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Mainstreaming the Tabagnon Agta into agri-economic development

The Agta- Tabangon tribe in Coyao-yao, Tigaon, Camarines Sur is a community of indigenous people who had abandoned their former nomadic way of life and opted to settle in a permanent location. Slowly they are embracing the modern way of life, new farming techniques and new livelihood opportunities.

About 21 households of this Indigenous People (IP) are settled inside or within the periphery of a 3.5 hectare land, which was previously owned by a tribal chieftain but was donated to the Hansel and Gretel Foundation, founded by Carmen Dapilos, whose advocacy is to: “Protect and Promote the Vanishing Culture of the Agta, through Education, Food Production and Revival of Culture”.

Five registered private tribal pre-schools within Rinconada and Partido districts, two of which in Coyao-yao and Cabalinadan, Tigaon, provide quality education for free to all underprivileged children, particularly those from the ethnic tribe. In addition, many tribal students from elementary to high-school were recipients of scholarship program granted by the foundation, so with the Two-Year German Dual System of Vocational Education for out of school high school graduates.

With their new learned skills, the once idle hands became useful and productive members of their families and their communities, while others who aimed higher pursued and finished college degrees. This inspired other Agta parents to support the education of their children instead of sending them as household help or laborer.

Carmen, a native of Calabanga, worked in Germany until her retirement. She dedicated most of her time for community development work here in Camarines Sur for three decades now. Besides her educational mission, she was instrumental in obtaining free medical operation of Maria, a 47 year old Aeta woman from Coyao-yao, Tigaon, with an inborn bust-like growth on her forehead, who later contributed an important role in their tribe.

Maria was illiterate. She is well known in the village for her freak looking face and was simply ignored. But the German doctors and Carmen’s friends, when they saw the girl’s pitiful condition immediately offered their assistance.

In Germany, she was operated by the best neurologist, well cared in the hospital, and was provided her needs during her four months stay under the care of Carmen. She was even given financial assistance for her house and lot before her return to the Philippines.

As a gesture of gratitude, the tribal chieftain voluntarily offered the foundation initially a 1.5 hectare lot, where Carmen built another school for them. An additional 2 hectares was given to her for more development she provided, such as water source and the cultural heritage center. Landless Agta families were allowed to live within the area for free, till their own vegetables farm for their own consumption. They are recipients of aids from the German donors.

Carmen who resides in Canaman, frequently visits her projects, spends overnight in her own shelter inside the area to have more time monitor the projects and be with the tribal people. The Agta whom she cares for are like her extended families.

The new generation of Agta-Tabagnon who were once shifting farmers are now settled in a permanent place and tilled the surrounding areas where they plant crops for their consumption. Little by little they try to adapt to the lifestyles, and the method of cultivating crops. Planting root crops, vegetables and other cash crops is their only means of existence. Men earn their additional income as farm laborers. Most of them are beneficiaries of the government’s cash transfer program or 4Ps.

Carmen frequently goes to the Department of Agriculture (DA) to request for planting materials for the tribal community. She facilitated the implementation of the native pig farming as one of their income generating projects.

In 2017, the DA through its livestock program provided the group with an initial six heads of native piglets consisting of five gilts and one boar. An additional 10 was again dispersed to the other members of the tribe. After more than eight months the pigs started to multiply. All Agta families are so grateful for their sow, the native pigs are changing their outlooks in life.

Efren Arce and wife Marilou are among the beneficiaries of the native pigs from the DA. They considered it a blessing that they were given the pig as it provided them an additional income. On the first farrowing of their sow. it produced 11 litters. After 2 months they sold the 3 piglets for P2,200 each. which gave them an income of P6,600. The four piglets they passed on to their neighbors who signified intention to take care of it (paataman). The agreement between them is that three litters will be returned when they become weanlings.

“Marhay ang mag-ataman nin orig para pa-ogbonon ta sa oras nin pangnangaipo o emergency puwedeng ipabakal tolos”, says Efren Arce. “Saka bakong arog kan copra ang orig bakong gayo bantayan. Kun ma ogbon lang,” he added. (Taking care of hogs for breeding is good as you can easily sell it when a sudden or urgent need crops up. Unlike copra taking care of pigs does not require much time except during farrowing.)

