Badjao in the ‘bukid’ | Inquirer Opinion
Kris-Crossing Mindanao

Badjao in the ‘bukid’

As of last count, there were 3,648 signatories to the online petition. To reach 5,000, only 1,352 are needed by Change.org, the world’s largest petition platform, using technology to empower more than 40 million users “to create the change they want to see.” In the Philippines, the Change.org campaigns director is journalist Inday Espina Varona. Thanks to her, participatory democracy and change have become intertwined at the flick of a finger.

A current petition campaign addresses what is probably the most preposterous proposition ever by any local government. To rid the seafront Roseller T. Lim Boulevard in Zamboanga City of the seafaring Badjao encamped there since the siege of September 2013, Zamboanga City Mayor Isabelle “Beng” Climaco Salazar would have them relocated.

But from there, the good intentions, if any, go wild. Some of the Badjao seafarers will be relocated—goodness gracious—to the mountains! That is about the most insensitive thing ever to be done to an indigenous people by a country that has been, to begin with, insensitive to the plight of its aboriginal brethren.

It is, as the Inquirer editorial of March 28 so aptly put, killing them slowly.

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The city’s social welfare officer Leonida Bayan tried to make the relocation site palatable to the public: “They have water and electricity in the schools there and food will be provided until the bunkhouses are erected.” But then again, whatever the good intentions, if any, behind the choice of the sites can’t simply find sensible reason. One relocation site is upland where, common sense tells us, there is no sea. On the other hand, two coastal relocation sites are known kidnapping lairs in which not even Mayor Salazar’s family, even with bodyguards in tow to watch them, would want to reside.

Badjao leaders Asikal Maasiral and Panglima Tadjirun Sabturani say their communities in Rio Hondo and Mariki were not even in the line of fire. Why not just rehabilitate them back there? The 4,300 evacuees at Lim Boulevard, also known as Cawa-Cawa, constitute 850 families.

Put them in Salazar and Bayan’s mountain and you will not just cut off the lifeblood of these

Badjao’s existence, you will also kill off their identity, culture and tradition.

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Rubbing salt on the wound is the fact that their relocation is forced. Security forces specially trained for counter-terrorism, such as from the Marines and the police’s Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) unit, were called in to ensure the Badjao’s “acquiescence.”

Article 3, Section 6 of the Bill of Rights guarantees every Filipino the liberty of abode. To restrict the liberty of abode, a judicial act is required. Salazar cannot feign ignorance of this constitutional provision. What advise is she getting from her legal consultants at City Hall? How much are those consultants paid from the people’s money? Salazar’s bosses demand to know.

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The sea is the world of the Badjao from womb to tomb—and this I write with no quotation marks. They were and are being born in this world. It is in this world where they expect to die. Their sunduk-lined cemetery in Santa Cruz Island is just a few feet from the beach. It would astonish us if the mayor has not seen that yet—it should be one of Zamboanga City’s beautiful secret attractions.

But it would astonish us the more if she has seen it. Many of those sunduk—wooden grave markers—have been vandalized and stolen through the years only to end up in the homes of rich antique collectors. Still the graveyard is a lovely heritage site right on the pink sands of Santa Cruz Island; it should have been protected long ago by the Zamboanga City government.

The Badjao weave colorful vinta sails that for years Zamboaga has appropriated as its icon. The Badjao also weave colorful mats according to the colors of the sea. An orange banig reflects the color of sunset, a violet one the dark color of the sea at night. But these are trivial to local governments which always give cultural heritage low premium of attention. After all, in this country, indigenous peoples are merely tourism commodities and dancers in invented and contrived “tribal” festivals.

It is about time the national government, through the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, acted to preserve the Badjao culture, both its tangible and intangible aspects, and protect it with a timely declaration that it is an “Important Cultural Property” by virtue of Republic Act No. 10066. The Badjao are only two of the world’s remaining sea gypsies. Once they disappear, we will be left to imagining a past—as it so happens always in this country. We would have consigned to oblivion a national treasure.

Relocating sea gypsies to an inland site is one sure way not only of breeding more beggars at traffic stops but also of making the Badjao disappear.

Readers are requested to sign the petition at www.change.org/badjao #helpthebadjaoevacuees. More on the issue at the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/helpthebadjaoevacuees.

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Badjao in the bukid? Only in the mind of Zamboanga City’s alcaldesa. May God have mercy on her soul. But not if she and her minions think “Zamboanga hermosa can do much better.” Not if she learns to know that in the Sinama language of the Badjao, “water” and “life” are both contained in only one word—bohe.

TAGS: Badjao, Mindanao, nation, news

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