This is a free publication produced from the research entitled "Anthropological and Socioeconomic Characterization of Bicol Indigeous Peoples Agta Communities" conducted by the staff of the Philippine Rice Research Institute and funded by the Department of Agriculture Regional Field Office V. Published in four volumes, the results of the research are presented in a coffee table book format in English, Filipino, and Bicol languages to reflect the international, national, and regional languages more accessible to a wide readership.
Bicol's indigenous peoples (IPs) eat three rice meals a day. When their own harvest is emptied, they buy commercial rice spending money earned from their fruits, root crops, corn, and abaca materials.
The Agtas of Camarines Sur and Albay provinces do not live on rice alone. They believe in government and in God. Their youngsters go to school; watch TV and operate gadgets; talk, text, Facebook, and shoot selfies. They are not unlike the majority of Bicolanos. They run for elective posts and vote. They share in the general aspirations of Filipinos.
Cimarron: San Pedro
The Agta-Cimarron live and farm in the corners of Barangay San Pedro, 24 kilometers away from Iriga City in CamSur. In 2012 when they participated in the social research, "inclusive growth" had yet to bring them electricity and running water. They were applying for an ancestral domain title.
Most of their farmers were in their 50s, making ends meet for their 7-member families on average. They have spent half of their lives growing rice. They left school as elementary graders, but many of their children now have either finished or are in college. Parents know and still practice their traditions as IP. Before establishing their crops, they do the apag ritual to implore the spirits for blessings. It is performed also on All Souls' Day. Farming in their community dates back to 1818 but present-day ways of life are now prominent.
From subsistence farming, many Cimarrons had for some time replaced rice with yellow corn as commercial crop that proved unsustainable. Only a few of them plant corn now. They instead make money out of dried coconut meat (copra), abaca fibers, fruits, vegetables, and root crops.
They eat all their limited rice harvest; buy more often. They recycle seeds.Their soils are less fertile now, and even pests and diseases persecute their crops. Yet planting rice at the same time as they used to do through the bayanihan practice is among their self-imposed solutions. What the Cimarrons lament is having almost all of their children, who are mostly in school instead of being farm hands, not knowing how to produce rice themselves. These youngsters need to be attracted back into farming. They have coconuts, bananas, and abaca to choose from if rice is not productive. Add pili and coffee, too.
Tabangnon: Gatbo, Danao
More than 2 kilometers away from the thriving Ocampo town also in Camarines Sur provicne, 71 Agta-Tabangnon families were concentrated in Barangay Gatbo. With Mount Isarog as their neighbor, they have electricity and tap water. Many of them had been upland rice farmers, who now instead plant abaca, root crops,corn, and fruit trees.
Lowland Gatbo has well-irrigated rice fields. Unfortunately, farmers are aging. Modern methods have made them aggressive in hunting for opportunities to produce cash. The young adults are employed outside their barangay. Indigenous culture has markedly tapered off. Residents are reminded of it only when their children would be taught about Agta tradition in school.
Rice is Gatbo's major source of income and most farmers have stopped believing in incantations or talking to the plants and animals. Along with modern rices, Bulaw is their most popular traditional variety for its special properties and sentimental value. It is less responsive to fertilizers, though.
Another Tabangnon upland settlement thrives in Barangay Danao in Polangui, Albay province. The cemented roads connect upland farms to the markets and their schools are accessible and safe for children to attend even during wet days. Employment chances abound as they are bordered by Tabaco City, Malinao, and Buhi.
Near their homes are upland fields that yield rice, bananas, coconuts, peanuts, corn, sugar, root crops, and trees for lumber. Irrigated lowlands turn out rice only for home use. Those living along the roads enjoy electricity. They value their family over everything else.
Rice is no longer a primary source of income in Danao, the researchers assert. They eat what they reap and augment it with purchased rice. The rice that they produce are considered "savings" as the more rice they harvest, the less they have to spend buying added stock.
Many Danao farmers now see traditional methods such as shifting fields, conducting rituals, and praying to their deities for good harvest as folk beliefs or superstitions. They pray the way their religion guides them but they no longer offer food to their gods.
Danao sustains its purchasing power by working in other fields to earn cash, not to immortalize the bayanihan spirit. They need to buy this and that; to load heir cellphones and feed other gadgets. The rides require fares as well. But all told, rice remains as their top food.
After they harvest rainfed rice, they keep the fields productive with peanuts, sweet potatoes, cassava, or corn. The Palayamanan System capitalizes on the diversity of both agri-products and knowledge--indigenous, local, and scientific.
More Agtas: Joroan, Misibis, and Mayong
Barangays Joroan, Misibis, and Mayong in Tiwi, Albay straddle the eastern slopes of Mount Malinao, descending to the shores of Lagonoy Gulf. Local historians told the researchers their Agta ancestors produced salt, gathered abaca fiber, and traded them along with other goods from nearby settlements. They subsisted on upland rice, sweet potato, cassava, and other foods. The little cash they earned bought them tobacco, sugar, and other pieces of merchandise.
World War II and subsequent conflicts brought diverse miseries to the Agtas. When peace stabilized in 2006, they chose to remain in the lowlands where they sought refuge since the schools and markets were more accessible. Today they buy rice using the money they make from abaca, bananas, and copra.
On where they used to plant rice and root crops are plantations of banana and abaca. They first clear, dry, and burn so that ashes of natural vegetation will fertilize the soil. Then they sow upland rice and plant young tree seedlings. Once rice can be harvested, the young trees would be surrounded by root crops. In the next year, they would burn a different section of the uplands and repeat the process. This was a practice handed down from the previous generation.
Abaca is their most useful crop. The fiber is crafted into ropes, baskets, cloths, papers, among other products. On small irrigated fields, they grow rice for domestic consumption. Diseased abaca trees are burned and replaced with corn or upland rice. Palay yield was measly and unprofitable 1.41 tons per hectare average in 2012. Production is not plentiful, but rice lingers as part of the Agta culture.
The Agtas in Tiwi are at a juncture: young ladies and men interested in farming are dwindling; mroe and more youngsters are leaving home to find their luck elsewhere--not without considerable encouragement from their parents too; elders who remember local traditions and history are diminishing.
But look at how important to them rice could be! Certain farmers invest their earnings from banana and abaca to build permanent wet rice paddies in the uplands. Non-continuous mini-rice terraces in Mayong are near sources of water that flows into many fields. Among the senior farmers, a good rice field is a most valuable asset. The rice produce is not even sold for profit. The farmer and his loved ones eat it, shared among his relatives when possible.
What the IPs of Bicol have in common are not few. This is not to say, though, that what government does for the Cimarrons in San Pedro could simply be replicated in Gatbo, Danao, Joroan, Misibis, or Mayong. The IPs do not need a one-size-fits-all approach to unleashing their potent capabilities. They must be treated uniquely. These Filipinos may not be living on rice alone, but they cannot live without it. Like the many varieties of traditional and modern rices, these IPs have their own unique traits and ways.