Inside the Cordillera death ritual

Inside the Cordillera death ritual

Daytoy Ti Amianan

By Roland Rabang
Northern Luzon Bureau
Last updated 06:25am (Mla time) 07/18/2007

MANILA, Philippines – Seven elderly women in Sagada, Mt. Province, gather one night around a hut no larger than five square meters. Linked arms to shoulder, the women chant as they sway to its sing-song rhythm: “I taoli yo nan swerti kadakami, ya san an-ak yo.”


It is the night’s mantra sung in Kankanaey: “May you bring luck back to us and to your descendants.”


Inside the hut, all eyes focus on a figure occupying a spot of importance.


Florencio “Sumbad” Pecdasen, an elder of dap-ay Tukipa in the village of Demang, has been dead three days. On the third day of his death, he was dressed in indigenous garments befitting a kadangyan (nobility) and was propped on what locals call a sangadil (death chair).


On the night of the third day, the women sang dirges as the elder figureheads of Demang and Dag-dag villages chanted the baya-o (tribute to the dead).


The baya-o extolled the virtues of the dead and sought his blessings for the community and for those who shared resources and efforts to usher the passing of the dead back to the world of their departed ancestors.


“Sumbad was an industrious man,” the elders chanted. “For even in his old age he would take up hard chores including gathering firewood.”


Unfortunately, Sumbad’s industry triggered his decline. His village mates said he climbed a tree to cut some branches for firewood. He missed a step, fell and broke his back. He survived the fall but the man, at 75, was unable to walk again and died months later.


But in his prime as an elder of dap-ay Tukipa, Sumbad knew what he wanted, and declared this in no uncertain terms to his family and the dap-ay council leadership: When he dies, he wants to be propped up on a sangadil and buried in the ways of his father, the respected Lakay Pecdasen, and his ancestors—his coffin hanging on a ledge at the limestone cliffs of Bao-eng.


No one knows for sure how or when the practice of placing the dead on a sangadil started.


Even Esteban “Pollat” Bosaing, acknowledged repository of oral tradition in the community, can only quote versions from folktales.


He said in the olden days, the dead were merely left lying on the ground. By nightfall, when all were asleep, the dogs often sneak in to eat the corpse. Or, without knowing it, the dead might turn into a carabao or some other animal so people might fall ill, says the mammadto (soothsayer), if they butcher and eat it.


Sometimes the anito (ancestors) tasked to fetch the dead may think that the person was merely asleep seeing that it was only lying about, so they leave, unable to complete their task. This has prompted elders to decide on placing the dead on a chair to prevent these mishaps from happening.


The less dramatic but pragmatic version, according to Bosaing, has something to do with presentation. The dead can look better in traditional regalia if seated, rather than lying in a coffin.


Even if the person’s system has ceased to function, the person is not “dead” until declared so by the community.


In the case of Sumbad, it was three days after he breathed his last. Only when he was seated on a chair that the dirges and chants for the dead began.


Sumbad was strapped on an ordinary wooden chair, his thumbs and big toes bound together by a rope made of rattan and his jaw tied shut with a kubkuba or a soft bark used to weave g-strings before Ilocano traders introduced their inabel (woven cloth).


The design of his death garments indicates he was among the privileged in the community.


“Black cloth with seven stripes implies that he is among the kadangyan,” says Bosaing. The less privileged wear blue with no stripes.


However, with the required number of pigs to be butchered (21 and 18), it is difficult to distinguish the kadangyan from those who are not.


“The ritual takes place only when a person asks for it and if the family can afford the cost,” says Rey Fiar-od, an official in Barlig, Mt. Province.


However, even if the family is financially capable, the ritual cannot be performed if it does not own a takba or a ritual basket.


“To own a takba means you are part of the ritual and a culture bearer,” says photographer Tommy Hafalla. “Not to own one simply means you have turned your back from the old ways and embraced another set of beliefs.”




