Home Activities Regional Activities Asia Philippines Responsibility in the Community A video-documentary on the responsibilities exercised by the Mangyans of Mindoro
Published on 4 July 2005
The Video Documentary – Iraya Mangyan: Responses to the Challenges of the Times
Presented by OTRADEV Working Group
I. Iraya Community
Mindoro… home to the many different indigenous groups of the Mangyans. The Iraya is one of the Mangyan ethnic groups who live in the northern parts of Mindoro Island. Historical facts and tales speak of Irayas living freely near the coastal area, enjoying abundant food amid fertile lands.
Mulong: “The indigenous people have been living in the coastal areas since the earliest days. But as the years passed, the Mangyans, seeking to preserve our culture, left the coast to live in the uplands.”
The arrival of foreign colonizers and Filipinos from other parts of the country slowly drove the Irayas to the mountains …Today, most of the Irayas live in the uplands in the towns of Paluan and Abra de Ilog in Occidental Mindoro and Puerto Galera, San Teodoro and Baco in Oriental Mindoro, bringing remnants of their own culture and indigenous consciousness; having their own aspirations.
The Irayas are a peace-loving people. Hardly any form of conflict arises in their own communities. Their tools are used mainly for livelihood, hardly as weapons. The Irayas adhere to their own customary laws in governing their communities. Indigenous laws inherited from their ancestors are used in settling conflicts, such as the use of device like the ‘pangaw’ and ordeal called ‘tigian’ which always leads to a peaceful resolution.
Segundo: “Pangaw is like being detained for a few hours or days, legs are immobilized—it’s really hard because your muscles become very sore after a while.”
Mulong: “For example, if one is accused of theft, he would go through the ordeal called ‘tigi’ where he must hold a smoldering metal, to determine guilt.”
The Iraya customs, beliefs and practices are passed on through the family. The men and women have equal responsibilities in the family, such as planting and harvesting crops, child rearing and other house-hold chores. Parents pass on the right values to their children.
Mulong: “We start teaching our children at a young age, even before they learn how to talk.”
Through ‘pamumuybuyan’ or story-telling, the Iraya indigenous culture, knowledge and legends are handed down to the next generation. Igway and Tagbayi-no are two of their literary forms. They also have indigenous musical instruments like the subing and flute.
For the Iraya Mangyans, their ancestral domain is an integral part of their lives.
Danny: “There used to be an abundance of natural resources here.” For them, land is life. Their economic existence comes from their farms, streams and forests.
Mulong: “During the dry season, we would catch fish and shrimps from the rivers. We eat this with rice, or tubers, or bananas.”
From the forest, they gather raw materials used for domestic purposes and for basket-weaving. They also gather herbal plants for healing.
They gather these resources based on their daily needs, making it sustainable for the use of the next generation.
Segundo: “We don’t cut down certain tree species —specially the mature trees, which have been with us since the time of our ancestors. We cultivate plants here in the uplands which will bear fruits for a long time, so that our children will also benefit from the future harvests.”
Swidden farming or kaingin is their primary form of agriculture that has been passed on from their ancestors and has become part of their culture. This method requires clearing some mountain areas, cutting and burning a few plants, and using the residual ashes as fertilizer.
Maria: “We start kaingin in March. Rice and corn are the primary staple crops grown.”
After these are harvested, other crops are planted such as root crops, bananas and other vegetables.
Mulong: “We plant root crops like cassava in our kaingin.” After harvest, the land is left fallow to allow it to recover its fertility. It will be used again only after a few years.
Mulong: “Usually, the kaingin is used only for one planting cycle. For the next cycle, the land is left to fallow and another area will be cleared for kaingin. We didn’t cultivate hardy plant species before since we still had much land for kaingin and our beliefs went against planting such species. Now we realize we need to cultivate sturdy trees, such as fruit trees.
With the Iraya’s indigenous laws and knowledge about nature, they have a deeper understanding of their relationship with the environment.
Danny: “We do not go to certain forested areas which we know are sacred grounds. These are planted with old trees that have been in the forest for a long, long time.” Segundo: “We choose which trees can be cut— only those within a 10-inch radius. We don’t cut down trees bigger than that. When big trees are cut down, our water supply will be depleted. Between the kaingin and the water source, there should be at least a 50-meter distance. We really protect our streams. We have a water reservoir that supplies the whole of Puerto Galera. 30 hectares is reserved for this watershed.”
The Irayas are very determined to protect and enrich their environment, since this is the foundation of their culture.
II. Issues and Challenges
At present, the Mangyans face many daunting challenges. As they are exposed to external influences, their customs undergo changes. One major change is in the area of religion.
