On July 5, 2014, after more than three hours (one-way) of traveling involving trial-and-error and question-and-answer for directions, yours truly and volunteers from the Research, Publication, and Innovation Center (RPIC) of LPU Cavite reached the community of Aetas at Brgy. Puting Kahoy, Rosario, Batangas. Our task then was to survey the area for the possibility of adopting the Aeta community for sustainable community extension programs. I had mixed emotions during the time: excitement, apprehension, curiosity, and many others. I guessed my companions then had more or less the same set of emotions. Fortunately for us, upon arrival at the Aeta community, we were joined by two former classmates of Ma’am Tess Pilapil (LPU Cavite’s VP for Administration and Registrar): Mr. Danny Borjal and Mr. Calixto Briones. The latter was also a councilor of Brgy. Puting Kahoy, the fact of which made us feel safer and more confident with what we were doing.
The apprehension was further lessened when we were welcomed by some of the community leaders. Well, all of them were speaking in Tagalog and not an indigenous Aeta language, the fact of which was explained by some of the Aetas by telling us that the elderly members of the community had been living in Brgy. Puting Kahoy since the 1970’s. In many ways, their behavior and manners were like the common Tagalog of Batangas, including the accent. In fact, some of them already had lighter complexion compared to the common Aeta, which the residents explained was the result of intermarriages between some of the Aetas and the local residents of the town of Rosario.
During the subsequent interview of some of the residents, a couple of Aetas confided to our group that they were already visited in the past by different educational institutions and companies, but only a few came back after the said initial visits. Normally the visitors would come during occasions like Christmas to give food and gifts to the Aetas, take pictures with them, promise that they would be back to give them more gifts, then leave. But, as one elderly Aeta mentioned, the visitors normally do not come back. Worse, there were incidents wherein politicians and representatives of so-called ‘foundations/NGO’s’ would visit them during campaigns and fund-raising activities with a lot of promises and picture-taking, but subsequently no help from this people came to the Aetas.
Very few institutions and companies came back to give them meaningful assistance.
These were the thoughts that were in my mind and in the minds of my companions while we were traveling back to Cavite. Earlier, before we left the area, probably to assure the Aetas that LPU Cavite was not using them for any manipulative intention, without fully knowing the implications of the statement, I blurted out, “We will be back. We will help you on a long-term basis.”
And LPU Cavite did go back to the Aeta community of Brgy. Puting Kahoy. Not just once but several more times.
On September 30, 2014, LPU administrators and student leaders went to the Aeta community to give food items to the families. A three-year Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) was signed by LPU officials, barangay officials (headed by Brgy. Captain Rowel Gamab), and Aeta community leaders. The MOA focuses on the following programs: (1) Education, (2) Livelihood, (3) Technology, (4) Health, and (5) Research.
On November 26, 2014, as an activity under the Education program for the Aetas, personnel from the Academic Resource Center (ARC) joined COSeL in the bringing of donated books and steel cabinets for the Aeta community library. The books were donated by Ms. Pilapil, the ARC, the International School (high school department), and the Athletics Department. The ARC personnel also taught some of the Aetas how to properly cover and take care of books.
On February 25, 2015, as part of the Health and Research programs, the College of Allied Medical Sciences (CAMS) administrators, faculty members, and students, together with COSeL, teamed up with Centro Escolar University - Manila (CEU Manila) and the University of Malaya (of Malaysia) in conducting the initial steps for a community-based research among the Aetas. Fecal and water sampling was done in the area for the purposes of (1) determining the safety of the water sources of the community and (2) devising health programs based on the results of the research. Also during that day, CEU Manila, as requested by LPU Cavite, also gave free medicines to the Aeta families.
Truly, LPU Cavite is doing its part in fulfilling the promise made to the Aetas during the first visit. The LPU core value of perseverance, together with many others, is really needed for each visit of the community, considering the planning, coordination with several people, and travel time involved. But living-out such perseverance is worth it as you see the hope in the eyes of the Aetas every time you visit them. It is indeed with hope that this partnership between LPU Cavite and the Aeta community would continue being meaningful and uplifting in the many years to come.