A tribesman leads his village in resisting a development project that promises progress but threatens his tribe.
Viewfinder Last updated: 04 Nov 2014 14:19
"Mr President, your idea of progress is not our idea of progress", admonishes tribal man× Vic to President Aquino of the Philippines.|
Vic is one of 120 people from× Casiguran, north of the× Philippines, marching across the country to protest a controversial land development created by a powerful political dynasty.
The development promises to bring economic progress with resorts, an airport and factories. Construction has begun, destroying ricelands and displacing fisherfolk. If the development carries through to completion× Vic and his tribe will be one of 3,000 families stripped of their land and livelihood.
Will the president hear a tribal man's plea to stop the development from going ahead?
I first stumbled upon this story four years ago. My husband, a human rights lawyer, told me about a remote village in Casiguran, Aurora province where farmers, fishers and indigenous peoples needed legal help. They were protesting a massive government project called Aurora Pacific Economic Zone (APECO).
APECO covers 12,923 hectares and would build an airport, a seaport, resorts and factories. It promised jobs and progress in the once sleepy town of× Casiguran. But the project was mired in controversy.
Vic puts on a broken pair of eyeglasses and shows us APECO's plan to build resorts where they live and a big port where they fish.
Fr. Joefran Talaban, the town's parish priest, is the most vocal critic of the project. "APECO is an unjust law. It promotes a wrong kind of progress where the indigenous people, fishers and farmers are not consulted, he says"
Under the× Philippine constitution and the indigenous people's rights law, no project, can enter ancestral lands or waters without the free, prior and informed consent of the community.
Villagers protested that they were never consulted about the project. Some farmers lost lush, fertile ricelands as APECO built roads and buildings. Fishing families who lived by the sea had to tear down their homes to make way for an airport. Even the town mayor complained that he and other officials were not consulted, a violation of local government laws.
But the creators of APECO, Senator Edgardo Angara, his son congressman-now-senator Sonny Angara and his sister congresswoman-then-governor Bellaflor Angara, are powerful and well-entrenched.
It was going to be a difficult fight for× Vic and other oppositors to APECO as they exhausted all means to fight for their land - dialogues, congressional and senate hearings and protest marches over a period of four years.
After a gruelling 350km protest march to Manila, Vic meets the president of the× Philippines, looks him in the eye and tells him: "We also want progress, but our idea of progress is different from your idea of progress."
I asked× Vic where he found the courage to speak to the president like that and he said: "We walked for 17 days to tell the president what we felt. So I did."
Vic was not a tribal chief. He was an ordinary tribesman who finished grade one in school. But his practical wisdom and the slow, dignified way he spoke reminded me of much-revered chieftains, long dead and gone but well remembered for the way they led their people against "development" projects.
While he was fishing, he told us how much the× Dumagat valued their freedom. "If we work in the APECO factories, we work for a boss. In our ancestral land, there is no boss."
Another time he was foraging for food in the forest. "Everything we need to survive is here. If we nurture our forest and seas, it will sustain our needs. The life of the tribe is simple. We are able to eat everyday. Our huts are small but we are happy."
Ultimately Vic makes us wonder about the big questions at the heart of this story: What is progress? Who defines it? And who really benefits from "development" projects?