Monday, February 21, 2011

After Pinatubo - A Success Story

Lubos Alyansa ng mga Katutubong Ayta ng Sambales (LAKAS.PH) — Document Title: After Pinatubo - A Success Story
Document Ref No: R9210111
First Published: Reflections - Philippine Daily Inquirer
Publication Date: 11th October 1992
Author's Name: Father Shay Cullen SSC

Some weeks ago I visited my friends in the Aeta tribal community known as LAKAS in Mambug, Botolan. I parked the pick up half a kilometer from their new village and waded across the swollen river who's bed of stones are now soft to the feet with Pinatubo lahar. These hardy cheerful and wise people were driven from their ancestral lands on the slopes of Mt. Pinatubo in Zambales by the volcanic eruption last year. As always it was an inspiring visit. It renewed once again my convictions and beliefs in the goodness, honesty and integrity of the ordinary Filipino. Convictions frequently battered by own personal experiences and the endless revelations of corruption, graft and injustice by some government officials and the heinous hucksters of the business and financial elite that have brought this country to an abyss of hunger, poverty and crime.

This Ayta community of more than 200 families organized themselves into a disciplined and active community called LAKAS, they overcame the hardships of several dislocations as the Pinatubo disaster continued to spread, driving them further away from their sacred Mountain. Ten years ago they were hunters and gathers and upland farmers and were easily cheated and deceived by lowlanders who took advantage of the tribal people's lack of literacy skills. They bartered a can of lowland fish for a basket of upland bananas in a microcosmic example of the industrialized North exploiting the South.

But that all changed when the Franciscans Missionaries of Mary (FMM) sent Sr. Carmen "Mengay" Balazo and four other dedicated sisters to live among the Aytas of Pinatubo. They shared their lives and hardships and lived in simple bamboo and nipa thatched houses. They were there in solidarity to respect and conserve not to alter and convert. They came and recognized God's unique presence among the people and listened to God's word as it came then as it does now, through God's people to the modern world. The honest and pure lives of these gentle and peaceful people who are close to God in their nearness to the life-beat of nature reached out to me helping to change and enrich my vision of the world. They have much from which many can learn.

Like all tribal Filipinos they have been deprived of so much of their ancestral lands and human rights by the greedy land-grabbers colluding with corrupt officials. The so-called march of progress and development has trampled and destroyed the living beauty of traditional customs and life-styles in the Philippines. Here in the rolling hills of Zambales a culture is being preserved and enhanced not as a museum relic of the past but within a living community who have organized themselves to survive and continue their peaceful traditions and honest way of life in many ways superior to the stressed panic of materialistic consumerism that destroys nature in a crazed bid to posses it.

I left the pick-up half a kilometer from the village and waded across the river with two visitors. They were a bit worried about leaving a bag in a unlocked vehicle. "Not to worry ,I said there is no theft like that here, I feel like a member of the tribe." I said. " Oh, that must be a very good feeling", they said, reflecting a civilization largely without such feelings. We reached the village. It was neatly designed and laid out with a road and pathways between the neatly fenced houses of bamboo and cogon grass, each with a large plot planted with root crops, vegetables, bananas and mango trees. Every house had an outside toilet and I noticed water pipes running from house to house. Some had healthy upland rice anothers were cleaning and preserving small rattan poles and some families were using traditional skills to make practical handicraft items out of the rattan. They had won back through the Department of Environment and Natural Resources their forestry rights and were planting and harvesting rattan in small quantities and turning them into quality products.

The houses surrounded a wide open space that had a basketball court, water pump, a community center, small store, the LAKAS offices, four school rooms and a clinic all made out natural traditional building materials Children played and laughed. The air was fresh and clean there were no vehicles, no Televisions, but much much more - peace and serenity, security and freedom.

We walked through the village as it spread uphill passing people busy minding children or working on their individual plots. We came to the community warehouse and community rooms and groups of children were planting a community plot. "It is very important that the children develop their attachment to the land by planting and caring for it, Sr. Mengay explained. Other leaders and their people were spread all over the hillsides gathering the stones into contours and planting trees, cassava and vegetables. A large water pipe led upwards to a small dam - the communities water source. A sound of a chanting singing voice wafted down through the trees. The leaders excused themselves they are going to school. One of them was the teacher, the other the students. Later as we passed by the school rooms there they were, dressed in traditional loin cloths reading, studying, learning, an inspiration to their children and to each other.

So different from the urbanized society where the "pursuit of happiness" is a daily battle against choking pollution, rat infested garbage heaps, crime and traffic chaos.

Give me the Filipino tribal village anytime. END

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