Redor, Jun

Of Airwaves and Rivers

Jun Redor


Text Box: Of Airwaves and Rivers


It was a warm, humid afternoon of June 2003 when I received a phone call from Anggan, the tribal chieftain of Aytas in Tayabas, Quezon. The call was transmitted through one of the town’s major cell sites-- from Brgy. Tongko to the office of Kabanahaw, a local-based environmental NGO I work with.

Stammering and catching his breath, Anggan was nevertheless firm and resolute. I could imagine him grappling with his new 3210 Nokia mobile phone newly acquired from a friend in Lucena City. I observed a sudden shift in his voice—he turned emphatic as in making a campaign speech : “Come here on Saturday, There’s a serious matter we need to discuss at the tribal hall.  The Rodriguez Aggregates called for a meeting about quarrying our river. No matter how influential their name may sound, we can never allow them to destroy the river. The river is our life.”


Hearing a few static signal, Anggan’s phone signed off. The message was clear: the rivers of the Aytas were at stake.


All their lives the Aytas have been blessed by the bounty of their rivers. They can name more than twenty species of freshwater catch along the waters and buffer strips of Domoit and Iyam rivers. Found there are a variety of fish, shells, crabs and shrimps, as well as frogs, monitor lizards and palm civets along the banks.  Much of these are part of the Ayta’s subsistence diet. But the rivers and the web of life which abound may soon disappear if the quarry operation would continue. Moreso, community life would be affected as it depends on the rivers for livelihood.   


            To my mind, this must be a tough fight against the biggies-- the Rodriguez Aggregates—who strongly claimed to have an exploratory permit from the Provincial Mining Regulatory Board (PMRB). Something must be in the air. Things seemed to have been premeditated in favor of the opponent.


There was a mock consultation meeting with the Rodriguezes. The proposal was vehemently opposed by the Tayabas Ayta Tribal Council. To complicate the issue further, some officials of the NCIP (National Commission for Indigenous Peoples) who were supposed to be protectors of tribal rights even took side with the Rodriguezes. The meeting ended sourly with a tug of war of conflicting interests.  As a consequence, our NGO team received threats from the Aggregates, labeling us as rebel infiltrators polluting the minds of the Aytas. This did not prevent us from pursuing the fight.


Text Box: Rolando V. Reodr, Jr. / Mediated EconomicsThe Aytas’ resilience to life comes from their integral sense of abundance rooted in their own lived ecosystem. Rivers have become their source of life, a space for the sacred and weaver of their stories and collective memory.  A life-sustaining force flow through them, keeping them alive up to this day. The Ayta Tribal Council decided to document their claim.  


Part of the documentation was resource inventory, collation of baseline information and encoding of the tribal manifesto. These data were posted by Kabanahaw in the internet to reach out to advocacy groups, here and abroad.  One significant response was from a Japanese anthropologist from the University of Shizuoka. He signed in for the manifesto.


Due to the extensive advocacy effort, the issue was eventually picked and covered by the local and national tri-media.  A flood of support carried on the Ayta’s cause. Both the local government and the NGO’s of Tayabas also stood united and brought together their resources for the campaign. Tanggol Kalikasan, a regional legal advisory NGO, took a great part in preparing the Aytas’ sworn statement of protest and linking with the media. With much sustained information barrage from various sectors, the campaign finally reached the office of the DENR Secretary. He was also moved to action. Environmental violations made by the Rodriguez Aggregates were soon exposed to the public. It was verified that the Aggregates had to stop operations for their permit had expired three years ago!


After three months of protest, the Aytas finally won their case. Trully it all started with Anggan’s simple phone call. It also felt like a great cosmic moment-- an  unfolding  mediation by airwaves and signal transmission directed towards preserving the integrity of  the Aytas’ rivers of life.