Text and Photos by Euden Valdez
TECHNOLY has transformed the ways people travel nowadays. Take for example the rise of online booking apps, which has made private properties accessible as accommodation instead of the more expensive hotels and resorts.
But even before the rise of AirBnb and the likes, home-staying has been preferred by nomads, backpackers and budget travelers. They arrive at a destination without accommodation and hope and pray there is a host willing to accept them under their roofs. Why do this? Not just because it is cheaper but also because it allows them to know their destination better through its people and their ways of life.
While this concept is taking the backseat, it remains to be practiced by RAK Ph Mountaineers, an outdoor-advocacy movement in support sustainable and ethical tourism. In March, RAK (meaning Random Act of Kindness) went to Palaui Island in Cagayan province not only as ordinary tourists but also as guests of the Agta tribe of Punta Verde. We were billeted at the household of Erick Agcaoili and his family, a warm and welcoming bunch.
As tourists, we experienced what has made Palaui Island one of the most popular destinations in the region despite the long and tiring travel (if by land, although it can be reached by air via Tuguegarao City).
There were the beaches that served as setting to reality TV show Survivor, the cascading Baratubut falls, and the enigmatic Cape Engano sitting atop a hill that opens up to a view of the mighty Pacific Ocean. All these are accessible via minor trails or seashore paths. Palaui Island was declared Protect Seascape and Landscape under Proclamation No. on 447 on August 16, 1994.
As RAK Ph Mountaineers, we immersed with the Agta to observe their need for solar lamps, hoping to include them in our flagship Give Light program.
On the sideline, RAK’s co-founder Frederick Laping also served as volunteer for the Save Sierra Madre Network Alliance Inc. He was to assess the results of the NGO’s farming and poultry project for the Agta of Punta Verde.
Through the immersion and assessment, we realized a more pressing issue. Today, there are 34 households of Agta in Punta Verde. Yet as the original dwellers of the 7,415-hectare island, they have been stripped of their rights over their ancestral domain.
“Palaui Island belongs to the indigenous people of Agta since the beginning. Their kind ancestors opened the island to others who have also shown them kindness,” explained Save Sierra Madre.
“Since the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act of 1997 (or Republic Act No. 8371) was passed, several groups including Save Sierra Madre have helped the Agta get their Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title even if Palaui Island belongs to them. They do so this in adherence to law but they truly hope to reclaim their land.”
Save Sierra Madre added that the Agta should manage the tourism of Palaui Island and reap majority of the benefits thus ultimately improve their lives. Sadly, they appeared to be the outsiders of their own island.
As of present, the Agta have a school established with the support of the Franciscan Apostolate Sister led by Sister Minerva Campued. The formal school has been accredited by the Department of Education.
Their main source of livelihood, meanwhile, is fishing and farming during summer, as well as harvesting wild honey.
Yes, the Agta may live with the simplest means but to us, they give the biggest hospitality. And we wish that on our next stay in their homes, we get to return their kindness in ways beyond gratitude.