Mulong: “Before, we only believed in our God ‘Apo Iraya’. Now some Irayas have become Catholics or Protestants.”
Another external influence is education. But not all Iraya communities have schools. Those that have schools lack teachers and facilities.
Chris: “I hope these children will finish school. They also need some study materials, especially a dictionary they can use in the classroom.” They experience discrimination from the lowlanders, who buy their products at very low prices. At present, their forest resources are slowly depleting. They are losing large tree species, wildlife, and fertile soils.
Tipan: “Our parents used to stay in the uplands for a whole year because resources in the forest then were more than enough. But that’s no longer possible now.”
Danny: “The soil has lost its fertility. There’s almost nothing to harvest during kaingin because of poor soil.”
Land grabbing has been rampant. This is done through illegal land titling.
Maria: “There are many land issues now.”
Danny: “We are being discriminated intensely because of our ancestors’ lack of formal education. We were cheated once when one of us sold a piece of land. Instead of the agreement of 3 hectares of land, they changed it to 30 on the lot plan. So they got 30 hectares but only paid for 3. They illegally acquired 27 has. “
Even some government programs do not suit the Iraya’s needs; they are inappropriate to their environment. Maria: “Various groups have been coming in and planting different tree species in our lands.”
Mulong: “The different government programs are not applicable to us, such as reforestation. There are existing endemic tree species but new species like gemelina and mahogany are instead used, which are not appropriate. They should reforest in the denuded areas only.”
The Irayas also bear witness to the rampant illegal logging that has severely damaged the forests.
Tipan: “We are affected by logging activities because these deplete our forest and destroy our means of livelihood.”
At times, they have no choice but to look for work as paid labor for additional source of income. Danny: “We have to find other sources of income in the lowlands, to supplement the harvest from the kaingin.” As a whole, the greatest challenge lies in defending their right to their ancestral domain.
Ariston: “We were approached by people who wanted us to leave. I answered, ‘Where would we go?’ They said they will bring us to a relocation area where we will have our school, church, water supply and electricity. They said we were squatters on land titled to lowlanders (Tagalogs). We asked him ‘Senor, where do the Tagalogs live?’ And he replied, ‘from Batangas to Manila’. We refuse to leave this land because we know this is where our parents and ancestors lived. We will not leave this land.”
Rogelio Caubi: “In turn, we asked them where the Mangyans live. They said the Mangyans live in the Island of Mindoro. I asked them, ‘then why are you driving us away? How can you tell us to leave when you know we belong here?’” Challenges to the Iraya’s land and culture are being faced collectively, for they have to preserve their heritage. The Irayas continue to live and adapt to their ever-decreasing resources. For the few who have the chance to attend school they use their knowledge to address their current plight.
Chris: “My family encouraged me to finish school so that at least one of us is able to graduate from college. I really wanted to become an engineer. But I was advised to get a degree in education so that I can help really help my fellow Irayas, Education is something that will last.”
Education gives them a glimmer of hope.
Rosita: “My goal is to finish my course and be able to help my family. I feel like crying with the thought of not being able to finish school, because instead of buying rice, we would instead use the money for my school needs. We have become the children’s role models, they tell us they want to go to school too. I feel encouraged, I feel happy and they inspire me to really finish my course and help my family. A lot of children are really interested to go to school.”
The Irayas pursue organizing and collective action in their continued advocacy for their rights to their ancestral domain and self-determination. This process involves awareness-raising, social analysis, community organizing, skills training, planning, mobilization and empowerment.
III. Hopes and Dreams
At present, the Irayas continue their organizing and mobilization to defend their rights to their ancestral domain and self-determination. To achieve their development agenda.
THAT OTHERS RECOGNIZE AND RESPECT THEIR RIGHTS….
Danny: “Our desire is for our rights to be recognized. We are also part of society, we need the help and support of the government. We lack access to good education, basic health services and especially, opportunities for livelihood.”
Rogelio Caubi: “We appeal to them that they let us keep our school here so that our children become literate, unlike their parents who do not even know how to read and write, and were easily cheated.” Maria: “I hope that they would treat us fairly and not discriminate.”
HAVE THE RIGHT TO DECIDE…
Danny: “It’s difficult for us to understand the current system of government. We started out in the lowlands, now here we are in the uplands and we continue to be oppressed. Our lands are still being taken from us.”
“We demand for the recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples.”
AND BE FREE…
OTRADEV Coordinating Committee
OTRADEV is an organization of social development professionals engaged in rural development.