Aetas fear for their lands, culture due to rise of New Clark City

MANILA, Philippines – The Aeta community in Tarlac are expressing their fears and concern that they might lose their decades-old land due to the development of the New Clark City.
Aetas fear for their lands, culture due to rise of New Clark City

Aetas fear for their lands, culture due to rise of New Clark City
The multi-billion project New Clark City | Screengrab: YouTube/ GMA

The New Clark City is said to be the country’s “first smart, green, and resilient metropolis in the country.” Under the Build, Build Build program, the project is being managed by the Philippine Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA). With a budget of P607 billion, the project is expected to draw in as much as 1.12 million residents and 800,000 workers to usher in a new era of economic development in Tarlac and Pampanga.

But in Sitio Ye Young, Barangay Juliana, Capas in Tarlac, the Aeta community is feeling the fear of being displaced as the modern metropolis is slowly encroaching on their ancestral lands. The 10,392-hectare Sacobia Ancestral Land in Tarlac, home to 16 Aeta tribes, is said to be part of development of the New Clark City.

Aeta communities fear they will be displaced
Aeta communities fear they will be displaced | Screengrab: YouTube/ GMA

For generations, the Aetas have been living peacefully in the land of their forefathers and had been protected under the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA) of 1997 (RA 8371). Under the law, ancestral lands are given to Indigenous People to help preserve their culture and way of life.

Brigido Salazar, one of the Aetas in Capas said they fear they might not survive once they are displaced. He said, “Kasi po halimbawa, kaming mga katutubong Aeta hindi po kami pwede sa bayan. ‘Di ba po ‘yung isda ilagay mo sa katihan ay mamatay, kami rin po. Kapag wala kami sa bundok, nanghihina kami. “

Boy Galanga, an Aeta from Bamban, Tarlac also doesn’t approve that a metropolis will rise in their lands. He said, “Ipaglalaban namin, dito kami nabubuhay eh.”

But a leader of Aeta tribe in Bamban, Carlo Tolentino admitted that they attended a meeting in Clark with BCDA officials and he was convinced that a good agreement can be made.

Randie Bacani, Chief, Administrative and Finance Division of NCIP Region III, confirmed that they did a field-based investigation to see what communities will be affected and what areas should not be included in the development, including Aeta’s sacred burial grounds. All these agreements are included in the Memorandum of Agreement that the Aeta community and the BCDA have yet to sign.

Government assures Aeta community

Mabalacat City Councilor and ex-officio of Sanggunian Tribu Aeta (STA) Rubilyn Margarito defended the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) headed by president Vince Dizon. She said that the BCDA reached out to the tribes for a meeting and presented their plans. Margarito cited Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA) as the Aeta’s protection and gave assurances that their culture will not be disrespected. She said, “Ang pangako nila ay magiging transparent sila sa lahat ng activities at inaaasahan namin na tototoo sila sa kanilang pangako at patuloy nilang rerespetuhin ang karapatan naming mga katutubo.”

BCDA’s statement

The Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) issued an official statement on the issue saying that the New Clark City will be built “within the Clark Special Economic Zone, is public land titled under the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA).”

“The recent social media posts criticizing the project are completely false and misleading. There are no certificates of ancestral domain titles or CADT within New Clark City's buildable area; hence it is not true that Aeta families will be displaced. Nevertheless, financial assistance packages are made available to all project-affected people. BCDA has also provided a relocation site for those whose residential structures were affected," their statement reads.

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