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Updates on the Aeta Ram Pumps

Sunday, February 19th, 2012

We received updates and pictures abut the Aeta ram pumps in Botolan, Zambales.

After the religious ritual to appease the spirits, the two AIDFI technicians and the Aetas were able to work on the catchment tank and the cement base of the two ram pumps.

But not immediately. There was another interruption, as they had to go down from their upland ancestral domain to the lowlands, so that they could vote in the special elections held for the congressional seat vacated by the death of Congressman Diaz.

Aeta Ram Pump

Based on the report of the project field staff, there are other reasons for the delay. There are not enough Aetas who have the skills to assist the AIDFI technicians. Also, although barangay chairman Palab promised his fellow Aetas that he would solicit food for those who would volunteer their time to work on the project, he was not able to get it from the local government.

Because of this, ELF decided to use part of the project funds to buy rice and needed food for the Aetas, so that more of them can join the volunteer workforce.

Aeta ram pumps 2

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Ram Pumps and Other Aeta Dreams

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

It’s been a long time coming.

More than a year ago, at an evening meeting in Barangay Villar, inside the Aetas ancestral domain, we shared our dreams which started with our partnership for Aeta learning and leadership. After a lot of discussion, they agreed on one priority – water for drinking and for irrigation. But the spring source was 100 meters below the plateau where their huts and farms were.

Fortunately, we got to know about the ram pump technology which has been refined and further developed by the Alternative Indigenous Development Foundation Inc. (AIDFI)

ELF negotiated for funding from the Department of Agriculture, AIDFI surveyed the water source and the path for the pipes and hoses, and we asked the LGU of Botolan for counterpart assistance. A long, tedious process, not without moments of frustration. Bgy, Villar Chairman Pabalic said that many of his fellow Aetas were skeptical about the project ever happening.

But steadily, though slowly, the negotiations and preparations proceeded. Last January 28-29, I had a chance to visit the ram pump site. At last, the Aetas got a glimpse of a future that is just weeks away.

But the Aetas’ dreams go beyond the water that the ram pump will supply. At the community meeting and in the various conversations, we talked about the organic farms that they would develop, the post-harvest facilities to process and store their surplus crops, a trading cooperative they will set up, barangay and sitio electrification, perhaps even a pool of farm equipment. And still, the constant dream of lifelong learning about their indigenous knowledge and traditions and what they need to learn to interact with the dominant lowland and market society.

Here are a few pictures from the visit:

Aeta Ram PumpAeta Ram Pump 2Bgy Villar meeting

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10:30 pm June 15

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

What happened at 10:30 pm on June 15, twenty years ago?

In fact, something stopped happening at that hour, on that date. According to scientists, that was the official end of the 1991 eruption of Mt. Pinatubo.

What happened since then has become part of one  “most significant story”  in my life – my lifelong journeying with the Aetas, the “first people” of the Philippines.

The eruption forced the Aetas to leave their homes, farms,  and hunting grounds on the  slopes of Mt. Pinatubo. Their clans and communities were dispersed into various resettlement areas. Up to now, the original residents of Barangay Villar which is considered the “mother barangay” of Aetas, live in in four or five different sites.

But 150 families belonging to LAKAS  (Lubos na Alyansa ng Katutubong Ayta sa Sambales) decided they would stick together, even if it meant transferring 10 times to different temporary sites. They finally settled in a place, sitio Bihawo, from which they could see Mt. Pinatubo, where they believed Apo Namalyari dwelt.

Wherever they settled, they never stopped dreaming and hoping that they would return to the slopes of Mt. Pinatubo.

Aeta participants would draw details of this dream during the visioning exercises in the GLC – the Grassroots Leadership Courses run by ELF. That is where our life stories met.

I wasn’t in the Philippines when Mt. Pinatubo erupted. It was only in 1992 that I managed to return from an informal exile in Europe. That gave me the chance to set up the Education for Life Foundation with Girlie and activist-friends, using funds  initially provided from Denmark.

Partly inspired by the ideas of Grundtvig on “education for life” and the Danish folkehojskole residential course, ELF’s core program was, and continues to be “grassroots leadership formation for grassroots community empowerment.”

We decided to start with participants from  Central Luzon, because of the region’s history of militancy, and because our NGO partners like PRRM worked there.

We didn’t deliberately seek out the Aetas.  NGO partners sponsored two Aeta participants for the first batch Unang Ani. In the succeeding batches, Aetas remained minorities among the mainly lowland participants of the GLCs.

But after a few courses, the Aeta leader-graduates requested for an All-Aeta course. We did, and that eventually led to the setting up of  PBAZ – Paaralang Bayan ng Ayta sa Zambales – organized by Aeta leader-graduates of the GLCs.

