Corporate Responsibility, State-Society Relations and Territorial Conflicts in the Philippines

A Case Study from the Sacobia Valley in Central Luzon

Mathilde Baker, February 2010


  • Indigenous people
  • communal and individual ownership
  • cultural integrity
  • ancestral domain
  • development
  • management
  • Philippines
  • Clark Special Economic Zone
  • Sacobia Valley

Related articles

In the Sacobia Valley tourist and industrial development plans coexist with the Aeta tribe, one of the indigenous communities in the Philippines. This case study demonstrates the potential impact of the arrival of domestic and international corporations on members of cultural communities; their ancestral land; their livelihood and way of living. In 1993 the Philippine state created the Clark Special Economic Zone to host industrial, technological and tourist facilities in the Sacobia Valley.

Development is widely understood and perceived as bringing about positive change. But what if development destroys the economic base of the local population? What if development creates division instead of enhancing unity? Is such development worth it? Can we really call it development?

Study Area

The Sacobia Valley is located in the island of Luzon, North of Manila, the capital of the Philippines, and serves as the border between the provinces of Pampanga and Tarlac.

It is a lush valley inhabited by Mag-Aantsi Aeta, an indigenous community.

The Aeta are widely considered to be the first descendants of the first populations that inhabited the archipelago during the Pleistocene. The tribe is characterised by their short height, dark skin and kinky hair, which differentiates them from the majority of Filipino’s who have more Asian characteristics and straight hair. Mount Pinatubo, located in the Sacobia Valley, played an important element in their ethnic identity. Their folklore spoke of the mountain as the abode of their spirit guardian Apu Namalyari (God Almighty). In essence, the mountain stands as their last stronghold, the central cradle for their communities.

This Valley has always been home to the Aeta, their livelihood is primarily based on cultivation, hunting and gathering. The Aeta could be self- sufficient in the valley and maintain their tradition, beliefs and cultural practises. Land forms an integral part of their survival as a community.

However, today a series of recent changes have upset the equilibrium they had found with their environment.

Firstly, in 1991, the Mt Pinatubo, the neighbouring volcano erupted, being the second largest eruption of the 20th century. All the surrounding areas were devastated by ash and pyroclastic deposit: meters of ash and debris covered everything that lay in its path. The whole valley was forced to evacuate. The Aeta in the highlands had to abandon their homes, animals and fields. A return was impossible for them any time soon after the eruption as their homes were destroyed and the land was unrecognizable. They had to be relocated in the lowlands.

Secondly, the year 1992 officially marked the departure of the American military from Clark Air Base -the largest US military base in Asia at the time- .

The origins of Clark Air Base can be traced to the establishment of Fort Stotsenburg, a stable for the US cavalry’s horses prior to the Second World War. This area was once a hunting ground for the Aeta who had lived there since time immemorial. As the stable was converted into a high-tech military base from 1947 onwards, the Aeta were pushed further up into the mountains and were prohibited from entering the area.

The arrival of the Americans in the 1900s affected the everyday life of the Aeta. During their stay the Americans and the Aeta had many exchanges. Many Aeta worked in the base. They were also key to the Americans in teaching jungle survival skills that became essential during Japanese occupation during the war in Vietnam in the 1970s. However, little by little, Americans took over more and more of the lands surrounding the base, spilling over quickly into the Aeta territory for which they provided some limited areas for resettlement.

When the US troops pulled out in 1992, the Aeta were hard hit as a result of sudden job loss and their preferential relationship. The Aeta had by then a closer bond with the Americans than the Filipinos. Their life had been significantly changed by the arrival of the Americans, who had provided them with food and other necessities. Now their departure was felt as as a major hurdle to overcome. Yet, they were eager to reclaim the land that was rightfully theirs.

Thirdly, after the departure of the Americans, the control and management of the ex-military base and the surrounding Aeta ancestral land reverted to the government.

During Corazon Aquino’s presidency, the Bases Conversion Law was introduced in March 1992, which meant that the Sacobia valley was included in the new Clark Special Economic Zone, a developing location for industry and tourism.

Special Economic Zones (SEZ) are free port zones, a special customs area with favourable custom regulations where domestic and international investors can benefit from various advantages, including cheap labour, advantageous investment conditions, cheap constructible land and other fiscal and non-fiscal incentives.