This other set of beliefs might be the Christian faith and the reason Sumbad’s daughter has expressed her reluctance to place her father on a death chair.


She was only prevailed upon by the rest of the clan who said it was her father’s wish that this ritual be performed.


Today the death ritual is at best a “compromise” between the Christianity that was introduced by western missionaries and local traditions and beliefs.


Thus, during Sumbad’s wake, the baya-o was performed as often as Christian hymns were sung.


In Sagada, there is a cemetery on a hill where Christian burials are performed, but overlooking the hill, a rock face is full with hanging coffins from traditional burials.


It seems, however, that Sumbad won out in the end. Wrapped in his burial shroud in fetal position, the village’s men, and sometimes women, carried him on their backs to his final destination in a practice called binatbato.


The community takes turns in carrying the body towards the limestone cliffs as to do so is considered good luck.


Gruesome as it may sound, the luck happens when body fluids of the dead are smeared on to the one who is carrying the corpse, but it will only occur if the fluids are not washed off for three days.


Bosaing says the belief is so strong that those who participate fight for the chance to carry the corpse.


Are these practices still relevant in this age? Without hesitation, Fiar-od says “yes.”


“The bottom line in the observance of these practices is unity and discipline. These values do not fade in time,” he says.


“So is the observance of tambo (sharing). The culture of sharing will ensure that the people and their practices will endure for generations to come,” says Hafalla.


7 Pampanga towns to receive share in quarry funds

7 Pampanga towns to receive share in quarry funds
By Tonette Orejas
Central Luzon Desk
Last updated 06:41am (Mla time) 07/18/2007

CITY OF SAN FERNANDO—Pampanga Gov. Eddie Panlilio will give on Friday half of the P11.6 million collected from quarry taxes from July 2-13 to seven sand-rich towns and villages in the province.


Panlilio said he advanced the schedule of distribution of quarry revenues to July 20, instead of July 30, because the revenues collected had already reached a considerable amount.


Provincial administrator Vivian Dabu said they have yet to determine how much the provincial government, the towns of Bacolor, Lubao, Sta. Rita, Porac, Floridablanca, Mabalacat and Mexico, and their respective villages would get from the P5.8-million revenue that would be released.


The amount was computed at half of the P300 tax imposed on every truckload of sand.


A Local Government Code provision and an ordinance from the provincial board set the sharing of quarry revenues on a 30-30-40 percent basis for the province, towns and barangays.


Dabu said the remaining P5.8 million would be retained by the provincial capitol to cover administrative costs.


Some mayors have clamored to use the P300, not P150, as base amount for the sharing.


The mayors have yet to formalize that recommendation in a resolution, however, Dabu told reporters.


In a separate interview, Panlilio said he would follow the present sharing scheme until the provincial board agrees to the proposal of the mayors.


He said the provincial government would also draw funds from its administrative share to support social services in 13 towns where there is no quarry industry.


“Quarry operations have been giving the government a lot of resources,” Panlilio said.


In collecting P11.6 million in 10 days, the Panlilio administration is likely to surpass the P29.1 million collected by the administration of former Gov. Mark Lapid for 2006, an Inquirer review of quarry income showed.


Lapid and his father, Sen. Manuel “Lito” Lapid, are in the United States and could not be reached for comment on why quarry revenues in their time as governors reached only P10 to P30 million annually in the last six years.


The Lapids have not sent word either through their representatives.


Vice Gov. Joseller Guiao, who has kept a close watch on alleged quarry irregularities, said he would continue pursuing the graft case against the younger Lapid and provincial treasurer Vergel Yabut.


Guiao noted a “discrepancy” of P337 million between the collections of the Natural Resources Development Corp. from 1999 to 2001 and the elder Lapid’s administration from 2002 to 2004.


In the case he filed at the Office of the Ombudsman in March, Guiao said between P600 million and P1 billion might have been lost to graft from 2004 to the first two months of 2007 under the younger Lapid’s administration.

