Subic Aytas preserve roots while embracing the new

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SUBIC BAY FREEPORT—Members of the Ayta tribe at the Pastolan village in the hinterlands of the Subic Bay Freeport straddle the two worlds of the new and the old.

Eager and able to adopt the lifestyle of their brethren in the lowlands, the natives now enjoy the modernity of television, cellular phones and washing machines, while retaining their connection to the mountain and jungle around them.

Ayta kids enjoy a tour of the Magaul Bird Park, Cookfest participants break open a native cookware and Curiosity draws an onlooker into a model Ayta hut.

The dichotomy is nowhere more apparent than during the October celebration of the Indigenous People’s (IP) Month here when the Ambala Ayta tribe, along with the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) and some community organizations, showcase the native culture through dances, songs and various competitions.

At the “Ayta Got Talent” competition on October 27 at the Harbor Point Ayala Mall here, for example, Ayta children pranced about for the talipi, a native dance that mimics the movements of animals in the forest, all in loincloths and native wraps, and gamely playing to the mall audience in the air-conditioned setting.  

And when it was time to present the winners, the same youthful figures nimbly came up the stage transformed in colorful shirts, denim pants and jackets—their usual garb in their mountain locality.

Transformation

THE image of Ayta tribesmen in G-strings beside their lean-to dwellings in the middle of the forest is virtually a thing of the past, observed Gigi Estalilla, a community-relations officer from the SBMA who coordinates agency projects at the Pastolan community.

“They have changed a lot in the last five years,” Estalilla explained. “Now, 70 percent of the houses in Pastolan are already made of concrete. Around 70 percent of the residents have television sets, with about 30 percent of these connected to satellite disks. And 40 percent of the households use washing machines, instead of doing their laundry in the river the traditional way.”

A chicken adobo dish simmers during the native cookfest, Ayta favorite: sweetened glutinous rice cooked in bamboo tube and A coconut-shell bowl
holds native chicken adobo.

The radical change in the Subic Ayta lifestyle could be traced to the recognition by the SBMA of Ayta rights to their ancestral domain.

With the help of the SBMA, the Ayta Ambala tribe of Subic Bay secured their Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) in 2009, giving them formal ownership of the more than 4,280 hectares of land covering the Kalayaan and Binictican housing areas, and the Apaliin, Pamulaklakin and El Kabayo tourism areas in the free port, among others.

Then in 2011 in recognition of these CADT rights, the SBMA and the Tribung Ayta Ambala sa Pastolan (TAAP) signed a joint-management agreement for the Ayta lands in Subic. This set into motion the provision of benefits like priority employment for qualified tribesmen; annual livelihood assistance for 25 years; annual financial assistance for tribal celebrations; scholarship and medical benefits; and the establishment of a fund for a 5-percent share collected from direct business leases of land within the Ayta ancestral domain.

The SBMA said the SBMA-TAAP accord was the first to provide a comprehensive package of economic, social and cultural benefits to Subic Aytas ever since their tribal land had been occupied as an American military reservation for more than a century, and later when the Subic Bay Freeport was established in 1991.

Change and stability

WITH more economic opportunities available to the natives, the upland community of Pastolan, some 10 kilometers from the central business district of the Subic Freeport, thrived despite its relative isolation.

The small Ayta village has its own grade school, health clinic, potable water-supply system and electricity. Now, a sturdy vehicle owned by the tribal council brings Ayta students to the government high school in Olongapo City, thus ensuring they get the needed higher education.

But even with their changing social status, Ayta leaders have fortunately chosen to preserve their community’s indigenous roots.

“The annual celebration of the IP Month,” said Conrado Frenilla, chieftain of the Pastolan Ayta tribe, “gives us, the Ayta tribes in the Subic Freeport and nearby areas, the opportunity to demonstrate and show other people the richness of our indigenous culture.”

“At the same time, we also do this to teach our children the importance of knowing, preserving and practicing the Ayta traditions,” he added.

Mike Recacho, vice chairman of the Ambala Pastolan Organization, stressed that, more than being a festivity, the annual IP Month celebration should strengthen the Ayta people’s awareness of their cultural identity and assertion of their rights.

“We need to awaken, among the youth especially, a sense of our place in the bigger community and our role in the changing times. We need to give them knowledge to fight discrimination and to embrace our folkways and culture,” Recacho said.