It was established in 1993 during the presidency of Fidel V. Ramos. Two Executive Orders officially designated the areas to be covered by the Clark Special Economic Zone and created the Clark Development Corporation (CDC).

The Clark Development Corporation was constituted as a government owned body, to oversee the conversion of the former Clark Military Air base areas into an industrial zone. CDC’s objective is to operate the former airfield and to transform it into a world-class international airport with the adjacent areas becoming residential, recreational and commercial centres.

An area destined to become one of the country’s prime industrial and tourist projects

CDC implemented a series of measures to advance the development of the area.

Firstly, to encourage investors, CDC paid a number of international marketing and economic research companies a total of 17 million $ to design the development blueprint for the former Clark Air Base . The 4,400 hectares of the former main airfield of Clark forms the so-called Main Zone for infrastructure development. The development of the adjacent areas in the Sacobia Valley, covering about 31,828 hectares, will include agro-forestry, additional commercial and industrial estates and tourist resorts.

A second development priority has been the accessibility of the area. The Clark SEZ boasts it has the most extensive road network in the country, connecting it to the capital, Manila in only two hours and to another former US base transformed into a SEZ, the Subic Bay Freeport, through the newly-opened Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX). CDC has also fostered the conversion of the former military airfield into the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport, which increases the strategic importance of the zone as a result of the connections with key Asian and Middle Eastern cities.

How do the Aeta fit into the local project developments?

Recent government initiatives and corporate investments raise a number of questions for the indigenous communities living in the valley? We list the following:

• Have the Aeta’s livelihood been taken into consideration during the planning of the development projects?

• A variety of different types of investments are arriving in the Valley. How will these corporations involve the local people in their projects?

• Will they be considered as stakeholders in the decisions of what will happen to their ancestral lands?

• Will the Aeta benefit from more job opportunities?

• Could these new investments bring them opportunities to develop their land with the capital that is needed and enable them as a community to adapt, at the same rate as their land, to a more modern way of life?

• Or, will the Aeta be ignored and taken advantage of?

• The Aeta and their land form an indivisible entity. Will this be understood and respected by the developers or will the Aeta be seen as a hindrance towards to plans to develop the land?

At this moment in time, the Aeta have to accept that their relationship with their land will change. Since the volcanic eruption, the soils have altered and the Aeta can not return to the same cultivation they practised before. Rice for example can no longer grow in the mountains.

The Aeta’s traditional economy had previously revolved around the cultivation of root crops and other vegetables, as well as hunting and gathering. After the eruption they were confronted to the lowland way of life, where they experienced intense interaction with the lowlanders. Studying how they adapted since this sudden change in 1991 shows how several foundations of their society did survive the changes: for example a sense of strong community. They demonstrated resilience and a large capacity and will for adaptation .

The Aeta are prepared to accommodate to the modern/mainstream way of life, but to what extent will the economical developments give them a chance to change in a manner that will sustain their future?

The government took the first steps to implement measures to protect the rights of the indigenous people.

Since the Spanish colonizers, when Ferdinand Magellan declared the Spanish king’s ownership of the entire archipelago of the Philippines, all lands not covered by private titles were public and therefore owned by the state. Later, at the turn of the 20th century when the Americans occupied the territory, they adopted this framework through Public Land Acts. The Philippine government followed in the footsteps of colonial regimes, as its sovereign predecessors, after independence in 1946. Hence; all lands not covered by official titles are presumed to be owned by the Philippine Republic. This meant that the land on which the Aeta lived and worked on for centuries was always at risk to be taken away from them as they held no right on the land they occupied.

The Indigenous people of the Philippines are often found in a vulnerable situation when it comes to development projects around the country. Their environment and their well-being are rarely considered as a priority. This is why it was a government responsibility to take action and in October 1997 the Indigenous People’s Rights Act or IPRA was enacted.

The act declares that the State recognizes and promotes all the rights of the Indigenous Cultural Communities. Their rights include their cultural integrity, their human rights and also their “ancestral domains to ensure their economic, social and cultural well being” . On paper the constitutional mandate appears to provide ample protection for the rights of the indigenous Filipinos to their ancestral domain.

