“Naniniwala ka ba na may kwenta sila dahil may kwento sila?”
(Do you believe that they have value because they have stories?)
— Bobby Guevara
It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the metro. It’s even easier to get comfortable with the convenience and accessibility of the city. But, to me, the easiest thing to do is to passively associate all these outputs of industrialization to progress. Does progress only have one look? I wonder if anyone sees the mountain side and consider it progressive. The transformation of farmlands to subdivisions, the destruction of heritage sites, the commercialization of indigenous customs all in the name of progress and development–it makes me wonder: do Filipinos treat anything that drives away from our tradition progress?
In a province called Aurora, situated in the northern part of the Philippines, residents of the municipality Casiguran are currently facing an uphill battle against the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport Authority (APECO), a government project that aims to industrialize 12, 923 hectares of land into a subdivision, an airport and commercial space. At present, APECO is the biggest land-grabbing issue in the nation and several sectors of the community, alongside local farmers, fisherfolk and indigenous people, have been very vocal about their opposition, to say the least. In the year 2012, a coalition of these sectors joined forces to embark on a 352-KM march from Casiguran to Manila, an endeavor that would have normally taken approximately 12 hours via van, in the hopes of getting former President Benigno Aquino III’s attention.
It has been 3 years since the march, yet constructions on their land persists.
Last July 22, I joined a small group of individuals that decided to visit our brothers and sisters in Casiguran. I had the privilege of meeting the locals of Sitio Dalugan and experiencing their way of living for 6 days. I’ve always had great respect towards our fisherfolk, farmers and indigenous people, but somehow the prospect of staying in a place so disconnected from Manila left me extremely anxious.
How am I going to survive a whole week with complete strangers in a place with no cellphone or wifi signal, no electricity and possibly no running water?
These were the questions that nagged me as the departure date approached me slowly. I was so caught up in my selfish thoughts and comforts that I almost failed to realize how invigorating it was to immerse myself in the quiet and humble rural life.
I got to experience so many things I wouldn’t have otherwise enjoyed. I wouldn’t have witnessed the breathtaking view of the Pacific Ocean, nor would I have experienced making suman (rice cake) out of kamoteng kahoy (cassava) and later gain a newfound appreciation for the Filipino delicacy. I wouldn’t have been able to take a shower with water straight from the mountains or to have fish (others even have lobster or blue marlin) straight from the ocean served for dinner.
The locals were no longer just random names or a vague and generic face in my head. They were real people with real stories. And the prospect of seeing their way of living disturbed and uprooted all for the sake of “development” sends me into a whirling fit of frustration every time. How can other human beings fail to recognize their dignity? How can anyone have the heart to displace thousands of families, rob children of futures and homes? Where is the humanity in all this?
Immersing myself and listening to their stories can only do so much. The question now is: where do I go from here?
If by any chance you are moved by the stories of these people as well, you should also try answering that question. Your response need not be grand and should not be limited to just the locals of Casiguran. The people who deal with oppression are alarmingly not uncommon. Human dignity belongs to everyone and it is our moral duty to remind those who have forgotten of their inviolable and intrinsic value. There will always be people who seem bigger than us, but if we don’t right for what is rightfully ours–or in the context of Casiguran, theirs–who will? This is not just their fight, it’s our fight too. Their stories have not ended and we can write them to make them better.
Written by Giselle Lapid, a Batch 2 2016 intern at the WYA Asia Pacific office.