Earlier the Aeta leader-graduates talked of starting an “Aeta Survival Folkschool.” The name reminded me of stories about Aetas training US soldiers in jungle survival skills during the Vietnam war.

Carling Domulot, the current president of LAKAS (the fifth in a series of elected leaders), is clear about what the Aetas need now and in the future: “We need to keep alive our indigenous culture and history, but we also need to acquire the knowledge and skills from the formal schools.”

Last week, we reminisced about our first encounters and the years of journeying together. He talked about a recent trek with a group of LAKAS and PBAZ leaders to the crater of Mt. Pinatubo, to develop a route for future eco-tourists who may want to climb from the Botolan side, rather than the existing route from Capas, Tarlac.

“We found clear running waters two hours from the crater,” he said. “It is in Yamot, the sitio of LAKAS before the eruption. That is where we can set up the nursery for indigenous trees, build huts and a community center, for our Aeta folkschool.”

In early 2010, the Aetas of Barangay Villar, Belbel, Burgos, and Moraza finally got their CADT – Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title – to over 15,000 hectares that include the crater of Mt. Pinatubo. Like other indigenous peoples communities that have acquired legal rights, the Aetas face the challenge of how to develop their ancestral domain.

There are denuded areas that need “rainforestation.” There are upland areas that are suitable for sloping agriculture. The twenty years since the eruption make the farm lands ideal candidates for organic agriculture.

But only a few families have settled back in their ancestral domain. Most remain in the resettlement areas. The older Aetas are eager to return as soon as we can build the ram pump that will bring water for drinking and irrigation to the chosen site for the barangay and their farms. But they acknowledge that many of the younger Aetas are ambivalent, wondering if they still want go back to the life their elders remember, before the eruption.

I asked Carling how he feels about what happened in 1991 and its aftermath.

“At first, I wondered what wrong we have done for Apo Namalyari to allow such suffering to happen to us,” he said. “But after 20 years, I think Apo Namalyari may have used the eruption as a way to broaden our world, and to learn new things that we need, so that we will survive.”

He enumerated the different people he has met, the different places he has visited, the different challenges he has met and different lessons he has learned. “Because of the eruption,” he added, “we have met. And I have learned a lot from you, and ELF, and those we have met through you.”

So did I, from Carling and the Aetas, and the learning still continues.

Looking back on the 20 years, I think of  Soren Kierkegaard and his aphorism: “Life can only be understood backwards. But it must be lived forwards.”

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A Young Aeta’s Farewell Talk

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

Christopher “Butog”Domulot is a young Aeta who has been studying at the Asian Rural Institute in Japan. In a few weeks, he will be returning to the Philippines, to apply what he has learned. The following is his last “morning talk” to his classmates at ARI.


At this time I want to be slightly serious in as much as this is my last morning gathering. Everyone knows I’m naughty. Yes I admit that I acted as a naughty boy. But this is my own way to express my closeness with other people and provide little comfort though. However, this seems to have become serious for me to be kiddin. I’m very sorry to all who were affected by my jokes. I’m sure that many of you are offended by my jokes, and I would like to apologize.

In every place I go, I always carry with me my culture-my way of life and the way I relate with other people. It is the identity of my tribe. Culture is what everyone of us can afford and not afford to discard. Being part of the new generation in our tribe, I should appreciate it because it is our inheritance from our ancestors. Even in a cold place like Japan, I endeavored to display my identity, though it became a discomfort to others, because I am proud of being a member in my tribe. Though I am already accustomed to wear branded clothing, I cannot afford to let go of my traditional way when the situation demand for it.

Do you still cherish your local culture? Are you proud of your own culture? Or have you discarded it because you are ashamed to be identified with your local people and community? Do you respect others’ culture? If you don’t have respect for your own culture, lets us respect each other’s culture.

Our parents dreamed of our own community school, which we called School of Indigenous Knowledge and Tradition. Learning is based on the life situation through our life. It  means that learning is available in our daily life, not only in books, but in everyday life, lived and incorporated in our culture. This dream is gradually carried out because of the sustained efforts of our community.

Right now our community school (Folk School) is prospering and continues to grow. The students are excelling as proven by over ten graduates who passed the Accreditation & Equivalency Test. Now they continue their formal studies such as high school and college level studies. The school also assists many out-of-school-youth in other communities, not only in my community. Although they are not tribal members, they are welcome in our school.

I dream that one day my tribe will return and occupy again our ancestral land and restore its beauty and abundance. My succesful completion of ARI Rural Leaders Training Program will not only benefit me personally but most specially for the development and integrity of my community.

What I learned here in ARI is incomparable to other trainings I attended. These learnings cannot be grabbed or can not  be stolen from me by other people. I believe that the application of these knowledge will be pretty hard for me,  but when it continues to be applied or practiced it will become more and more sharp.