The IPRA law established the National Commission of Indigenous People (NCIP) to award native titles to lands claimed by indigenous peoples in the Philippines, on the basis of communal rather than individual ownership. The NCIP has the role to promote and protect the rights and well-being of Indigenous Peoples and the recognition of their ancestral domains and their rights thereto.

The IPRA makes it possible for Indigenous people to be issued a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Claim then a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title. Within the Sacobia Valley the Aeta obtained a certificate for 10,640 hectares of land.

The obtaining of the titles was a break through for the Aeta, since 1982 the Aeta from the villages in the Sacobia area filed petitions with the Office of the President for the declaration of ancestral domain. In 1985 the Aeta community founded the Bamban Aeta Tribal Association (BATA) to represent them and fight for their rights. Before 1997 and the creation of the IPRA law, there were many attempts to file a request for identification and recognition of the 10,640 hectares of Aeta Ancestral Domain.

In the mean time, the Clark Development Corporation plans of economic development continued. Despite the Certificate of Ancestral Domain Claim, the CDC complained to different agencies of the government that the Aeta Communities impeded the operation of the projects it foresaw. In January 1998 the CDC wrote a letter to the Presidential Management Staff protesting the issuance of a CADC to the Aeta. The company pressed for the nullification of the CADC on the grounds that it is in conflict with the existing regulations and commitments.

The IPRA law to recognised the ancestral domain claim of the Aeta community did not seem to deter encroachment in the area. CDC continues its projects in the area covered by the ancestral domain including a huge Orchidarium with coconut trees planted on the border to mark its boundaries. The Orchidarium was fenced to prevent unauthorized entry, and permanent tenants guard the place. Many other businesses such as a golf course, cock farms for raising cockfighting cock, and small tourist resorts can be spotted in the Valley, well within the ancestral domain.

According to Aeta leaders, these projects were set up by the CDC within the ancestral domain without any prior consultation with the indigenous communities, as required in the IPRA law. They claimed that investors entered and occupied part of their ancestral domain.

The IPRA law is a break through for the Aeta, but its implementation is flawed.

As mentioned, there are two main organisations that represent the Aeta and voice their interests, the government body NCIP and BATA.

BATA consists of elders from the Aeta community and a board of executives. It is this association along with the tribal leaders who represents the community and takes decisions for them. The IPRA law states that developments and projects may take place on ancestral domain if the community is well informed and free to contest. On paper this works but in reality there are real issues about who represents the community.

The large majority of the community is not aware of the decision taken by BATA. In several cases, small investors have approached the members of BATA to negotiate solely with them an agreement in which they can use some Aeta land (often the member of BATA would gain personally in this agreement). BATA was first established to fight for the Aeta to obtain the titles of the ancestral domain and to have the power to speak on behalf of the community. However today, the members of the BATA association abuse more and more their power they have in taking decisions on behalf of the community. CDC knows that if they can get the approval of the members of BATA then they stay will within the law to continue the developments of their projects. This has led CDC to try, bribe and manipulate the members of BATA. As the association has so few members, over time the power of each man has been prone to bribing. Its members are easily seduced by gifts, advantages and a good reputation in turn to accept terms decided by CDC.

If an investor, whether it is a private individual or CDC itself wishes to use land belonging to the Aeta, it needs to make the claim to use the land to NCIP. NCIP will eventually summon BATA and the tribal leader, not the entire community, to read the proposal. The decision to accept or not an investor’s proposals therefore comes down to the handful of individuals who are part of the BATA association. More and more, there are examples of how some members of BATA do not have the best interest of the community in mind. It is quite clear that the Aeta members of BATA have many advantages that other Aeta do not have for example owning cars, owning larger houses etc.

Many small parcels of land are leased to investors on the basis of contracts made by BATA, but nothing is clear. The Aeta do not fully understand the question of ownership in the same way the investors do. There have been cases for example, where an Aeta has leased land to an individual investor when he believes he has gained his trust. The Aeta will believe that the land will be used to farm and will therefore contribute to maintain the land. So, without fully understanding the terms of a contract, the Aeta will be happy to trust BATA and give his land to his new “friends” even if often the intentions of the investor are to cut down the trees and construct on the land. As leasing the land is not fully legal and the arrangement is made solely between BATA and the individual investor, confusion is easily promoted. This lack of clarity is maintained so as not to give too much power or understanding to the Aeta.

