Volcanic thoughts and other eruptions | Inquirer Opinion
Human Face

Volcanic thoughts and other eruptions

It was a “world-class” eruption that darkened parts of Planet Earth for some time. Thirty years ago on June 15, 1991, Mount Pinatubo in Zambales erupted after 600 years of dormancy. (Geology experts later said it was 460 or so years based on carbon dating on deposits collected from Upper Sacobia River by the US Geological Survey.) The destruction it brought on Luzon provinces was unprecedented and felt for almost a decade. Among those most affected were the indigenous communities of Aetas that lived on the slopes and around the volcano in the provinces of Zambales, Pampanga, and Tarlac.

Some years before the eruption, I stayed in an Aeta community in Sitio Yamot in Poonbato in Botolan town. It was a memorable stay. The nearest spring for bathing and other ablutions was a hill away. I stayed with the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary who were then just about a year there. The nuns lived in a grass shack which was clean and orderly inside. We ate with our hands and slept on the floor. We laughed a lot. I sang vespers with them. I had known them long enough and considered them great friends. Every three days the nuns would go to the parish convent which was about an hour away of very rough drive to load water on a decrepit World War II weapons carrier.

I stayed long enough to write a magazine feature about how the nuns and the Aetas lived together. I discovered how scheming middlemen bought the Aetas’ bananas at rock bottom prices. I learned how hurt they were when they were told it was shameful to wear G-strings under the dictator Marcos’ New Society.

The nuns did not come to Yamot to christianize. They taught Aetas how to care for their bodies and keep diseases away. They taught them how to count and read and write and reason out and not be cheated. They did not start with A, B, C. They started with the letter L for lota (land) and D for damowag (water buffalo).


I went back to Yamot a year later and didn’t recognize the place. It was throbbing with life. The huts were abloom with orchids. A water pipe had just been installed. The sisters’ grass shack “convent” was bigger. That time I was there to snoop on and write about the American marines who had camped out in the area for their “war games.” An Aeta guided me through the bushes and to the camp sites. I took photographs. Jeez, I think of it now, I did that?

The third time I met the Yamot community was in the aftermath of the Pinatubo eruption when they, accompanied by the nuns, were on exodus and in search of a temporary home. Ash fall was still thick. By then the Aetas of Yamot had become an organized community through LAKAS (Lubos na Alyansa ng mga Katutubong Ayta ng Sambales). (I wrote about it for the Sunday Inquirer Magazine.)

Ten years later in 2001, the Aetas launched their book ”Eruption and Exodus: Mt. Pinatubo and the Aytas of Zambales” (Claretian Publications). I was asked to write the book’s foreword. The book was launched at the Cultural Center of the Philippines with the Aetas in attendance. Through first-hand accounts and photographs (by Sr. Carmen Balazo), the Aetas chronicled their exodus even while they looked back with sadness to the life they left behind. Sr. Emma Fondavilla wrote the text.

Last week, Aeta leader Ben Jugatan, who wrote the book’s intro and was LAKAS secretary at that time, surprised me with a call via our Inquirer Central Luzon correspondent Tonette Orejas who wrote this week’s eruption anniversary series. Orejas’ three-part article is a must-read because it shows how many Aeta communities, now relegated to resettlement sites, still pine for their ancestral lands, parts of which have gone to new owners.


The displaced Aetas yearn for their original home. As Orejas’ article says, their “desire come from both a spiritual impulse to reconnect to their roots and the need to be economically self-reliant by living off the land.” The land where Apung Malyari dwells and of which the Aetas were the stewards,

Yamot is no more. It remains in the heart.


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TAGS: Human Face, Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

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