It was in 1991, after the eruption of Mount Pinatubo, when entire villages of the indigenous Aeta people were forced into an exodus from their ancestral lands in the Zambales Mountain Range. Generations of Aeta whose lives and livelihood were nurtured by the rich highlands surrounding Pinatubo were uprooted in just a matter of days.
With the objective of uniting the dispersed Aetas to protect their abandoned ancestral lands and of securing their fellow Aeta in the evacuation centers, the Central Luzon Aeta’s Association (CLAA) was formed.
CLAA was among the main organizations that led the campaign to rehabilitate their lahar-ridden ancestral domain and ensured that all evacuated Aeta can return to their homeland. Soon after the dust of Pinatubo’s explosion settled, various mining projects and other big business interests attempted to encroach into what the Aeta were forced to leave. CLAA has successfully opposed repeated intrusions into their sacred lands in Mt. Negron by Pisumpan Copper Mines Inc. since 1997 until recently in 2011.
CLAA’s calling now goes beyond the crisis wrought by Pinatubo. Seeing the predicament of its people, CLAA leaders and members facilitated the enlistment of teachers to develop modules for the educational needs of Aetas across Central Luzon.
CLAA currently campaigns against various land grabs attempting to convert the agricultural lands and fragile forest ecosystems within their domain into a vast military and business zone. Military exercises between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the United States troops regularly held in the military reserves forcibly established over their domain have also constricted their way of life.
“It is no secret to us in Central Luzon that the annual Balikatan war games use our ancestral domain … When Camp O’ Donnel was built, they drove away the Aetas. Now they are expanding, and they are once again driving away Aetas,” said Edwin Danan, an elderly but still sprightly looking leader of CLAA.
In the face of military and corporate land grabs, CLAA and the Aeta people are making their last stand. “We have moved before from one place to another. There are no more places for us to move and live but where we are now,” said Danan.
Ever determined, whether in the face of volcanic eruptions or development aggressions, the CLAA will remain sentinels rooted in the homeland they once lost. As the saying goes, it takes roots to weather the storm.