Malou shared that while they were among the beneficiaries of 4Ps receiving a monthly cash allowance, she noted that before the scheduled release of the cash assistance she got used to make credits from different private loan sharks.

“Bago mag abot an kwarta sa 4Ps naiutang na. Pero digdi sa orig may naititipon maski purupaano. Saka marhay sa pagmati na aram mo pigpagalan mo ,pig tawan nin oras para magkaigwa ka kaidtong income.” (Even before the release of our allowance from 4Ps I have already advanced the amount from local lenders. But with the sale of the piglets I could at least set aside some amount as savings. It also give me a good feeling that I know I have invested my effort and time for the income that I have earned).

Romeo Mendoza who earns from his vegetable plantation, native pig farming, and as calamansi picker is also very thankful for swine raising. In addition, he is one of the recipients of the carabao yearling dispersal, also from the DA.

For him it means an asset in farming, where he would be free from rentals, instead he will earn with his carabao additionally in tilling other farms. When the native pig was dispersed, he was among the families who availed it. It is the 3rd time when they sold weanlings. For him, the sale from the piglets was a big help to his family to buy food supplies, medical, school expenses and fertilizer. While their vegetables harvest is sold in bulk directly in their plantation by vegetable vendors who sold them during market days.

Adelina Claridad is one of the recipients too of the native pigs from the DA. She started with a breeder, which gave birth to seven piglets. After two months she sold the two piglets at P2,200 each. The three piglets she entrusted (paataman) to her daughter and neighbors who wished to have their own pigs with the agreement that in turn they will give three litters or piglets to her after farrowing. She retained two litters for breeding.

Rosalyn Claridad, daughter of Adelina was inspired too to care for a native pig for breeding. She said she enjoys taking care of the pigs. “Nakakahale ni pagal paghale sa trabaho lalu na kung nahiling mo na su mga ogbon. Igua kang aasahan na dagdag na income ( Taking care of the pigs can ease your tiredness and stress when you arrive from work especially when you see the piglets. There is something to look forward for – an additional source of income for the family).

The recipients need not have to spend for the feeds since they gather local greens around and root crops cooked or “pinawa”. Their pigs are tied under the coconut trees or along the meadows and feed on the green pasture grasses within their backyard.

Marivie Belleza, the cultural coordinator of the tribe has currently 10 breeders and 12 weaners or growers. As there are demands for roasted pig (lechon) she started accepting orders. Their roasted native pig is sold at P150 per kilo.

On special occasions such as fiestas and birthdays a pig is butchered and the community gather and partakes of the sumptuous food served for everyone.

The assistance provided by the DA and German donors is helping the tribal community. Slowly they veer away from their previous way of life that was: food production was mainly for their daily consumption to survive. Today, they are producing cash crops, venturing into native pig production/breeding in order to earn an extra income for their families. Little by little they are convinced of the value of education, thus saving for the school need of their children.

The community has now access to electricity. Likewise, the one lane road leading to the community is concreted, so going to school, or bringing their products to the market is facilitated.

Carmen who exerted effort to make water accessible in every household is still confronted with difficulties. The residents fervently hope that a solution to address the water problem in their community will be considered.

Despite the simple conveniences and new opportunities that this community is now enjoying, they cherish and treasure their old traditions and values passed on to them by their ancestors.

They are very humble, hardworking, industrious and hold the value of word of honor. They are not competitive and selfish. They care for each other and generously share with the neighbors.

They are so grateful for any assistance they receive, considered as “utang na loob” or debt of gratitude . We from the lowland must learn from them. The Tabangnon Agta, shy as they are, learned to express their gratefulness through their own composed songs or dances. They gladly perform with their traditional costume before the visitors as initiated by their cultural coordinator.

For some years now, the Agta proudly feature their self composed musical: “The Legend of Mt. Isarog”, played in their amphitheater within their tribe’s settlement.

The Agta Tabangon of Tigaon are now slowly getting into the mainstream of development. With our support, let us recognize the importance of their old culture, education and modern farming, our local Agta in Mount Isarog will continue to provide our local markets with fresh agricultural products. The native pig farming has inspired them. With their dreamy eyes, they envision a bright future, which awaits them from a herd of black pigs roaming around their palm hut.

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