Aeta school, ancestral domain at stake in land dispute
- [Olongapo Subic Bay News] Aeta school, ancestral domain at stake in land disputeBy Tonette Orejas - Inquirer
FLORIDABLANCA, Pampanga -- A British-funded literacy program among Aetas in the sub-village of Bucaran here has been derailed for two months now due to a dispute over lands near the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway.
Noel Valencia, director of the Popular Education and People's Empowerment (Pepe), confirmed on Thursday the delay in the implementation of the alternative learning system program. The international support institution Oxfam is assisting the project aiding 50 families, Valencia said.
The school has been built by Pepe's partner, the Development Action for Grassroots Learning, village council and the Department of Education, according to village head Romy Manuel.
The delay came as the Montemayor family continued to claim about 10 hectares at Bucaran, where the Aetas live and till lands.
Amelio Caballero, an Aeta elder, has insisted that the lands being claimed by the Montemayors are part of the tribe's ancestral domain.
"Deng pipunpunan mi keni la mibait. Aku man keni ku mibait (Our elders were born here so was I)," Aeta elder Amelio Caballero told the Inquirer in a visit Thursday to his orchard planted to about 100 mango trees already abloom that day.
Edgar Apang, the tribal leader, expressed concern over a number of violent incidents that had broken out since July this year. The disputed property is about a kilometer west of the 94-kilometers expressway.
Manuel said the Montemayors were planning to sell the land to Korean buyers. Land speculation and massive buying had occurred in areas near the Japanese-funded highway that links the economic zones of Subic, Clark and Luisita, reports from the agriculture and environment departments showed.
Apang said that on Wednesday, Montemayor's aides identified as Fred Mina and Ben Bacani, beat up Set Balenton, an Aeta who refused to leave his plot.
"We have been divided by this issue. Some are afraid now but we are defending our land no matter what," Apang said.
More than 15 children and 20 adults have suffered from the program's delay, he said, adding that it was the first school in the village.
"Sasaya na ke sana keni nung imu migulu (We're beginning to be better off here until this conflict started)," he added.
Town records showed that the Montemayors had filed an administrative case against Manuel for "abuse of authority and usurpation."
The town council had dismissed the case. Manuel showed a land title showing that two hectares in the disputed property were owned by the North Philippine Union Mission of Seventh Day Adventists Inc.
Tony Saboo, treasurer of the Central Luzon Adventist Academy located in the village, said the mission has no plans to evict the Aetas.
"We also have no opposition to further construction projects for Aetas," he said. The mission was executing an affidavit to assure that commitment.
Caballero said that while four Aeta families had agreed to be paid damages for their crops -- at P10,000 per mango tree -- the rest would fight an eviction plan.
"Before the highway was built, there were buyers who came. I told them 'Can I plant mango on your money? Can I plant rice on your money? No I can't, so go away and find other lands. My lands would go to my children and my children's children and the next generation in my clan," he said.
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