(Article published in the Feb 2,2011 issue of Manila Standard Today)
The matter of the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone Authority (APEZA) goes beyond the narrow interests of Quezon’s politicians. It involves the wider questions of whether, as a people, we Filipinos have not only the external decency to comport ourselves with civility when dealing with others but also, and more importantly, the internal morality to truly respect the innate dignity of our fellow human beings when dealing with one another. Specifically, the questions before us is “ought the Angara suzerainty in Aurora be permitted, without protest from the rest of us, to stifle in the process of their pushing for the APEZA, the human rights of their fellow Filipinos, or, in fact, their fellow human beings, the dumagats in the area?”
A reader from another part of our global village who knows apparently whereof he speaks, commented on one of the more recent pieces in this column, and wrote me, in part:
“…I am an American and a professional ecologist studying the rainforest environmental destruction throughout northern Aurora, and specifically the Casiguran forest, and the Agta indigenous natives who have lived in the Casiguran forest for thousands of years. My wife and I lived with the Casiguran Agta people for 24 years, from 1962 to 1986, and we return to visit the Agta almost every year since. (Our three children were all born in your country and grew up living in Agta settlements in the Casiguran forest. We returned from Casiguran to the USA this past April, 2010. We served there under the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL). I presently teach at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.
The Casiguran area being considered as a special economic zone, it should be noted, is not unpopulated virgin forest. The Casiguran municipality has a population today of some 50,000 people, both thousands of Tagalog rice farmers, as well as several hundred Agta hunter-gatherers. The Agta are called Dumagats or Negritos by outsiders. The several thousand hectares being considered for this economic zone is the ancestral domain of the Agta people since before the time of Christ. I hope the government will consider the dilemma this proposed zone would mean for the Agta. I am thankful that the Philippine government had the moral courage to pass the IPRA Law in 1997 (Republic Act No. 8371, the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act). Now, if there has ever been a time for the Philippine Nation to act on this Law, it is in this debate over this proposed zone. When we were with the Agta this past year, they strongly voiced their concern over the reports of this plan to take over their lands for this project. They were against this, fearing they will lose their land, their forest, and their livelihood. The local Tagalog and Casiguran farmers voiced similar concerns. I am sure that members of the Philippine Senate will, as they study the implications of this proposed zone for their own indigenous people in Aurora, take those concerns into account in their decision making. I invite them to read my website on the Agta people and their history of human rights violations over the past 100 years, and how much of their land has already been taken away from them. My statement is posted at http://www.sil.org/~headlandt/agta.htm and is titled “Agta Human Rights Violations.” Read also my speech given at the Philippine Embassy in Washington DC, at the invitation of Philippine Ambassador Raul Rabe, on December 8, 1998, congratulating the Philippines on the passing of the IPRA Law. My speech is online at http://www.sil.org/silewp/1999/004/SILEWP1999-004.html. I have just published my latest book last month, titled *The Agta People: A Photographic Depiction*. It contains 1,054 photographs of almost every member of the Agta population in Casiguran. My wife and I took those photos over the past 48 years. Each person therein is named with the names of their parents and spouses. It is available for sale at the SIL headquarters in Quezon City. Every Agta family in Casiguran already has their own copy of this book.”
The advocate of the dumagats is Thomas N. Headland, Ph.D.,Professor of Anthropology at the Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. His curriculum vitae states his area of competence as “Ecological anthropology, hunter-gatherer societies, Philippine Negritos, tropical forest human ecology, culture change, swidden cultivation systems, ethnoscience, descriptive linguistics, translation theory. Geographical area of interest is Insular Southeast Asia.” The grants he has received, to work on his specialization, come from various institutions and span more than thirty years. Just to mention a couple: In 1994, he was principal investigator in a research titled “The Population Decline of a Philippine Negrito Hunter-Gatherer Society” given by L.S.B. Leakey Foundation. He was also principal investigator in the research project “The Ethnography and Population of a Philippine Negrito Society” funded by Pew Charitable Trusts in 1991-92.
It is a most serious error for the Angaras to permit their bulldozer of self-aggrandizement and dynastic perpetuation (although perhaps it is premature to call the holding by the Angara family of a senatorial seat, a congressional bench, and a governatorial slot all in a couple of generations a “dynasty”)to rampage against the Dumagats. The forests of Casiguran are their land and their life. Taking that away from the Dumagats, ostensively in the name of the interest of the city folk of Casiguran, is a serious offense against the law that spans even beyond the universe and that is higher than man’s.