Nearly 16 years ago, I’ve had an opportunity to be with the DA-Region IV Southern Tagalog (MIMAROPA AND CALABARZON) group who had given away various personal essentials and food items for our Mangyan brothers in Oriental Mindoro. Dubbed as Share-a-Heart Project, it had been organized by the employees’ association. We’d travelled the whole province in just one day to deliver the goods. We had hiked the 1000-feet mountainous village of Iraya Mangyan Tribe in Puerto Galera. Then we headed south to meet the Hanunoo Tribe, for the same reason. FYI: there are 8 different Mangyan groups (Iraya, Alangan, Tadyawan, Tau-buid, Bangon, Buhid, Hanunoo and Ratagnon) in the island of Mindoro and all are distinctively different including their languages. Mangyan is just the collective term used for the indigenous peoples found on Mindoro. Being born in Or. Mindoro, a meeting with Mangyan isn’t unusual to me anymore. I’ve known them, in my elem-days as lovers of sardines (they would put the sauce on their hair just to show their co-villagers that they have gone to the plains and had eaten the famous fish in can – that’s really the story behind it).

Now, another chance to meet the other Mangyan tribes had come. This time, on the other side of Mindoro Island – in Occidental Mindoro.

To undertake its support program for the Indigenous Cultural Communities (ICCs) of Mangyan Tau-buid and Mangyan Alangan, the DA-LGU of Sablayan had invited a team from the Regional Office to grace its activity, dubbed as Usapang Bukid at Serbisyong Pang-Kaunlaran that includes official visits to 5 barangays. Said activity is essential in their advocacy for promoting organic farming, i.e, promotion for planting of high value crops and development of livestock industry in the locality, in pre-paration for the ASEAN Integration. Said endeavour had been underta-ken in cooperation with The National Commission on Indigenous People, Cooperative Development Authority, Department of Education and Department of Labor and Employment. As its counterpart, the DA-Regional Field Office of MIMAROPA team had brought with them various agricultural items including palay seeds, farm implements and STWs to be turned over to the Mangyans. Before heading to the Mangyan villages, the Regional Team, led by Regional Director Cipriano G. Santiago, together with the team of LGU-Sablayan, led by Mayor Eduardo Gadiano proceeded first to Bgy. Burgos for the ribbon-cutting and turnover of the P5-M worth of concreted 1-km barangay road to the barangay officials. Then the group hiked a 10-kilometer mountainous ranges in going to the Mangyan villages. The first stop was at Sitio Malatongtong, Bgy. Burgos where sacks of upland palay seeds, laminated sacks, assorted vegetable seeds in can, assorted garden tools, a few heads of carabao, a few units of plow and harrow, STWs and caps had been distributed to the Tau-buid Mangyan community. A short program was held where RD Santiago, Mayor Gadiano and the Sanggunian officials gave their messages to the Mangyan villagers. Seeing how they live in the mountains and how difficult it is for the Mangyans to go down the mountains just to ask for any assistance they could get from the local government or anywhere else, RD Santiago and Mayor Gadiano had promised to send more assistance to the community. As their way of showing their gratitude and appreciation, the Mangyan children had serenaded the DA and LGU groups with songs the teachers had taught them in school. After the program, everybody had partaken a simple lunch, a la boodle fight. After lunch, the group headed towards another Mangyan village, at So. Balane in Bgy. Ligaya where the same activities had taken place. In the said village, it is the Alangan Tribe who received the agricultural assistance. It was almost 5 pm when the group had been able to go down the Sablayan town proper.

The following day, after the turnover ceremony and ribboncutting ceremonies for projects like vermicomposting facilities (under BUB), tissue cul - ture laboratory and greenhouses (under HVCDP) at So. Balud in Bgy. Sto Niño, the group proceeded to Mangyan villages at So. Pandalagan in Bgy. San Agustin and So. Pandurucan in Bgy Pag-asa and had undertaken the same activities they had done on the mountain villages the day earlier.

In our two-day encounter with the Mangyans, I’ve observed that the cul - tural practices of Mangyans haven’t changed much. Most Mangyan families still practice shifting agriculture or Kaingin system. It’s because that is the only way they can grow crops without using fertilizers. This system, should be dealt with properly by the government for it is of concern for the forests and the Mangyans themselves. They really should continuously be taught with the proper way of growing their crops. Their diet consists of root crops such as sweet potatoes, ube, and kamoteng kahoy and eating rice is often a luxury because it is not grown where they live. They have to clear land that is far away from where they live and when that land goes unfertile, another area is cleared and crops are planted. This is a method the Mangyans have been using for a long time.

Mangyans on the other side of Mindoro have long been receiving support and assistance from various groups and individuals. Many of them are aware of the effects of clearing all of the forest and are very much against mining and any mining activities on their ancestral domain. And because they are well organized it is hard for companies to abuse or take advantage of their ancestral domain. And although the Mangyans from Occ. Mindoro have now started receiving the benefits due them, it is good to know that the local government are trying so hard to uplift the Mangyans’ standard of living without changing much their culture and traditions. That’s why a project that the Sablayan LGU had initiated was such an honourable act.

Personally, joining the group had been a worthwhile activity just as what I’d experienced several years back. I’d enjoyed the company of Mangyans who had thoroughly guided and assisted us during our mountain trek. The makeshift hammock or “ambulance on foot” that they use to transport the seriously ill or the woman about to give birth through craggy trails had amazed me of no end. I had seen how fast they ran while carrying the hammock with someone. They made a loud scream when they noticed that they went far ahead of us, and I’d yelled back to assure them that we’re not that far behind. Such an awesome communication. We won’t forget their constant greetings, reminders and offers to give us a hand while crossing the river and even offers to carry our bags while assuring us that they won’t go far away from us. And their request of having their pictures printed and sent to them – request granted.

The Regional Team, composed of RD Santiago, RIO Baby Clariza San Felipe, Ramon Policarpio, Engr. Elmer Castillo, Helen Aceret, Danny Bentoy, Elmo Morillo, Micah Gaytano, APCO Gerardo Laredo and this author, left Sa - blayan, Occidental Mindoro tired but feeling gratified with the activities they had just accomplished. But, of course, the assistance given to the Mangyans didn’t just end there. The journey to Mangyan villages was a memorable one for RD Santiago - him, being the first ever director to set foot on the mountainous baran - gays, ditto with Mayor Gadiano. The LGU-Sablayan and the DA-MIMAROPA team had promised to come back. Indeed, our noble and memorable encounter with the Mangyans of Mindoro was a satisfying and wonderful experience.

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