Happy mix

WITH this emphasis on local culture, events during the IP Month celebration always came out a happy mix of the traditional and the contemporary.

In the recent Pastolan events, Ayta elders like the renowned jungle-survival instructor Dominador “Tata Kasoy” Liwanag, were seen walking about and greeting visitors in their traditional red bahag and headscarf. Tata Kasoy was also with his ubiquitous “walkie-talkie,” a radio transceiver that links him instantaneously to fellow operators of Ayta tourism spots several kilometres away. Others mostly carried cell phones.

Likewise, at the “Maglutuy Na!” Ayta Ultimate Cook-Off Competition on October 19, tribesmen from the Subic Freeport, Olongapo City and Subic, Zambales, cooked native recipes in the traditional bamboo tubes. However, some of the ingredients they used, like coconut milk and fruit preserves, came straight from the can and not from old-fashioned food preparation.

The blend of the old and the new also showed during the Ayta booth competition organized by Jobin-SQM Inc. when Ayta girls in native tapis manned a booth where they showed visitors a presentation of Ayta jungle-survival skills—conveniently from a laptop computer.

Encouragement

ARMIE Llamas, manager of the SBMA Public Relations Department, said the Subic agency has encouraged the Ayta tribesmen to retain their identity while keeping up with social changes.

As such, the SBMA takes an active role in promoting Ayta welfare to show appreciation for the cooperation and support given by the tribal folk, and to strengthen their capability as partners in development.

“For the past 10 years, we have been celebrating the robust partnership between the SBMA and the indigenous cultural community here,” Llamas said. “In recognition of the Ayta ownership of ancestral lands where locators of the Subic Bay Freeport now continue to flourish, the SBMA is helping heighten public understanding and preservation of the Ayta culture amid fast-paced modern living.”

For this year, Llamas said the SBMA prepared a two-week program that began with an Ayta-led flag-raising ceremony at the SBMA main office on October 16. This was followed by a breakfast meeting among SBMA and TAAP officials on October 18, a native cooking competition on October 19, children’s tour of four theme parks in the Subic Freeport, village-level lectures on climate change and drug-abuse prevention, and the “Ayta Got Talent” contest on October 17.

The SBMA also invited over Norman King, the first Ayta to graduate with a bachelor’s degree from the University of the Philippines, as a motivational speaker during the IP Month program.

Meanwhile, heavy private-sector support contributed to the success of the IP Month activities in Subic.

Llamas said that, for this year, the SBMA received support for IP Month activities from Harbor Point, Philip Morris-Fortune Tobacco Corp., Redondo Peninsula Energy, Emerging Power-Jobin SQM, Jamjle Properties and Development Corp., Subic Vacation Villas, MSK Group Work, Asia International Auctioneers, Ocean Adventure, Zoobic Safari, Magaul Bird Park, Funtastik Park, First Subic Bay Food Ventures, Subicwater, Rotary Club of Subic Pearl and the local governments of Olongapo City, Hermosa and Morong in Bataan and Subic in Zambales.

Empowerment

IN particular, Jobin-SQM Inc., which put up a solar farm in Pastolan, organized competitions among the tribesmen on spoken-word poetry, which required participants to render their entries in the Sambal dialect; tribal booths, which showcased the evolution of Ayta dwellings and tribal skills in jungle survival; and music and dance, with emphasis on traditional dances and Sambal folk songs.

Angeli Eclevia, the firm’s community relations officer, said this was the second year they have initiated projects to help promote and preserve Ayta culture. The company, which began operating in the area last year, had organized the first Ayta native cookfest, which saw tribesmen besting each other with exotic dishes.

“This [year’s program] is actually a continuation of the theme from last year’s event, which was ‘Ha kitamuy mi aayun, ha kantamung pinagmul an ha dan ginawa tamu hin hatu’ [Let us recall together our collective past and culture],” Eclevia noted.

“This time around, we tried to showcase the empowered spirit of the Pastolan community, which was strengthened throughout the years via local expression through the arts and native language,” she added.

On the same occasion, Jobin plant manager Mark Allen Perez formally turned over P500,000 representing the firm’s committed annual financial assistance to the TAAP.

Mayor Jopet Inton of Hermosa, who was among the guests in the event, also provided additional cash prizes for winners in the contest, Eclevia noted.

Image Credits: Henry Empeño



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