Wednesday, 23 February 2000

The language of guns:

It's Greek to Aetas
By Gina Mission


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CLAA members: (left to right) Nardo Serrano, Sonny Serrano,
Ric Guiao and Carlito Apang

It was just another day in the community, remembered Ric Guiao, an Aeta from the resettlement site of Nabuklod, a mountainous barrio 40 minutes by jeepney from Floridablanca, Pampanga. The sun was out, and as usual, everybody was doing his or her business. As the Aetas would later tell it, there was not an omen of what was about to come-an absence that was more than what an Aeta, steeped in indigenous beliefs and traditions, could handle.

..."Alam mo ang katutubo, hindi sanay makakita ng taong armado (You know, indigenous people are not used to seeing armed men),'' explained Guiao, secretary general of the Central Luzon Aetas Association (CLAA). "Matatakot 'yun, at iiwas na lang, hindi kikibo (They will get scared, and will just turn away, and keep silent)."

...And scared, distant, and silent the Aetas did become from that day on.

The grand arrival

...On December 3, 1999, more than 800 members of the Philippine National Police, the National Special Action Force, the Philippine Army, and the Philippine Air Force arrived in the resettlement barangay of Nabuklod.

...CLAA members said they were told that the military presence in the area was in response to the rising number New People's Army (NPA) members in the place. "Marami daw NPA dito at kinupkupkop daw namin sila, kaya sila pumunta (There are supposedly a lot of NPAs here and we are supposedly cuddling them, that's why they came),'' said Guiao.

...But the military didn't just look for NPA members in Nabuklod.

The harassments

..."They burned down houses, destroyed our farms, shot our animals, broke into houses without search warrants, and harassed our youths," narrated Guiao in Tagalog.

..."Takot na takot kami kasi palagi lang silang nagpapaputok kahit wala namang kalaban (We got so scared because they were always shooting their firearms even when there was no enemy),'' said Nardo Serrano, an elderly Aeta who doesn't know his age.

...It was worse for Carlito Apang. He had not been going out of his house for several days to avoid meeting any of the military. He had abandoned his farm, too. As if that wasn't enough, five armed men came to his house and rummaged the whole place to "search for something." When he asked if they had a search warrant, he was told it wasn't necessary as the barangay captain of Nabuklod was with them and had allowed it. As soon as the "search" was over, however, Angil Binuran, the barangay captain,told Apang he didn't know anything about the search.

..."Pakiramdam ko nawalan na ako ng karapatan sa sarili kong pamamahay (I felt like I lost my rights over my own home),'' lamented Apang.

...Thirty-year-old Sonny Serrano had a bad experience with the military, too. "Naglalakad ako, tapos nasalubong ko yung isang military. Sabi sa akin, 'Ikaw 'wag ka ng lumabas at baka mapagkamalan ka pang NPA'. Takot na takot ako. Kasi alam ko pag NPA, pinapatay talaga nila. Mula noon, sa bahay na lang talaga ako, hanggang sa magpapasko. Wala ngang bagong damit ang mga bata dahil hindi na ako nakapaghanabuhay (I was walking when suddenly I met a military man on the way. He told me not to get out of my house again so I wouldn't be mistaken as an NPA. I was so scared. I know they kill NPAs right away. From then on, I did not dare get out of my house again until Christmas time. My kids didn't even have new clothes for Christmas because I wasn't able to work),'' Serrano said.

Cost of development?

...Guiao believes that what's happening in their barangay is a "clearing operation" of the government.

...In August 1999, Aetas from Nabuklod, he recalled, were recruited to help clear the mountains where the Olongapo-Clark road would pass.

...Unfortunately, the same road will cut through Nabuklod. Guiao thinks that the government wants the Aetas to vacate the place, so they can start the road construction. And the soldiers were deployed to scare them off.

...Apang can only think of their being Aetas as the reason the military is harassing them. "Hindi nila kinikilala 'yung karapatan namin, kaya ginagawa nila, 'to. Sinasabi nila, nandito sila para iseguro yung protektahan ang mga mamayan. Pero bakit ginagawa nila 'to? Hindi ba kami mamayan? (They don't recognize our rights, that's why they do this to us. They say, they're here to secure the protection of the citizens. But why are they doing this to us? Aren't we citizens, too?).'' Apang asked.

...Guiao estimates that there are around 150 thousand Aetas in Zambales, Pampanga, and nearby areas. "They say it's for development. We should be happy the government is constructing these roads," said Guiao. "But that's not the kind of development we want. We would rather be left alone doing things our way than live with the military watching our backs."

..."It's worse than being tortured for 24 hours," Guiao said of the militarized Nabuklod. "It's like being jailed in your own house.''

Development for whom?

...Guiao foresees something worse will happen when "development" comes to Nabuklod: there will be land speculation and real estate development.

...Because indigenous people are not scheming and are so trusting, Guiao fears that real estate developers would deceive them or cheat them out of their lands, all in the name of development.

Development on Aetas' terms

...The Aetas are not asking for the moon, Guiao said. "We don't want cars, or big houses.'' Development, for the lowly Aeta, starts with the recognition of their human rights, including their right from all forms of discrimination.

..."Our indigenous skills should be recognized, and government should promote a kind of development that encourages the use of our skills. Our indigenous culture should be respected. Integration of the Aetas into mainstream society should be done at their own pace," he stressed.

...All that an Aeta can aspire for in this life, he said, is land ownership, and peaceful living. An Aeta is happy in a collective community where everybody shares things and has a means of livelihood. And they don't even ask that from the government.

...Guiao, however, conceded this much: "Balang araw magbabago din 'yan (Someday, our aspirations will change.) But for now they don't want the presence of the military in the name of development. "We want to be treated like humans.''

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