Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Aeta bayanihan builds bridge for under P1M

CASTILLEJOS, Zambales, Philippines—In these days of multimillion-peso public works projects, it hardly seems possible to build a concrete bridge measuring 8-meters long and 3-meters wide with approaches spanning 100 meters for a mere P860,000.

But 300 Aeta and upland farmers of Sitio Kanaynayan in Barangay San Pablo here did so—on sheer bayanihan (cooperation).

According to Castillejos Mayor Wilma Billman, if built by a private contractor, the bridge would have cost about P5 million.

“Tulay namin ito (This is our bridge),” said Calobhay Soria proudly as he crossed the Lanipan Bridge for the first time during the bridge’s inauguration last Wednesday.

Behind him, Gemma Sulit had the very satisfied smile of someone who knew what it meant to have no lifeline to the town center in Castillejos.

On a rainy day in November 2003, Sulit gave birth inside a sport utility vehicle that was half-submerged in the middle of a creek that turns into a wild river every time it rains hard.

She named her son Pajero, after the vehicle owned by born-again English missionaries Pam and Martin Scott, of the Hesus-Hiyaya Diyos (Jesus—He Is Lord) Church.

Rising 5 meters from the river bed, the new bridge has finally ended the Kanaynayan villagers’ isolation.

Oscar Almandares, an “unat” (meaning straight-haired person, the “kulot” or kinky-haired Aeta term for others who are not like them), drove over the bridge in his tricycle, grinning broadly.

First bridge

“It’s the first bridge to be built here. Only carabaos dared to cross Lanipan before,” he said.

About 30 Aeta excitedly piled into a small truck they call a “weapon,” a name probably derived from the weapon’s carriers that were used by the United States military during World War II.

While the villagers could not contain their glee at being connected at last to the rest of the world, they took more pride in the fact that they were able to build something with the limited funds that the Scotts were able to raise from their compatriots.

How they went about building the bridge owes to a way of life that is fast disappearing.

This is the bayanihan culture of the Aeta, explained tribal chieftain Boransa Sulit, as the community feasted on two pigs, two goats and 20 chickens taken from the communal farm and cooked in five different ways.

“We gave one day of work every week to build the bridge. That was our part,” said Soria.

Six groups of men took turns in constructing the bridge. They worked six days a week, sparing Sunday for religious services.

A necessity

It also helped that everyone felt the need for the bridge out of economic necessity, said Sulit.

“We could not bring down our crops whenever the rivers rose,” Sulit said. The bridge spans the Lanipan river which connects to the Pamatawan river to the west.

The Aeta at Kanaynayan originally came from Sitio Kakilingan in Barangay Santa Fe, San Marcelino town. They resettled in the sitio in 1993 after they were displaced by the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in June 1991.

They cultivated the upland regions, growing crops like gabi (yam), bananas, ampalaya and buho, a thin variety of bamboo used for roofing and fencing.

They had to rent carabaos to haul their products to market.


“If the owner of the carabao is a relative, we pay P150. To nonrelatives, we pay P200. This takes out whatever small profit we make,” said Sulit.

Anthropologist Rufino Tima, who has worked with the Pinatubo Aeta for more than 30 years, said that what the Aeta had accomplished in building the bridge was quite extraordinary.

“They live a hand-to-mouth existence and a day of no work means hunger. Yet they gave a day to finish this. That’s a whole lot of sacrifice,” Tima said.

The Scotts said they provided “only a good lunch and snack” for the volunteers who even then shared these with their families.

Work on the bridge started last Feb. 12 and finished last week.

“The problem was solved, with a lot of cooperation” said Billman, the first woman mayor of Castillejos.

“It pays to work as a community,” she said.

When told how much it cost to build the bridge, Alfredo Tolentino, director of the Department of Public Works and Highways in Central Luzon, described it as “cheap.”

Common sense

Jhay and Jaime, San Pablo residents who are members of the Hesus-Hiyaya Diyos, designed the bridge by “putting a lot of common sense to it.”

Felix Bourger, a British businessman living in the Subic area, supplied the materials at very reasonable prices.

Tima’s Aeta Development Association (ADA) provided the “weapon” that hauled the gravel from another river. It also delivered the stones that were used to buttress the sides of the bridge’s approaches which were mainly constructed out of mountain soil.

The ADA also provided the bulldozer that did the earth-filling and moving works. The river’s course was trained to protect the toes of the bridge’s concrete piles.

Donations from landowners

The De Jesus and Fabunan families, landowners in Castillejos, donated portions of the land on which the bridge was sited.

Billman herself supervised the paving of the dirt road.

The Scotts, who are members of the Zambales-based Lotus Foundation, were the silent movers in this enterprise, said Irene Valenton, the foundation’s chair.

“They’re an inspiration,” she said.
By Tonette Orejas - Inquirer

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