Putting money where the conscience is

Putting money where the conscience is
By Jeffrey M. Tupas
Last updated 05:24am (Mla time) 07/15/2007

DAVAO CITY, Philippines—The sales pitch of the Don Bosco Foundation for Sustainable Development Inc. (DBFSDI), or simply Don Bosco, doesn’t hide anything.


No sugar-coated promises. No false advertisements. The people behind it stress they’re not just about to create false needs for the demanding but willing consumers.


Even their slogan is void of pretensions: “Your option for healthy living and source of bio-dynamically produced food replete with life forces.”


When the Bios Dynamis Health Food Center was established in Davao City last year, the first ever organic food center in the city, people from Don Bosco were not thinking of making a huge profit.


For them, the daring decision to put up the center was their way of putting money where the conscience is. And by that, they mean helping farming communities and doing business while taking good care of the health of the consumers and keeping a healthy environment.


When they decided to put up a store in the city selling 100 percent chemical-free food products, Don Bosco was not worried about the presence of other established businesses in Davao.


Maria Helena “Betsy” Ruizo-Gamela, executive director of Don Bosco, said they knew they were opening the growing organic food niche wider.


It’s not an easy thing to do considering that organic food offers a far different world compared to the more popular chemical-dependent agriculture which naturally produces chemical-laced food products.




Don Bosco first set up a store in Kidapawan City, with products mostly supplied by farmers practicing biodynamics. Gamela said they decided to open a new chain in Davao because of the growing demand.


“We don’t compete. We are here to offer products for those who want to choose healthy living as an option. You know, as they say, the engine of organic production will be fueled by the demand of the niche market. And for now there is actually a growing demand for market expansion,” Gamela said.


Inside the store, located near a shopping mall, are processed and raw food products grown through biodynamics, an agricultural approach which uses the forces of nature.


Cheaper goods


Products for sale include polished and unpolished brown, red and white rice, fresh and flavored milk and milk bars, yoghurt, mangosteen capsules and tea, tea granules, avocado tea granules, turmeric tea, sambong tea, wild honey, vinegar, herbs, and anthroposophic preparations (for cough, fever, diarrhea, and other minor diseases).


Also sold are fresh fruits and vegetables and poultry products (native chicken meat and eggs, duck eggs), goat meat, danggit, and tuna products. Handmade soaps—of milk, horsetail, and milk-honey variants—are also available at the center.


Gamela said their goods are cheaper compared to those sold in malls and supermarkets, which partly explains the growing demand.


Even tricycle drivers and fish vendors can afford the products sold at the center, disproving the notion that only rich people can buy organic food.


“It’s not true that only the rich can afford to buy these products. If you compare the prices of our products to the same products found in the malls and supermarkets here, you will see the difference,” Gamela said.


Polished organic rice sold in a mall here costs P35 a kilo while the polished organic rice sold in the Bios Dynamis Center is only P29 per kilo. The difference is also evident in other products.


Don Bosco intends to build chains in the cities of General Santos, Koronadal and Cebu. These chains, Gamela said, can help the farmers and protect the consumers from the added burden of employing middlemen.


Coop-run store


The centers in Kidapawan and Davao are being managed by the Biodynamics Multipurpose Cooperative, composed of practicing farmers and advocates of biodynamics and organic agriculture.


They spent about P300,000 to establish the chain which was also supported by Peace and Equity Foundation (PEF). The cooperative’s more than 3,000 farmers supply the products sold in the center.


Other nongovernment organizations and people’s organizations, which are producing organic products, can also display their own products in the center.


She said the center is the manifestation of their advocacy and practice of their vocation and social responsibility.


“We are looking at what we are doing in two ways—livelihood and Livelihood. We are not only giving farmers the economic opportunity but also giving the consumers the option to be healthy and have a good life. So it is livelihood and being alive,” Gamela said.


“It’s putting your money where your conscience is. This is to show that you can actually do business without destroying the environment or harming the health of the people. While doing business, you should not poison people. You have to take care of the people by also taking good care of the environment,” Gamela added.


