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Friday, October 9, 2015

Submersion of Panay Bukidnons: A Call for Salvage

Submersion of Panay Bukidnons: A Call for Salvage
Aside from the imminent fact that the Jalaur River Dam shall submerge portions of their ancestral domain, the Panay Bukidnon's cultural heritage also faces submersion

Sunburn, scratches from blades of grasses, and scars from insect bites are among the souvenirs I and a friend got from our three-day immersion with the Panay Bukidnons of Brgy. Garangan, Calinog, Iloilo. We slept and lived with them in order to hear stories about stars and gather recipes of their traditional cooking but we ended up hearing more pressing matters, about the dam project and the struggle to keep the heritage vis-a-vis the daily needs for survival.

On our second morning, we traversed the mountainside planted among others with coffee and cacao trees owned by our host family, with the end of reaching Jalaur River where a megadam project is to be implemented. Along the way, we traversed at least ten live streams including Karangayan and Bukay Nga Isda and many dead ones. The soil of Brgy. Garangan and its neighboring locales is soft and clayish, surely one of the reasons that the mountainside is prone to landslide. Recent landslides occurred in the areas we passed by, that is why as we walked, we observed that the rocks along the streams are new, and some trees with big trunks were already lying down. “There was not much rain that day compared to other times when there were heavy ones but I heard a sound like that of a coming helicopter before the latest landslide happened,” says Tay Olan who told me in the dialect. Trying to logically explain what had occurred, he gave up and submitted to the wisdom of old folks saying that it is probably an act of a force beyond explanation sending a very important message to us.

This was taken during our trek going to the Jalaur River

Jalaur River is one of the 3 major river basins of the province of Iloilo, with a basin area of 1,742 square kilometers and the 17th largest river system in the Philippines. The river travels 123 kilometers from its source to its mouth in the Guimaras Strait and drains on the eastern portion of the island and traverses through Passi City, and the towns of Leganes, Zarraga, Dumangas, Barotac Nuevo, Pototan, Dingle, Dueñas, and Calinog.

The Jalaur River Multi-Purpose Project (JRMP) Phase 1 project was a quite different project, in which four national irrigation systems were rehabilitated under World Bank funding, during 1977 and 1983. The second phase has never materialized due to its unacceptable low economic returns.

Now, the recent dam project was reported to be partly financed by the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), which has recently been declared as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, due to dubious financial issues and potential abuse for bribery. The project is strongly motivated by Senator Franklin Drilon. Moreover, A PHP 8.95 billion (around 200 million USD) bank loan would come from the South Korean government through the Export Import Bank of Korea. The remaining costs would be covered by the Philippine government.

The Environmental Justice Atlas summarizes that calling the dam as “megadam” is a misnomer in terms of benefits. It went on to support such a conclusion stating that “the reservoir would hold around 197 million cubic meters of waters, with a dam up to 102 meters. Despite its high costs and large social and environmental impacts, it has a comparatively small planned electricity production capacity of only 6.6 MW. The dam was initially planned to serve all-year long irrigation of 32,000ha of agricultural land, and to supply water to households and businesses. However, 22,340 hectares of the 32,000ha are already irrigated by existing irrigation systems; hence the real added irrigation area would be only 9,500ha.”

Meanwhile, the Center for Environmental Concerns Philippines cited in an article the three main reasons why the project should be thoroughly studied and reconsidered. They are:

“First, the mega dam location in Agcalaga, Calinog is a mere 11 kilometers away from an active fault line. The West Panay fault line was the epicentre of one of Panay Island’s most destructive earthquakes in 1948 which led to the total collapse of 17 churches and damaged 38 others.

“Second, a Mines and Geosciences Bureau Rapid Geohazard Assessment of Barangay Agcalaga, adds Deduro, shows that the area surrounding the construction site is highly susceptible to landslides and thus questions the soundness of pursuing the project.

“Third, the 123-kilometer long Jalaur River crosses Barotac Nuevo, Calinog, Dingle, Dueñas, Dumangas, Pototan and Zarraga towns and Passi city which are threatened with flooding once heavy rains force dam operators to open floodgates to avoid the rise in water volume from breaking the dam walls.”

On 31 October 2013, a Writ of Kalikasan was issued by the Supreme Court favoring the petition filed by Cong. Augusto Syjuco Sr. The Supreme Court remanded the case to the Court of Appeals after the Solicitor General opposed the issuance of the writ, and last year, a Temporary Environmental Protection Order was sought by Syjuco before the same. On September 16 this year, the Court of Appeals found that the petititon for issuance of a Writ of Kalikasan lacks merit. This writer has yet to hear the remedy sought thereafter by Syjuco.

On September 29, the day we left Brgy. Garangan, we were told that the affected families will be having a meeting with the NIA and other concerned agencies on the compensation that the people will be receiving for their trees and plants that will be submerged when the dam project will push through. As for their land, the folks were already aware that they will get a disturbance pay of P15,000 and a compensation of P50,000 per hectare. The folks were also made to understand that they will be taught how to construct and maintain fish pens, among other alternative sources of living.

