members: (left to right) Nardo Serrano, Sonny Serrano,
Ric Guiao and Carlito Apang
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
scared, distant, and silent the Aetas did become from that day on.
The grand arrival
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.
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.
the military didn't just look for NPA members in Nabuklod.
burned down houses, destroyed our farms, shot our animals, broke into houses without
search warrants, and harassed our youths," narrated Guiao in Tagalog.
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.
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.
ko nawalan na ako ng karapatan sa sarili kong pamamahay (I felt like I lost my rights over
my own home),'' lamented Apang.
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?
believes that what's happening in their barangay is a "clearing operation" of
August 1999, Aetas from Nabuklod, he recalled, were recruited to help clear the mountains
where the Olongapo-Clark road would pass.
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.
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.
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."
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?
foresees something worse will happen when "development" comes to Nabuklod: there
will be land speculation and real estate development.
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 on Aetas' terms
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.
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.
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.
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.''