In advocacy, she said, it is important to show the proof that what is being advocated works. She said they are advocating for a safe and sustainable agriculture and the truth is that sustainable agriculture relies on the market.


“The consciousness of the people in Mindanao is gearing towards good health and environmental protection and preservation. The niche is developing and we have to show that it is actually working because the truth is it is actually working,” she said.


“The bottomline is that what we are doing is so technical yet spiritual. At the end of the day, we will be asked, what did we do on this earth and we will be accountable for whatever we have done here. And farming is keeping a relationship with the creator. There is a very deep wisdom in farming that everyone must understand,” she added.


Since 1994, Don Bosco has been promoting sustainable agriculture in Mindanao by facilitating a paradigm shift for farmers—from practicing reductionist conventional agriculture to holistic, socially and environmentally responsible agriculture.


Gamela said they wanted to empower farming communities and help them become responsible in taking care of the life support systems of the earth.


They choose farming communities as the “locus of action, agriculture being a major contributor to the planet’s degradation and agriculture deeply touching and affecting the widest spheres of human life,” she said.

Ipo Dam watershed rehab to take 20 years

Last updated 05:19am (Mla time) 07/15/2007

NORZAGARAY, Bulacan, Philippines—The reforestation of the denuded portions of the Ipo Dam watershed here may take 20 years as it would require the planting of at least 1.5 million tree seedlings.


Rodrigo Abinsay, watershed manager of Manila Water Co. Inc. (WMCI), the firm protecting and managing the Ipo Dam, said at least 25,000 trees were already planted in the watershed area.


The WMCI is the water concessionaire for the east zone of Metro Manila. It gets its supply from the Ipo Dam, which is located inside the 66,309-hectare Angat watershed reservation area.


Abinsay said they estimated that it would take about 20 years to rehabilitate the Ipo Dam watershed based on their experience in reviving the watershed of the smaller La Mesa Dam, which took 10 years.


He said the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP), a private nonprofit foundation organized by the country’s business leaders, was behind the reforestation and rehabilitation of the La Mesa Dam through its “Save the La Mesa Watershed Project.”


He said the PBSP has pledged to replicate what they have done in La Mesa Dam to benefit the Ipo Dam.


He said volunteer groups participating in the project, which was launched through a tree-planting activity last year, agreed to adopt at least 2.5 ha each of the denuded area within the Ipo Dam watershed.


He said it was important to nurture the dam’s watershed and prevent illegal activities and encroachment there to ensure a stable supply of water to Metro Manila. Carmela Reyes, Inquirer Central Luzon

Squatters along railways given three months to move out

By Julie M. Aurelio
Last updated 07:52pm (Mla time) 07/18/2007

MANILA, Philippines — Squatters living along the railroad tracks in Parañaque City on Wednesday were given three more months to move out of the area in order to give way to the modernization of the South Luzon Railway.


City mayor Florencio Bernabe Jr. said the affected informal settlers along the rail tracks are currently being polled on their preferred relocation sites as the Philippine National Railway (PNR) continues its clearing operations.


“The informal settlers along the railroad tracks in Barangay (village) San Martin de Porres have expressed their desire to be relocated to San Pedro town in Laguna as it would keep them close to their places of work,” the mayor said.


Under the guidelines set by the Community Mortgage Program, the city government would ascertain the legitimacy of the residents’ claims to the land and would find the most suitable relocation area for the residents.


Mayor Bernabe added that he is holding a dialogue with seven homeowners associations and one traders group in the 2.5- to 3-kilometer strip within the jurisdiction of San Martin de Porres.


He also expressed concern over the concrete commercial structures some residents have built along the railway.


“Some claim to be sitting partly on PNR property and partly on private properties. These residents have expressed fears over the possibility that their business establishments would be demolished without due compensation,” the city official explained.


In a recent visit to San Martin de Porres, vice president Noli de Castro gave the city government and the settlers until October to clear the area.