I would like to end my sharing this morning with a glimpse of my memories when I arrived here in ARI, when I met you, shared with you, and now I have to be back home in a few weeks to be with my community…..but I would like to tell you that you are all part of my learning …..that have shaped my past, present and future journey. It is a photo movie and you are all included in my my dreams for the future – My Journey.

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Aetas and the Time Paradox

Saturday, October 16th, 2010

For two days and two nights, I had a non-stop conversation with Aeta leaders of LAKAS and PBAZ inside their ancestral domain.

We planned our trip to be a “visioning walk and talk,” and we did talk a lot about the future. But our conversations also shuttled back and forth, to the past, the present, and the future.

That may be the reason why on the first night, before falling asleep in the hut of Mulo, I recalled Philip Zimbardo’s book The Time Paradox. His thesis is that people can have three time perspectives: Past-oriented, present oriented, or future-oriented.

The Aetas, especially their leaders, have a strong past-orientation. They reminisced a lot about their life before Mt. Pinatubo erupted, how they grew enough food in the 10-hectare lots they assigned to each clan, and how they were free to hunt labuyo, baboy damo, and even some deer. In Zimbardo’s categorization, their time orientation is more past-positive than past-negative.

But their memories of the remote past are not about unalloyed freedom and self-sufficiency. They told stories of a lowland lawyer who took advantage of their illiteracy, and tried to grab their land, and of traders who paid a pittance for their surplus produce.

They have grateful memories of the FMM sisters, especially Sr. Menggay, who taught them literacy and their rights in the early 1980s, and helped them federate into LAKAS. A number of them were trained to be literacy facilitators, starting with the very first – Tay Ben Jugatan.

Their more recent past is also a mix of negative and positive. The eruption of Mt. PInatubo dispersed them from their four barangays of Villar, Belbel, Moraza and Burgos to the different resettlement sites.

Only the 150 families of the LAKAS organization managed to stay together in Bihawo. The rest of the residents of the four Aeta barangays do not live together in one place. But they have maintained their identities as residents of their original barangays, even if these have no legal status.

ELF is part of their recent past, as well as their present. When we first met the Aetas in 1993, they told us stories about how, after the eruption, many relief and rehab agencies descended on them, each one claiming their share of beneficiaries: “Their competition added to our divisions.” By 1993, most had stopped working with the Aetas, and had moved on to the next post-disaster area.

I asked what they value most from the ELF leadership course. They said that they learned how to deal and negotiate with authorities, and speak to them without feeling like beggars.

The course included visioning exercises, and they always expressed a longed-for return to their original sites. In their present resettlement sites, all their skills cannot expand their small home lots and farm lots. When they work in the bigger farms, their daily wage is a mere 100 to 150 pesos. Aeta children are often discriminated against in the schools. Despite this, Aetas are not “present-fatalistic.” They do not accept that they can’t do anything about their present situation.

Botolan Mayor Roger Yap used to tell me how he had tried, in vain, to convince the Aetas, especially of Barangay Villar, to come to terms with reality, and not insist on voting for their own barangay officials, even though they reside in different resettlement sites.

Happily, they got their CADT. The Mayor launched a program of “balik-barangay” for the residents of the four barangays. The most enthusiastic response came from Barangay Villar; majority of the barangay council including the chair are also LAKAS leaders. Bgy. Villar’s territory includes 10,000 out of the 15,000 hectares. They have identified the site for their new barangay center, in place of the old site that has been completely buried by the lahar flows.

For the Aeta leaders, “Balik-barangay” is not a mere return to the past. It is a move “back to the future.”

I went to the ancestral domain with visions of organic farms, community-based reforestation, a learning center, even a wellness center. For the Aetas in Villar, these are all part of their desired future. But at our Monday evening meeting, they unanimously agreed that their most immediate need is water, for people to drink, and for watering the plants. Without access to water, they would have difficulty convincing their fellow Aetas to move from their resettlement lots, back to the mountain sites.

After water, what next? They want a tractor, to clear at least 500 hectares of land that families can farm. For this they need carabaos, and plows, and carts, and hoes.

The barangay leaders have built three classrooms from their own funds. In appreciation of their efforts, the DepEd ofered to build a full elementary school, provided the barangay donated a two-hectare lot. They quickly agreed, and even added a third hectare for future expansion.

Zimbardo advises us to have a bit of past orientation, a bit more of present orientation, and even more of the future. Although people who have a negative past can not change their past, they can practice reframing their past by changing their attitude toward what happened. People who want to become more future- oriented can write down their goals, chart their progress, make to-do lists, and work toward long-term rewards.

Changing one’s time perspective requires much effort , but such a change is achievable, and people who achieve it have happier lives. Zimbardo could be talking about the Aeta leaders when he writes: “Our ability to reconstruct the past, to interpret the present, and to construct the future gives us the power to be happy.”

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