Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Defending Forests and Tribes in the Philippines

Philippines Solidarity Group, 17th August 2002ce

The Philippines are an area of immense ecological importance. Whilst being home to many rare and amazing birds and mammals, including the monkey-eating eagle, it is the plant life which really marks it out as exceptional, with the virgin rainforest containing a greater diversity of flora than anywhere else in the world.

All is far from well however for this beautiful environment. Most of the rainforest has been destroyed, largely by Western logging interests, and the destruction continues at a horrifying rate. Many species are extinct or threatened with extinction. Dam building destroys landscapes and communities and mineral extraction rips open the land. It is the vast scale of its destruction, combined with its incredible bio-diversity, which has seen the Philippines classed as one of the top three 'environmental hotspots'; in other words one of the three most ecologically important areas to defend in the world.

If we ecologists in the West are serious then we cannot ignore the global hotspots. Financial aid, solidarity actions and other support must be given to these areas as a matter of urgency. The Philippines Solidarity Group has been set up to do just this.

The Philippines are home to some of the last surviving gatherer-hunters. In the rainforest of Luzon Island the Agta live off the land's coconuts, fish, leaves, crabs and fruit and occasional larger animals as they have done for generations. Compatible with the local ecology, their lifestyles and culture are also largely non-hierarchical and non-gendered. They are one of the few truly free and ecological societies left in the world. Like many tribes across the world the Agta have seen their numbers fall to the low hundreds and their traditional ways of life made increasingly impossible. Their land is stolen, their children taken from them by government officials, the forest on which they depend for food is cut down and they are forced into the farms and factories. They have become landless refugees in their own land.

It’s not just the mining and logging companies that are a problem. Numerous tribes say missionaries are just as much of a threat.

Missionary organisations use spotter planes to fly over uncharted areas, looking for tribes. They then take them the ‘good news’.

The missionaries planes are then used by distributors of Western consumer products like Coca-Cola who see the tribes as a new market, thus making tribes dependent on the cash economy, and thereby easier to employ at mines and logging stations. The missionary planes also fly missions for the Indonesian military who are at war with tribes trying to stop the ruining of land and forests by mining and logging.

The missionaries of the 21st century in the South Pacific are no different to missionaries down through the ages. They believe they have everything to teach and nothing to learn, and they are, as ever, the vanguard of enslavement to industrialised misery and consumerism.

It is essential that we act in solidarity with the tribal peoples who defend themselves and their land. If we are ever to succeed in creating free and ecological communities in our own lands we will have much to learn from them. In 2001 the non-development organisation Friends of People Close to Nature raised £8,000 and bought 10 hectares of stolen Agta tribal land in Dipuntian on the north-west coast of the Luzon Island. This land now houses eight Agta families, a significant section of the Agta population, and has also become a base for action against logging of the rainforest. Here is an opportunity to give direct aid and on-the-ground solidarity to an endangered gatherer-hunter community struggling to protect an ecology within one of the three hottest of the global hotspots. The importance of action on this field cannot be overstated.

Raise Money

In addition to the £8,000 already raised, a further £10,000 is now being collected to buy an adjoining piece of land to house a further 100 Agta. For only £18,000 most of an endangered anarchic primal tribe can be pulled back from the brink of cultural and personal extinction! The Philippines Solidarity Group aims to have raised the necessary £10,000 by the end of this year. We need your help. Providing financial aid should not be seen as charity but as a tool of solidarity that we have available to us as a result of our position in the highly monetarised West.

(Make cheques payable to "Agta Support Group" and send to the address at the end of the article)

Visit Dipuntian

Although only Agta live on the reserve, Western visitors are invited to stay there to learn from the Agta and to help stop the destruction of the forests: There is a lot to do. You can help the Agta in their daily difficulties, plant fruit trees, protest about logging, teach Agta children to stop them being stolen off to school, build huts, administer medical treatment and keep missionaries off the land. Even if you don't do anything you would probably be useful in Dipuntian. The Agta feel safer when foreigners are around. Anyone wanting to visit Dipuntian should contact the Philippines Solidarity Group. We have tapes and books in Tagalog available on loan, plus other information and contacts.

Associated Indigenous Struggles

Resistance to mining and dams in the Philippines has been intense. In April 1998 the "Unity Pact" was forged in the Cordiella Region increasing the levels of militancy used by indigenous peoples to stop environmental destruction of their area. Indigenous people in southern Mindaneo followed suit and also took up arms recently. The Cordirella people are the first to have stopped a World Bank funded project (Chico River Basin Development Project). The Cordillera People's Alliance (an alliance of various indigenous groups) have also been at war with golfers. There was armed resistance to the Manila South Coast Development Agency turning native land into a golf course. Most recently, on May 1st the Aeta performed a ritual protest outside the US embassy in Manila to protest about US military exercises causing environmental damage.

The indigenous people of the Philippines have plenty of enemies. Research is being done into these, (any information gratefully received), and direct action against them is only a matter of time. Most of these companies at war with nature are based in Canada, Australia or the Philippines, but they have some links in the UK, and details of protests will appear in the U-Know! News section.

Davao Earth First!

The Philippines is one of the few third world countries with active Earth First! groups. Davao City EF! have taken action in support of indigenous people, opened an anarchist/ecologist info shop, trashed genetically modified crops and taken part in local conservation projects. Located as they are in one of the global hotspots, these "eco-warriors of the 3rd world country" must surely be a key target for as much support as we can provide.

Davao Earth First! have asked for literature for their info shop as well as for a video camera.
Check out their fantastic website on: http://www.geocities.com/efdavao

Friends and Further Information

http://www.nispop.org (solidarity group - check out the links)
http://www.golfwar.org (produced video on armed resistance to the golf project)
http://www.philsol.nl (philippines solidarity group)
http://www.minesandcommunities.org (info on various indigenous resistance to mining)
http://www.forestsmonitor.org (especially for reports on the philippines and logging)
http://www. fpcn-global.org (info on agta and dipuntian plus slide show)
http://www.leedsef.org.uk (website where there'll be future info on actions in the UK)

The South Pacific Solidarity Office will open in Brighton on August 1st. Contact
tel: 01273 695505
Email: solidaritysouthpacific@yahoo.co.uk
Up to date information on the website: http://www.ecoaction.org/ssp

Philippines Solidarity Group
c/o Leeds Earth First!,
Cornerstone Resource Centre,
16 Sholebroke Ave,
Leeds,
LS7 3HB
England

Email: threeovus@hotmail.com