“The clearing operation and relocation of the settlers should be completed within three months,” de Castro said while commending the city government for ensuring the settlers’ orderly transfer to the relocation areas.


Part of the modernization of the South Luzon Railway includes four railroad tracks which would be placed 15 meters apart of each other, the vice president added.


However, de Castro voiced his opposition to San Pedro, Laguna as a relocation area because it was near an open dumpsite and would pose health hazards to the 1,650 families due to relocate there.


Instead, the vice president offered Biñan, Laguna or Trece Martires City, Cavite where ready-for-occupancy houses and 100 to 125 square meter lots are available.


De Castro said the houses already have running water and electricity, and that the settlers would only pay a monthly rate of P200 for the homes plus the bill for water and electricity.

Japanese charged for mauling stepdaughter, 4, to death

Japanese charged for mauling stepdaughter, 4, to death
By Allison Lopez
Last updated 07:29pm (Mla time) 07/18/2007

MANILA, Philippines — A Japanese national accused of mauling to death his 4-year-old stepdaughter recently was charged with murder before the Manila Regional Trial Court Wednesday.


Businessman Shiozawa Toshiyuki, 39, of Legaspi Tower on Pablo Ocampo (formerly Vito Cruz) St., Manila, was arrested after he allegedly killed Kate Julia Dua, the daughter of his Filipina live-in partner Harrold.


In her affidavit, Harrold said the suspect, who was alone with her young daughter on July 7, claimed Kate had fallen head first four to five feet down the stairs.


Harrold told police that she decided to take Kate to the Manila Doctors Hospital the next day after she overslept and vomited intermittently but the child was pronounced dead by the doctor over an hour later.


The victim’s mother also said that she often found Toshiyuki hitting her child with his hand, a belt or a stick.


Manila homicide police chief Alex Yanquiling said the suspect explained he only wanted to discipline Kate because they were relocating to Japan.


An examination revealed that the child sustained hematoma, contusions, abrasions and scratches all over her body.


In the case information, assistant city prosecutor Ferrer Co said Toshiyuki did, “with intent to kill and use of superior strength, attack, assault and use personal violence” on his stepdaughter.

Japanese restaurant owner shot dead in Mandaue City

Japanese restaurant owner shot dead in Mandaue City
By Jhunnex Napallacan
Visayas Bureau
Last updated 08:24pm (Mla time) 07/18/2007

CEBU CITY, Philippines — Two motorcycle-riding men shot dead a Japanese businessman in the first hour of Wednesday near the house he was renting in Mandaue City.


The Mandaue City police identified the fatality as Taroh Suda, 36, single, from Tokyo, and residing at Genzon Compound in Banilad, Mandaue City.


Suda, who has been residing in Cebu since 2001, owned a Japanese restaurant in Mandaue City.


Police Officer 2 Rey Manatad, leader of a probe team from the Mandaue City Police Office Precinct 4, said Suda died instantly from gunshot wounds in the head and in other parts of the body.


Manatad said the Japanese, who was driving his car, left the restaurant and went to a fast food chain before proceeding to his house in Genzon Compound past midnight.


A witness located 20 meters from the crime scene told Manatad that Suda disembarked from his vehicle to open the gate of the compound, when two men on a motorcycle arrived.


He said the motorcycle driver shot Suda, who tried to flee from his assailants by taking cover behind his vehicle.


But the second gunman, who was wearing a bonnet, got off the bike, approached the Japanese and shot him several times.


The gunmen shot the vehicle’s tire and the rear of the vehicle and then sped off, the witness added.


Manatad said they recovered nine casings for .45 pistol bullets.


Manatad said the gunmen were apparently waiting for the victim.


He said police had yet to determine the motive for the killing even as he said it could be due to a business dispute or personal grudge.


He said they learned that Suda had a Filipina live-in partner but they parted ways for still unknown reasons.


Manatad said police would try to find out if he had problems with his business partners or if there were employees who might have a grudge against him.