetas’ claim to their land and life is, in effect, an advocacy for
development. The eruption of the Mount Pinatubo in 1991 was a very loud and explosive
wake_up call for both the government and society at large to pay attention to the neglected
condition of the Aetas.

The Aetas’ direct and long-term exposure to mainstream society since the 1991 eruption has
been a clear culture shock for them. It generated various reactions. Some accepted the sad and

6
Langgad is also offered as a sign of reconciliation with or apology to a fellow Aeta. See below.
The Aetas’ Land and Life, p. 28
hard fact of being expelled from their home on the mountain. Most have persisted in rebuilding
their lives back from where they started.

Land is the lifeblood of the Aetas. They depend on the land for their food security, which the
resettlement program has failed to deliver. This is the basic reason why many Aeta families want
to return to Mount Pinatubo. The lahar risk status is still a big obstacle. In the meantime, it is
important to find a legal way to allow Aetas to have access to and use their ancestral land.

The current condition of the Aetas, particularly with respect to the ancestral land, is now
certain. However, it still entails a continuing process of struggle and engagement until the CADT
has been awarded to them. The process has been long and arduous, but one benefit from all of
this is the social and political education of the Aeta community.

In this regard, even if they are largely integrated into mainstream society, their
indigenous institutions and practices will continue to endure and persist.

The Aetas are a distinct indigenous people, different from the lowlanders. The Aetas’
strength and courage is shown in their steadfastness and persistence in holding to their
indigenous institutions and practices in the face of immense pressure from mainstream society.

The Aetas must assert their control over their lands, territories and natural resources for
food production. They must begin to respond to changing conditions and eliminate risks and
threats to food security and traditional medicine, as well as practices associated with their
community. The government must pursue initiatives that advance traditions and lead to the
adoption of appropriate and sustainable farming methods that marry western science with
traditional knowledge. The Aetas must continue their practice of ceremonies, dances, prayers,
songs, stories and other cultural traditions related to the use of traditional foods and subsistence
practices. They must also institutionalize mechanisms for transmission of food-related traditional
knowledge and practices for the use of future generations.

The Aetas affirmative action in continuing their indigenous knowledge system and
practices must be upheld, nurtured, and preserved.

The Aetas’ Land and Life, p. 29


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The Aetas’ Land and Life, p. 32