Our Rivers, Our Lives: The Ayta of Pampanga and Tarlac and their Struggle against Quarries and Destructive Dams
Originally posted by TFIP on MARCH 14, 2018
written by Angelica Campo and photos by Myra Dela Cruz
In line with the commemoration of International Day of Action for Rivers on 14 March 2018, the Philippine Task Force for Indigenous Peoples’ Rights (TFIP) presents two emerging success stories of Ayta communities struggling to defend their rights in Pampanga and Tarlac.
Left with no choice
“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” What Heraclitus said eons ago, holds true for Ilog Pasig in Sitio Pidpid, Barangay Sapang Uwak, Porac, Pampanga.
On 30 January 2018, the Magantsi and Magindi tribes of the Ayta indigenous peoples bravely put a stoppage on the operation of three companies namely Clarete Vibro Sand Processing Company, T.A.G. Mineral Resources Incorporated, and Powerzun Quarrying and Trading Incorporated (now known as SANDGLO). Ayta men and women have blocked the trucks that were taking away sand and stones from their ancestral domain. They eventually set up a barricade to ensure that no quarry personnel or equipment could get in and out of the premises while the operation is on hold.
The Ayta community was motivated by the deliberate disrespect of their collective rights as indigenous peoples and the growing number of water-related sickness among their children. They observed that due to massive excavation, the river got deeper, with less water flow, and is unsafe for them to drink. They have reported incidents of smelling diesel in the water they got from the existing springs. They believe that chemicals from the trucks and heavy equipment are being disposed indiscriminately on the surface and thus flow to the underground water systems.
The Ayta leaders explained that the environment is an integral part of their history, culture, and identity. They take pride in being able to share their lands and natural resources with others but the companies went beyond the areas designated for quarrying. The water systems were rerouted and as a result, they are now having trouble producing crops on their upland farms and the usual drinking water is contaminated.
Just recently, members of the Abelling tribe operating the excavation equipment in the Balog-Balog multi-purpose dam site staged a protest concerning their lack of job contract. Despite working for Guangzhi Contractor for eight months now, they do not receive mandatory government benefits like SSS, Pag-ibig, Philhealth. The project supervisor also deducts a P150 kickback from their meager salary. They complain of not being able to secure their post as the Chinese contractor is free to randomly fire employees anytime. This has come to the attention of indigenous peoples’ support groups and the local media. However, when CLTV36, together with peoples’ organizations and advocates, tried to do visit and conduct interviews, they were refused entry to the dam site.
After failed negotiations with the Chinese engineers who were onsite, project engineer Eduardo Corsiga explained that they need a copy of the request letter approved by the provincial and municipal unit. He confirmed that everything, from FPIC process, human resource management, construction of the dam and relocation site for affected residents, disaster risk management, capacity-building and livelihood trainings, and several other processes are under the supervision of National Irrigation Administration (NIA).
Discussions with affected non-IP community members revealed that the tenants who live and work in the supposed relocation site are being forced to leave without any relocation. There were problems with the actual payment of damages. The memorandum of agreement stated that the families would be given P300, 000 as reparation for the residential lot but none of them were ever paid in full at the time of the visit. There were also issues with how the farm lots are compensated. Most residents do not know that they are entitled to series of payment schemes depending on the size and classification of their lands, whether pastureland, irrigated, or upland farm. Some were even advised that they will only receive a fixed amount since they do not have land titles.
It was observed that the presence of the third mechanized brigade of the military had forced some IP community members to sign the documents granting NIA access to their ancestral domain. Despite the rejection by some Abelling families, they were persuaded to inhabit the houses that were admittedly unsafe, without water source, and have defective drainage system. After a week or so, they returned to their original dwellings.
The tribe members residing on the other side of the mountain fear that they would also be dislocated if the affected communities insist on living upland with them. There are no forests that they could go back to or share since a large portion of their ancestral land is already bulldozed. Together with tenant farmers, the Ayta of Tarlac are resisting the community displacement and the completion of the Balog-Balog mega dam project.
Even with the adoption of United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and enactment of Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA), indigenous peoples in the Philippines continuously experience historical discrimination, massive land grabbing, and food insecurity due to worsening climate change impact. IP communities are being constantly threatened with mining activities, energy projects, and construction of large infrastructures that do not directly benefit the people. This situation pushes the Ayta and other indigenous peoples to resist. Together, they stand with a call clear as their rivers: “These resources are ours. We should protect them.”
The Philippine Task Force for Indigenous Peoples’ Rights (TFIP) is a network of non-governmental organizations in the Philippines advancing the cause of indigenous peoples (IPs) rights. TFIP envisions a society that promotes and defends indigenous peoples’ rights and upholds their self-determined development.