Into the forest, across streams and rivers, and up and down hills

An Aeta in Barangay Villa Espina in Lopez, Quezon. —GEM

I went back to the remote Barangay Villa Espina in Lopez, Quezon, one Tuesday morning.

At 6:30 a.m. after insufficient sleep the night before, I jumped into a decrepit jeepney—only one unit plies the route twice daily if the weather is fine—bound for the barangay (village). It was sunny, unlike the first time I embarked on this adventure in the boondocks, although there were still patches of mud from the previous day’s rain.

I returned to Villa Espina to seek the written consent of Jeffrey Jugueta of the Aeta community, the subject of a video clip I included in a documentary that I and my BVV8 Media Productions produced. The first time I took a shot of Jeffrey on my cell phone camera, I had verbal permission from him. A few days after the shoot, writer Gem Suguitan and I had an orientation with the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples through Vincent Garcia, a nurse at NCIP Region IV-A; we learned that oral approval wasn’t enough. 

Arriving at the village, I immediately looked for Mark John Parro, who teaches at Villa Espina Elementary School and conducts the Alternative Learning System for indigenous peoples, to make inquiries.

I learned that Jeffrey was in the hinterlands of the barangay, making copra (or dried portions of coconut meat). The place is called Tidyong and far from the central part of the mostly populated village.

I boldly said I could go there myself and look for Jeffrey, but the Parro brothers discouraged me, saying the houses in Tidyong were few and far apart. But Mark quickly assigned two Aeta women, Remelyn Oloya and Dalia Jugueta Carpo, Jeffrey’s sister, to help me locate him and seek his signature. 

4 crossings

It was past 8 am when we set out on foot. Dalia was forthright in informing me that we would cross streams and rivers four times and climb hills: “Tatawid po tayo ng ilog, mga apat na beses po. Tapos, aahon tayo sa mga bundok.” 

It was still the opening of the forested way to Tidyong. We left behind bushes, banana trees, a number of huts made wholly of nipa and some with concrete, iron sheets, etc.

All three of us wore slippers. I was in shorts, with a bag hanging from my shoulder. Dalia was in jogging pants colored red and yellow—a gift to her, she said, so much better than if she had bought them herself, because otherwise, she would use the money to buy food.   

First, it was a small, narrow stream that we crossed. Then we hit the trails again.

Now there was this wide river waiting to be negotiated. The current was wild in some parts, placid in others. 

Remelyn assured me that it wasn’t perilous to walk into the water, and she led me to an apparently shallow part. Still, the stones and rocks underfoot, of all shapes and sizes, were slippery. I feared that if I lost my balance, I could easily fall and get carried away by the current, if not break a limb or two.

At first I refused Remelyn’s offered hand, but later, in the other two crossings, I relented and hung on to her left hand.

Dalia was also confident about crossing the river, although she said she hadn’t been to this side of the village in years.

Ravine and Richard

Sometime in our journey, we had to walk along a ravine so muddy that I was afraid I’d slip and plunge into the river below.

Lucky, I thought, was this farmer we met who was crossing the river on horseback on his way home. He stopped for a while to give his horse a bath, chatting easily with the girls. They called him “kuya” (elder brother). 

Richard was friendly and jesting, at one point asking them if he could pass for a movie star: “Puwede na ba akong artista?” 

Dalia chuckled, telling Richard in effect not to be funny. 

We crossed another stream, this time with crystalline water. Dalia got me a stick to use as a cane.

I was already soaked in sweat when we climbed up the hills.

We went down a valley and again trekked up a hill, and still no Jeffrey Jugueta was in sight. The stillness of the idyll was broken intermittently by birds chirping. 

Finally, Dalia could hear little sounds of laughter from children. She shouted out in the Aeta language (the distinct and unique Katabagan spoken in Lopez, Quezon) to announce our presence.

Related: Are Mayon, Taal and Kanlaon volcanos connected?

Women’s hour

From where Remelyn and I stood, I could see the “lukaran” (a large, makeshift, roofed oven/dryer, from the word “lukad,”which means copra). Around it, Aeta children were playing.

Jeffrey came down the valley in a little while, pulling in his horse with coconut shells on its back and saddled with two large bamboo baskets filled with the same. 

It was women’s hour in the boondocks, with some Aeta men out somewhere on the hills, pulling down coconuts. At the lukaran, the women were doing serious work, chopping the coconuts in halves, husking the mature ones, etc.

After some pleasantries, Jeffrey signed the consent document with ease and openheartedness. I was relieved of a social and professional obligation. 

We prepared to leave Tidyong. On the way back, the loquacious Dalia, 35, who is married to an “unat” (literally “straight-haired” and non-Aeta) with whom she has a daughter, told an interesting story:

ABS-CBN, with Edu Manzano, Pinky Webb and Donita Rose, visited the area years ago, bringing relief goods and donations. She was offered a scholarship, she said, a part of which involved visiting Korea to learn the Korean language.

Education was to be her course, and she was ready to embark on it. “Handa na talaga ako,” said the high school graduate.

But when Dalia told her mother that she would be leaving, and would even get the chance to visit Korea, the older woman refused permission, saying she would be missed. 

Thus did Dalia decide to give up her dream: “Mami-miss daw niya ako. Hindi na rin ako tumuloy.” 

Happy and content

At the moment, Dalia is happy with her country and filial life. Remelyn is content as well with her daily survival in the community.

When we got done climbing hills, crossing wild rivers, and negotiating the thick forest, we finally arrived back at the central part of Barangay Villa Espina. It was already the lunch hour. 

I was hungry. The Parro household offered me sautéed bitter melon with beaten egg and newly cooked white rice, which I devoured like a pig.

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