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Protecting the Rights of the IP


It’s a triumph for Norman King and his people, as the young man becomes the first Aeta to graduate from the University of the Philippines.



In a country with over 105 million Filipinos, a small band of indigenous peoples (IPs) resides in the mountainous regions of Luzon. They are the Aetas, one of the IPs of the Philippines, now resettled in Pampanga and Tarlac after the devastating 1991 Mt. Pinatubo eruption. Traditionally a hunting and gathering people, the Aetas and their culture are changing. Influences from the lowlands have crept in,
along with reforms for education and struggles for ancestral domain. And Norman King, a true katutubo, is serving as the bridge, helping his people maneuver through modern society and educating the lowlanders and outsiders on the true struggles of the IPs.

Norman King graduated from the Angeles City National Trade School in 2004. Almost a decade later, he was able to enroll at the University of the Philippines in Manila (UP-Manila). This was due to the intervention of Cynthia Neri Zayas, PhD, who approached his father, Aeta rights activist Roman King, offering any form of assistance. Roman replied: “If you really want to help me, help my son
get the education he deserves.”

Norman was a freshman at the age of 23. Perhaps because of his previous work experience, he had no trouble adapting to student life at the University of the Philippines-Manila. He didn’t feel any discrimination as everyone appreciated his presence and treated him normally. He recalls, “Among
the students, I was just this black guy standing in the class, physically and identity-wise, like one of the natives.” He had no problems financially, as his funds came from the university stipend, the Diwang Magdalo Foundation, and his father also sent him an allowance. Sometimes, he’d visit the Office of
Student Affairs to hang out and eat with the other students and faculty. They treated him like family, and he admits, they became like his family, too.

Norman only wanted to finish college to have that competitive edge when seeking employment. He had no particular university or course in mind, and credits it to divine intervention that he got into UP-Manila. “That’s already a privilege for me. So I wasn’t going to be picky on what course they’d put me in. As long as I got in, I’m good,” he shares.

Norman aims to use his multidisciplinary course—which covers Sociology, Anthropology, and Psychology—to help his community by writing a book about their culture. The Aeta culture is handed down orally and nothing is written. This becomes troublesome when businessmen arrive, demanding land titles. Despite the land being part of their ancestral domain, the Aetas face difficulties when they neither have proof nor written records of ownership. Norman also explains: “When a person would like to understand our culture, they don’t have anything to read or refer to. If ever there’s anything written, it’s actually by scholars or westerners. But is it written from the perspective of the Aeta community or a biased perspective of the writer? I see my course as an answer to that question.” Norman wants
to bring the Aeta psyche to light by codifying the culture and laws of his own community.

Most Aeta communities have a traditional value system that prioritizes their ancestral domain, but there are those with diverging value systems.
Norman coins the term “loose” communities to refer to Aetas who do not value their land unlike other
tight-knit Aeta communities within Porac and Tarlac. These so-called loose communities have lost their ancestral domain, because they’ve already sold their rights to lowland people.
Under the law, the transfer of property rights should only be between or among members of the same indigenous cultural communities (ICCs) or IPs. Thus, Norman’s father, as leader of Porac Aeta Ancestral Domain Federation Incorporated, buys the land of loose communities instead of the ICC selling to non-Aetas. Their purpose is to secure the land for the future of the younger generation. Norman explains, “As
an heir to the mountains we own, I won’t use all of those resources. My only purpose is to protect it so that no outsiders can get in.” Despite having a noble intention of protecting the rights of other Aeta communities, the Kings have been accused of land-grabbing instead. Norman says this is because
the lowlanders don’t understand. In the lowlands, sale of land to a person results in sole ownership of that person. With the Aetas, however, the property becomes communal and shared by all in the community.
With the passing of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 8371 or the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act, the right of the IPs to their ancestral domain is recognized. Yet some politicians have their own personal agenda profiting from ecotourism sites on Aeta land. They will hinder any claim for a certificate or title the Aetas enforce. Norman says it has been 10 years since they sought a communal title. He reveals, “Until you claim it, the government won’t do anything. They know we’re not like other Aetas. We know the value of our land, and the politicians know, once we get it back, they’ll never own it again.”

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