You wonder from what depths these crimes spring, what bigoted instincts emerge to grasp the perpetrators and compel them to inflict unspeakable violence on a young woman deemed different because of the color of her skin, and then to dispose of her corpse as though it were less than human.
On Jan. 30, a horrific sight greeted residents of Pastolan Village in Hermosa, Bataan—the decomposing body of an Aeta woman, 20-year-old Angelique Charlotte Bulatao, wrapped in a blanket and hanging from a tree. Angelique had been missing for four days, and was last seen buying barbecue from a stall in the village plaza. She was four months pregnant.
As if the murder were not enough, Angelique’s body had been brutalized. Her grandmother, weeping, said: “I cannot believe this happened to her. She was young and she had no enemies.”
Authorities are still investigating. Three persons were reported arrested, but the case remains frustratingly open. And the crimes have left the residents of Pastolan, by accounts a peaceful community, afraid for their lives.
The barbaric behavior inflicted on Angelique is plainly the result of Philippine indigenous peoples being considered the lowest of the low, as though ours were a caste system (and in many ways it is). As terrible as it is to admit, many Filipinos are still caught in the grip of a racism that properly belongs to the dark ages. While the Aeta loom large in Philippine prehistory as the true natives of these islands, folk tales actually picture them as essentially creation’s mistakes, the figures of clay left out in the sun too long. And they continue to be treated as mistakes among the rest of us—an attitude that completely flies in the face of our mixed heritage.
The Aeta have been isolated and impoverished, largely left out of the development plans and projects that benefit their fellow Filipinos. Their communities lack such essentials as electricity or paved roads. Such is their need that during the yearend holidays, whole Aeta communities travel from Central Luzon to Metro Manila to beg in large numbers. (It also holds true for other indigenous peoples in other areas of the country.)
And official oppression is no stranger, against which they have learned to stand their ground. In 2003, for example, 10 Aeta leaders gathered in Angeles City to speak out against Army soldiers for violating the rights and cultural practices of Aeta in Pampanga and Zambales. They demanded the withdrawal of the military from their lands, and accused the soldiers of threatening them, and engaging in illegal searches, seizures and arrests, as well as harassment and food blockades.
Indeed, despite seemingly insurmountable odds the Aeta have found their own ways into the light. Last year, one of the “barefoot doctors”—or indigenous people empowered by basic medical training to save lives in remote villages—included 59-year-old Amelia Apang, an Aeta from Pampanga. She looked forward to returning to her community to put her newfound training to good use. In 2015, four Aeta grandmothers traveled to India and came back to the country as trained solar engineers. In the same year, two Aeta who were months-old infants during the deadly eruptions of Mount Pinatubo in 1991 returned to their people as college graduates ready to teach others. (Their college education was made possible through scholarships provided by church and private sponsors.)
The Aeta of Pastolan belong to the Ambala tribe. It is said that they have thrived in the forests of Subic even before the Spanish and American colonial eras.
The brutal crimes visited on Angelique Charlotte Bulatao show a primitive streak bubbling out of the muck and bursting through the surface calm. Like a boil, it should be immediately scooped and rooted out. The process begins with a thorough investigation of the crimes and the swift prosecution and punishment of her killers. Let justice lead the way to a sea change in attitudes and the inevitable correctness of being color-blind.
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