Friday, December 31, 2010

Christmas news story: Aquino among the Mangyans

SOMETHING GROUNDBREAKING and historic happened on December 15. But there was no mention of it in the national media. No news stories, no photos, no TV coverage.

But so what. For the community of Hanunuo, Gubatnon and Ratagnon (Hagura) Mangyans of Occidental Mindoro it was a day they will never forget. President Benigno Aquino III flew to Magsaysay town to make the day very special. The Mangyans awaited his coming with bated breath and the sight of the descending helicopter with the President on board added to the excitement.

I was not present, but I am writing about the event because the Mangyans are a special people. I have stayed in their communities and written stories about them, although not these particular Mangyan groups that the President came for.

December 15 was the day of the awarding of the Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) which the Mangyans and their supporters, particularly the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (FMM), have been waiting for the last 15 years. The long and arduous struggle began in 1995 and many living Mangyans elders did not think they would live to see this day. In fact many of the elders who had presented proof of their ancestral domain claim have either died or are weak and sickly.

When the Mangyans learned that the CADT would at last be awarded to them, they made a request that would be rebuffed again and again: that the President come to hand over to them the CADT and for him to behold the joy on their faces. The Mangyans were told that this was not going to happen. They were simply not on the radar screen.

But as the cosmists might say, when you desire something good so intensely the universe will conspire to make it happen.

An FMM, Sr. Cho Borromeo, had saved the phone number of then presidential candidate Noynoy in her cell phone’s contacts folder during the campaign period. Sr. Cho does not work with the Mangyans but gives spiritual retreats all over the world. (We became close friends while spending months together and experiencing Asian spirituality in India many years ago.) But her heart and soul belong to the forlorn and forgotten.

Upon learning from her fellow nuns that the Mangyans had been rebuffed, she called the number that she had saved. It was suntok sa buwan. Maybe an aide would answer, she thought. No answer. Again and again she dialed. Then someone answered the phone. “Is this the President?” she asked. “Yes,” the President answered. Sr. Cho shook in her shoes.

Let’s cut to the chase. The President said, yes, he will come, but could the awarding be moved a day later?

And so it was that Aquino was among the Mangyans on that auspicious December day written in the stars. He flew by helicopter to Magsaysay town and was met by Mangyan elders wearing G-strings and head gear.

Said Aquino:

“Sa paggawad natin ng CADT sa grupong Hagura ngayong araw, hindi lamang lupang ninuno ang ibinabalik natin sa kanila. Higit sa lahat, patunay ito sa pagkilala natin sa lahat ng Mangyan bilang mahalagang pangkat ng ating lipunan; makabuluhang bahagi ng ating kultura at kasaysayan.

“Tulad ninyo, naniniwala rin akong hindi lamang ito isang paggawad. Isa itong pagpupugay sa inyong tapang upang maibalik sa inyo ang lupang ipinagkait sa inyo nang mahabang panahon. Ngayong hawak na muli ninyo ang lupang ipinamana ng inyong mga ninuno, umaasa akong patuloy kayong magiging katuwang ng pamahalaan upang pangalagaan ang kinabukasan ng mga susunod na Mangyan; ng mga sumusunod ring mga Pilipino.

“Nawa’y maging hudyat ang araw na ito sa mas matibay na ugnayan nating lahat sa pagtataguyod ng mas maliwanag na bukas para sa marami pang henerasyon.”

Hagura is the organization to which three Mangyan tribes belong. It covers 14 sitios in Magsaysay and three in San Jose. It was set up in 1995 to consolidate efforts to acquire legal right and develop the ancestral domain of the three tribes.

According to the FMMs, Mangyans’ ancestral domain is delineated not by municipal boundaries but by the location of the tribes. In the past the three tribes in Hagura were one tribe until they were given different names by the settlers.

Credit must go to the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples who processed the claims and the FMMs who assisted in the surveys and explained the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) to the Mangyans in order to make them aware of their rights. The nuns climbed mountains, crossed rivers, slept in the open, ate what the Mangyans ate and, most of all, listened to the people’s sentiments. And as Aquino himself admitted in his speech, it was a nun’s persistence that brought him into the midst of the men and women of the great forests.

A battle has been won, but the Mangyans will not rest easy because of threats to their domain such as illegal logging, commercial mining, creeping pasturelands, and fighting between the military and the communist rebels. The Mangyans must not lose what they fought for and won.

Indeed, Christmas came early for the Hanunuo, Gubatnon and Ratagnon Mangyans. I have posted a photo of the President with the Mangyans in my blogsite.

And so as I partake of forest ferns and wild honey (my yuletide fare), as I quietly bask in the afterglow of Christmas night, I remember the time I spent among the Alangan Mangyans many years ago, in their hallowed grounds where the stars shone brightly and the wind whispered songs to the trees while I listened to ancient tales narrated by the fireside.