The Aeta are not actually being forced to part with their land. The ones who have land which are leased or sold, and this for the moment is only a minority of Aeta, have done so by choice. They have been motivated by new needs as a result of the growing contact with the lowlands. This has been emphasised by the arrival of electricity in the village in 2008, the arrival of televisions and the construction of a road up to the village. Their new life style requires additional financial resources. The cultivation of their root crop, bananas and mangos are not enough to cover their living costs.

Many Aeta have acquired other sources of income, for example opening a small store in the village, creating a shuttle service by motor-bike from the town up to the village, working in the Clark complex etc. But the Aeta have a very limited level of formal education and there is often prejudice, even racism against them: a very small number of jobs are obtainable.

One can easily understand therefore, that when an Aeta is approached by an investor to buy some of his land for an important sum of money, the Aeta is tempted.

On the 11th September 2009 CDC’s President Benigno Ricafort and the Philippines Tourist Authority general manager Mark Lapid signed an agreement for the establishment of a water-sports facility . The facility is planned partly on some ancestral land. To continue with the project, CDC called a meeting to invite the Aeta whose land is touched to discuss the project. On 24th September 2010 I was present at this CDC meeting. Here, Joey Tangloa, an Aeta whose land is being affected by the sports complex, was made to believe that the development of the water sports project would bring him and his family jobs and prosperity. The Aeta are promised jobs such as maintenance work, the running of restaurants and hotels.

Later, on the 29th October 2010 I had a meeting with the Philippines Tourist Authority (PTA), I asked the secretary of Mark Lapid what kind of jobs the Aeta would get. To this, the response was a laugh, saying that the project was “World Class”

development and for foreign guests: the personnel of this resort would all be trained and educated, and not Aeta.

There is clearly a contradiction. The PTA claims to not be aware of any promises that the Aeta should have jobs, that CDC’s role in the project is to find and secure the land, and that PTA have no responsibility in how they go about doing this.

When I talked to Joey Tanglao after the CDC meeting, he was content. From his understanding the project meant that his land would be maintained and he would have a job, and that the land would be returned to him in 25 years when the lease ran out. He did not comprehend that the land would be changed; he still believed that his children would benefit from the shade of his mango trees.

Managing the income, the windfall

Once a transaction is made with an individual Aeta who has agreed to lease his land, the Aeta suddenly finds himself for the first time with a large sum of money: money that only belongs to him, he is no longer on an equal standing with his fellow Aeta in the community. He can now for example, extend his house, give his daughter a big wedding and maybe buy a car. He feels that this is giving him respect in the village. However, once the novelty of owning cash wears off he discovers several inconveniences.

His relationship with the community does not only change in financial terms. He is singled out in the community by those who are not comfortable with the idea that he has sold his land. It is not only the elders who are nostalgic for what is lost, but many of the young generation are starting to worry about retaining full rights on their land.

A divide is thus created in the village between those who realise the importance for their future and identity to hold on to their lands and not lose it, and those who, due to lack of income believe it is in their advantage to succumb to the demands of investors.

The shift in economical dynamics creates a shift in social dynamics in the village. Now, certain things are accessible to some and not to others. The Aeta have always lived in a communal setting. Their upheaval during the period of dislocation after the eruption of the volcano are a testimony to the strong sense of community they then possessed, and that despite the fact that they adapted and had to accept new ‘lowland’ ways of living. The community structure had remained. Families all worked together, shared tasks, child rearing etc. There was no sense of individual ownership. Suddenly a new dynamic is introduced. Some families own more, and it is not equally shared.

Mario Tolentino, an Aeta inhabitant of the village of San-Martin, sold 60 hectares of his family land to a Filipino entrepreneur Mr Hierra. The contract which was overseen by BATA agreed that Mr Hierra would give Mario Tolentino a car and 25,000 pesos per hectare (405 euros) . A few weeks after the signing of the contract Mario received the car. It is important to note that a few months later the money still had not come through. The car was second hand. Of course, neither Mario nor his son have a driving licence, but the novelty of having a vehicle and being able to get up and down from their village to the town was a luxury. The arrival of the car in the village was seen more like a toy. Regularly people would take it in turn to drive up and down the village. Everyone started to take the vehicle for granted. Mario or his son William were often asked favours to be driven down to town. People expected them to be at their disposal. But the inconvenience of a car quite quickly became obvious. The car soon ran out of petrol, and the Tolentino budget went mostly toward keeping the tank full.

