Archive for October, 2010

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.”

A Visit to an Ancestral Domain

Friday, October 15th, 2010

October 11-12, I joined 25 Aeta leaders of LAKAS and PBAZ to visit their ancestral domain. We crossed the river of mud and lahar on a three-hour trip to Barangay Villar, and had an evening assembly to discuss their priorities. The next morning, we went on a two-hour hike to Yamot, one of their original sitios, to visit the hot springs where they want to plant a sacred grove and build cottages for a Wellness Center.

Dawn trek to YamotOct 11 to Bgy. Villar

Crossing water, mud and lahar

Last stream to cross before Barangay Villar and a welcome merienda of camote and cassava

We went down to a spring water source of drinking water, the priority of the barangay.

We went down to a spring water source of drinking water, the priority of the barangay.

Barangay Chair Palab opens the meeting with prayers

Barangay Chair Palab opens the meeting with prayers

Palab, Ben, Raul, and Letty speaking at the meeting. All are ELF leader-graduates

Palab, Ben, Raul, and Letty speaking at the meeting. All are ELF leader-graduates