APECO issue divides Dumagats
(First of two parts)
MANILA, Philippines - The Dumagats are divided.
The Aurora Pacific Ecozone (APECO) issue is not only causing problems for the livelihood of the Casiguran tribes but also wreaking havoc on their community life. Communities are torn between the pro and anti-APECO positions of the people.
Dumagat leader Victor Abajon said, “Ang problema nga namin…nahahati ang mga katutubo…ang nangyayari nahahati ang mga komunidad.” (Our problem is that the natives are being divided and consequently, the communities.)
Every Dumagat community has its own chieftain. The chieftains are in charge of taking care of their constituency and were traditionally regarded as owners of the land.
Abajon maintained that only a few tribal leaders from certain communities were consulted by APECO. “Hindi naman nila puwedeng sarilinin ang isang buong komunidad. Kailangan nila isangguni sa kanyang pinamumunuan,” he added. (They cannot assume that they own the entire communities. They need to consult their constituents.)
On the natives who are pro-APECO, Abajon said, “Ang mga sumang-ayon sa APECO ay mga miyembro lang. Wala silang batayan na ipapasok na agad ang APECO.” (Those who approved of APECO were merely members. They have no authority to accept APECO’s offer.) According to him, APECO even hired natives to protect the mountains from the other tribesmen.
Bita Banayad, chieftain of Barangay Kolat, was saddened by her own tribesmen turning against them. “Kami mismo yung binabantayan nila kapag papasok kaming bundok. Kapwa naming Dumagat ang nagbabawal sa amin…samantalang dati sama-sama kaming namumundok diyan,” she claimed. (Our own tribesmen watch us whenever we enter the mountains. Our own people stop us even if we used to go there together.)
“Diyan namin kinukuha ang kabuhayan namin eh,” she added. (That’s where we get our livelihood.)
APECO promises progress for Casiguran. The 12,000-hectare project aims to give livelihood to the Dumagats living in the area. The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) even commended APECO for its effort to help the Dumagats.
Abajon disagrees. “Dapat niyong malaman na ang kaunlaran ng katutubo ay iba sa kaunlaran ng Tagalog. Ang kaunlaran sa amin ay ang pagyamanin ang kabundukan dahil diyan nagmumula ang kabuhayan namin. Pati na rin sa dagat,” he said. (You should know that progress for us is not the same as the concept of progress for the Tagalogs. Growth for us means taking care of the mountains and seas from where we get our livelihood.)
The primary concern of the Dumagats is that APECO is claiming their ancestral lands.
“Usapin ito ng lupaing ninuno na ipinaglalaban namin. Kaunlaran ang gusto rin namin. Pero ang kaunlarin na tinutukoy ko ay ang pagyamanin ang lupaing ninuno, mahalin ang kalikasan at karagatan,” said Abajon. (We are fighting for our ancestral lands. We also want progress but the kind of progress we want is that which nurtures our ancestral lands and values nature and the seas.)
Breaking family ties
The division in the tribes has even affected family ties.
Roberto Kokkuangko’s family is divided on the issue. His nephews are working for APECO, while his other relatives joined him in the march.
“Iba kasi ang isip ng mga pamangkin namin. Dapat sana, kung sila ang nilapitan, sila dapat ang nagsabi na magkonsulta muna sa aming mga magulang. Pero wala silang ginawang ganoon,” Roberto added. (My nephews have different perspectives. When APECO approached them, they should have told them to consult with the elders. But they did not.)
Abajor said that those who agreed did not fully understand the effects of APECO on the communities. He even said that the younger people tricked the elders into giving their consent.
“Ang mga matatanda namin walang pinag-aralan, walang naiintindihan. Basta makatanggap lang ng pera, sumang-ayon na para mabuhay kahit hindi nila naiintindihan ito nang maigi,” he maintained. (Our elders did not have a proper education so it’s hard for them to understand everything. They just agreed because they got money out of it even if they do not fully grasp the consequences of their decisions.)
Not the case for farmers
It’s not the same for the farmers of Casiguran.
“Kahit noong kami-kami pa lang ang nakikipaglaban noong wala pa ang APECO…buo ang kaisipan ng aming mga miyembro na hindi dapat mabawasan ang mga lupa na aming sinasaka,” said Elmer Gonzalez, president of Bicol-Ilocano Casiguran Farmers Association (BICFA). (Even when we had no support from other sectors way before APECO…we were grounded on the same principles. They cannot lessen our farming land.)
Gonzalez noted that all the farmers are anti-APECO given that all of them will be affected by the issue.
“Hindi talaga puwedeng mabawasan ang lupa naming sinasaka dahil doon kami kumukuha ng pangkabuhayan…at doon din kayo kumukuha ng pangkain,” he added. (The farm lands really cannot be lessened. That’s where we get our livelihood…and where you get your food.)
The farmers and Dumagats are two of the various sectors of Casiguran fighting against the Angara-led APECO project.
Is reconciliation possible?
APECO had tried to relocate the Dumagats as a way of compensating the natives. Abajon pointed out that this is not possible given that the division of the Dumagats’ lands was set centuries ago.
“Hindi kami puwedeng pagsamahin sa iisang komunidad dahil may iba-iba kaming kaugalian. Kapag pag-isahin kami…magkakapatayan yan,” he added. (Some tribes cannot live in one community. If you put us together…we might end up killing each other.)
Abajor maintained that there should be dialogue between the Dumagats. “Ang huli naming gustong mangyari ay kami-kami mismo magkasakitan,” he said. (The last thing we want is to harm each other.)
The anti-APECO Dumagats, he added, continually try to talk their pro-APECO tribesmen into joining their cause. “Sana naman pakinggan nila kami,” he said. (I hope they will listen to us.)
The anti-APECO people of Casiguran are currently camped in Caritas Manila. This is already their second march to Manila to lobby for support from the national government. In their march in December 2012, the Casigurans had a dialogue with President Aquino on the APECO issue. – Rappler.com