On the otherhand, from the Facebook Page, No To Jalaur Mega Dam Project, one can easily gather the latest development on the Jalaur River Dam Project II. Last August 2015, the NCIP has already issued a Certificate of Precondition, certifying that the the community has given its consent to the project after a free and prior informed consent process was observed. This is despite many complaints, says the facebook page in its September 3 post, “from the IPs and advocacy groups regarding the CONDUCT of the FPIC 1&2 of the NCIP and the NIA.”

There is no information yet whether the Korean investors had already released the loan which will finance the dam. However, from the turn of events narrated above, the dam is more likely coming into reality despite the fact that the apprehensions of the indigenous peoples as well as the opponents of the dam are based on hard facts.

During our stay, we were introduced to the struggle of our host family in trying to keep the cultural heritage preserved against their need to do other jobs or primarily to take on farm tasks in order to send their children to school. Children, when asked what they want to be when they grow up, say that they want to a policewoman, a seaman or a welder. Panay Bukidnons usually go to nearby colleges under scholarship programs.

The construction of the dam will surely displace an estimated 17,000 peoples in their own lands and from their own tribe since it will affect 9 barangays. The communal way of living will surely be interrupted, if not stopped altogether. Some families, when compensated, expressed that they will choose to buy residential lands in subdivisions or another farmlot in another place. Hence, as a result, the communal preservation of the cultural heritage is also threatened to be submerged.

The University of the Philippines Press has started publishing the 10 epics of the Panay Bukidnons. It published Tikum Kadlum (Enchanted Hunting Dog) and Amburukay (Enchanted Hermit Woman) in December 2014 and March this year while three more are coming before the year ends. Other eight books are Kalampay (Enchanted Crab), Balanakon (Warrior), Derikaryong Pada (Gold Pendant), Pahagunong (Deity), Sinagnayan (Warrior), Humadapnon (Warrior), Alayaw (Sweet-Scented Flower) and Nagbuhis (Ceremonial Rite).

Every Saturday, there is a chanting lesson of the epic in archaic language taught to children as part of the School of the Living Tradition. We were able to observe the children trying their best chanting together with Romulo “Amang Baoy” Caballero whose baritone voice is so engaging for the children that they enjoy the storytelling. He proceeded from reading and chanting the epic of Kalampay or crab in archaic language and tell the story in kinaray-a so that the children can relate well and then chanting again. While I cannot understand the story well, I was very much engaged by the chanting and the attention given by the children.

Teacher Romulo “Amang Baoy” Caballero

Children learn the chanting of the epic in archaic language

Aside from these epics, Panay Bukidnons' culture has many other prospects for preservation and perpetuation. One of the traditional crafts of Panay Bukidnon is the Panubok or traditional embroidery which uses nature as the source of inspiration in the designs. Regina Caballero Villanueva is one of the mothers in the community whom I was able to observe doing her panubok and she makes a living out of it by getting orders from nearby schools for costumes for the traditional dances.

Regina Caballero Villanueva is doing her "panubok" 

Binanog dance is the most popular dance of the Panay Bukidnons. It is a courtship dance where dancers/lovers imitate the graceful flight of the banog. The lady dancer tries to capture the elusive male dancer using her triangular handkerchief while both are dancing imitating the flapping of the bird's wings. The term “banog” is generally used to name an eagle and also a hawk. In the aviary world, some eagles and hawks have little distinction from each other. In fact, there are kite eagles and kite hawks also. Thus, what birds - eagles or hawks - abound the forests of Panay so that the binanog dance was conceived by the Panay Bukidnons is still open for further studies.

Binanog Dance is a courtship dance

During my stay with my host-family, I fell in love with their steaming boiled rice called Malido, an organic variety with a distinct fragrance reminiscent of pandan leaves, with a soft texture and a little brownish color. The Panay Bukidnons of Calinog pride themselves with their organic palay. They told us that there are many varieties that they cultivate up to now. They are Kalotak, Magsanaya, Denolores, and Busisi among others. In addition, the Panay Bukidnons also do the pangasi or rice wine-making.

The palay pride of Panay Bukidnon

There are many avenues to help preserve and perpetuate the Panay Bukidnon's cultural heritage. In fact, the publication by UP Press of the epics which has revitalized the interest in preserving the Panay Bukidnon's cultural heritage is a laudable example. Further, in December this year, UP Visayas in Iloilo City will be holding its 2nd Conference on Sugidanon (Epic) with the theme “Integrating the Sugidanon (Epic) of Panay and other Epics of the Philippines in K-12 Curriculum.” It welcomes ethnomusicology, linguistics, art and cultural studies, literature, sociology and gender relations, traditional/folk healing and medicine (Babaylan Studies), and political economy among many other areas of research.

Online References:

Binanog Dance Photo Credit: Duende Photography
The rest of the Photos with Photo Credit: Gerlie Uy