Mario’s son, William was following all the procedures to obtain a driving license as soon as possible, but it is undeniable that there is much discrimination against the Aeta. They are physically different and recognizable and lowlanders are often prejudiced against them, believing them less educated and capable. Of course, the car was still used even without a fully licensed driver. This, unsurprisingly, one evening led to a crash. The costs of reparations were extortionate for an Aeta with an uninsured car.

Concluding remarks

The temptation for the Aeta to sell their lands to receive some income is understandable. However, as we have seen, the whole concept of time and the future is not perceived in the same manner as for lowlanders. It is the first time in their long history that the Aeta need to have a sense of long-term future, rather than living day-to-day. Now, for the first time the Aeta have a capital and need to manage a large sum of money in the long term. They have no support or guidance for this and their money is spent quickly, not placed in any advantageous way for their future. Briefly, they get used to having a higher standard of living. It does not last and they are hit even harder when, within a few months they find themselves with no more money, and no land.

Having a greater contact with the mainstream way of life, exchange with the lowlanders increasing and the arrival of electricity in the village for televisions, has given the Aeta an idealised vision of ‘modern’ life. They are of course attracted and seduced by the superficial aspects of the way of life: wearing jeans, owning a car, a scooter, a mobile phone… and that is what they want to obtain.

The more individual ownership becomes important, the more their traditional way of life and social behaviour is challenged. The concept of boundaries and certificates that allocate and separate land was alien to the Aeta. They have always lived and worked land that is shared amongst them all, moving around all over the Valley. This introduction of a new way of regarding and managing their land not only creates inequalities amongst the community, but still creates major confusion and misconception. The terms of the certificates are vague. I never got the same explanation and descriptions of the details of the act: members of the community, officials at CDC, BATA, NCIP or individual investors all believed something different. The Aeta are not encouraged to be enlightened about the finer details of the land certificates; CDC knows very well that it will always be easier to manipulate and manage.

The problem that the Aeta have to confront is not that they are forgotten in the face of the law; they are officially somewhat protected. There is indeed the IPRA law that protect the well being and rights of the Aeta. The problem is more that these protections can be easily sidestepped. From a government official to the Aeta tribal leader, in a country where social benefits are unheard of, organisations such as CDC and any investor can easily impose certain demands with bribes. Bribes and corrupt practices are fully recognised and rarely condemned. The guy with the most money is always right.

In reality, on the ground the affected Aeta simply can not relate to the prospects of development of CDC and the foreign investors. The affected communities are seen as expendable and are not considered during planning and implementation. Their issues and concerns are not properly assessed and addressed.

The introduction of a new economic model raises questions about the relations between corporations and the communities in which they are operating:

• How far is a company that is implanting itself in an area responsible for the well being of the Aeta?

• Should a foreign company follow national customs, even if this means not respecting occidental moral standards? Isn’t globalisation also meant to promote a fair and regularised system?

• Should we impose on a society only what we would be prepared to accept back home?

• While it might be impossible for a foreign investor to police corrupt transactions, to what extent is the foreign company held accountable?

• If the introduction of a new economic model produces inter-community tensions as a result of changing power relations and an unequal distribution of resources, shouldn’t companies representing this model assume responsibility towards the community?

The present orientation of development projects being introduced in communities of national minorities will always tend to breed conflict, if not directly between the project proponents and the communities, then between the local people themselves. This case-study is about capital intensive development plans that will exploit the people’s main economic base. The present development blueprint of the government, which speaks of privatization, liberalisation and deregulation of vital industries, supports this orientation and framework.

The Aeta have already proven that they are willing to accept and adapt themselves to new dynamics, it is therefore essential that they are considered as stakeholders in all decisions making. The Filipino state should take responsibility for enforcing this aim, whilst the corporations which are benefitting from the land in the valley should provide the Aeta with proper information and means to understand the full implications of the agreements they go into.