It was God’s will,” said a 70-year-old resident of Barangay Binancian in
Davao del Norte who has never experienced a typhoon ever.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC)
reported 6.2M affected and 1067 deaths due to typhoon —–. The
estimated cost of damages to properties is PHP36,949,230,987.07:
infrastructure PHP7,565,044,810.00; agriculture PHP26,526,663,474.07;
private properties PHP2,857,522,703.00.

The residents of Binancian experienced their first typhoon last December
4, 2012. No one took the weather forecast seriously. Classes have been
suspended but everyone went about their daily routine. Men went to their
farms, women prepared lunch, children played.

At 2 a.m., they first felt the strong winds. At 4 a.m., they started moving
to their outhouses, shivering from the strong wind and wet clothes. They
believed the low structure of the outhouses were more secure as the high
winds aimed at high structures. They even ate meals inside this refuge, on
top of toilet bowls. At 6 a.m., their galvanized iron roofing were flying off
the tops, trees have fallen hitting power lines. The four gruelling hours of
what seemed like their end, they have been praying and crying from fear and
hunger as typhoon Pablo pummeled their community. When the typhoon
passed and the wind calmed, they finally came out from their hiding places,
surveying the damage, checking on their neighbors, thankful no one was

Barely recovering from typhoon Pablo, there was news that another typhoon
was about to hit Mindanao, typhoon Quinta. The residents made their ‘kub’
before rebuilding their houses. The kub is a Dibabawon hut, made by their
ancestors to safeguard their grains. The body of the kub is made of light
materials, with the heavy wood support anchored to the ground serving as
foundation, thus preventing the kub from getting blown away. Two months
after typhoon Pablo, some still live in their kub, while others rebuilt their
houses but kept their kub for fear of another typhoon.

Typhoon Pablo felled coconut trees; farmers lost crops such as corn and
banana. Struggling with food, they scrape for what’s left of the taro along the
river. Some farmers are still coping with their losses and have not been back
to their farms. Some have replanted but the crops are not due for another four
months. The aid has stopped arriving.

Mindanao Tribal School

“I fear if the department of education makes it difficult for us to teach our culture to our future generations,” says Datu Mayda Pandian, dressed in red traditional Manobo polo and a red beaded scarf over his head.  In his hilltop office in Malaybalay, Bukidnon, the datu sits in front of an altar.  The datu is the president of the Mindanao Tribal school.  Being the last generation of fluent IP speakers, Datu Mayda and 11 other tribal elders felt the need to pass on the Indigenous customary laws, traditional farming, alternative health-traditional herbal medicine.
A Transco transmission line towers over this 160 sq meter school, roughly half the size of a basketball court.  By year 2014, when the transmission line powers up, 153 students will lose their school and 23 others will lose their school.
Datu Mayda sits at the entrance of the school where the students kiss the hand of Palo, a way to show their respect.  The same area is where the volunteer teachers rest and discuss issues with the datu.  Some teachers bring their children to school, where students and fellow teachers play with and care for their children.
The 160 square meter school building houses 4 high school classrooms. A bamboo partition separates the rooms, teachers compete with each other to be heard.
Behind the school is a makeshift quarter, dining area and kitchen for some indigent students.  Many come from broken families and take refuge here.

White Cane


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4 year old James Magno, one of the 70 students, recipient of white cane from the National Council on Disability Affairs. This mobility aid is made of metal produces a sound with each tap alerting others to give way to a visually impaired individual. This is white in color making it easy for motorist to identify a blind/visually impaired individual among the pedestrians.

James is 3 ft. tall, the white cane extends to 4 ft. A whole segment of the cane needs to be removed to suit James’ height. The cane should be at his chest level extending to the floor. It should be long enough to detect curbs and obstacles giving him enough time to react. For some, it only takes half a day to get used to the cane. 70 of them tapped their way home.

Please Take the Test

“There’s no space for stigma and discrimination, for a person living with HIV, that’s one of the reasons why I am so courageous to stand in front of you because I want to save lives. This is not an issue for me anymore, because it will never change, I will be forever positive. But you can make a change, you can share my story with other people, maybe you have friends, relatives or it could be you, who have doubts. You are exposed to risky or unprotected sex. Please take the test.” Nidgie speaks to nurses at the Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City. She has been living with the virus for the last 10 years. She is the president of the Mindanao AIDS Advocate Association. She has raised a beautiful 6-year old daughter with the support of her family.

Living Positively

Today, in the Philippines, there are 50 documented cases of children under 15 infected with HIV. Angelito is 1-year old and he has AIDS.

Black Harvest

Tension is high in this small, wooden house. The T’bolis, an indigenous tribe, filling the room are watching curiously as their tribal leader talks to NGO representatives. Most T’bolis are unfamiliar with Filipino, the national language, yet they know what this is all about. It is about their land, their future. Standing on moist, clay ground, they warm their hands with a cup of native coffee in the cool mountain weather.  Unaccustomed to so many new faces, a child eating steamed sweet potatoes hides behind his mother.

1991, a group of a coffee plantation company representatives came to the town. The T’bolis claim the representatives talked about logging and concrete roads. However, they didn’t speak of forest clearing for the plantation. For over a decade, the T’bolis of the small mountain town Barangay Ned in the province of South Cotabato have been fighting the Dawang Coffee Plantation. But this coffee plantation has the legal permit from the state: the Department of Environment and Natural Resources granted it by virtue of an Industrial Forest Management Agreement called “IFMA 22”.  Afterwards, the company security guards forced the T’bolis to flee their homes. A child and an elder had died during the flight. The IFMA 22 permit is valid until 2016.

Five years ago, the T’bolis decided to come back, just to discover that the plantation had been enlarged and is now cutting off some of the access roads that lead from village to the school.  The T’bolis feel helpless, says Datu Victor Danyan: “The government who is supposed to be protecting us are the ones giving our land away.” Danyan is a T’boli, a tribal leader, is dressed in tubao, a native head scarf and a Che Guevara shirt. He is also the chairperson of the T’boli-Manubo Sdaf Claimants Organization TAMASCO. The organization wants to fight for the T’boli rights to their own land and ancestral domain. To achieve this, the TAMASCO has invited representatives of three NGOs to inform them about their problems. His face is red while he speaks.

For 7 years, without their farms and livelihood, the T’bolis lived in poverty.  Mothers bartered their clothes for sugar cane to feed their babies.  They finally came home to reclaim their land, amid the threats of the coffee company, their life has not become easier. And coffee turned out not to be the only reason, why investors turn their eyes towards the fields and lands of the T’boli.

In 2007, the governor of South Cotabato, Daisy Avance-Fuentes protested when suddenly several mining companies started coal exploration in different areas of the province. The companies did not have any permits from the local government, nor from the T’boli and Christian residents. The mining company Daguma Agro-Minerals admitted that they had done “surveys”. The goal was to verify the viability of coal deposits.

Two years later, the Department of Energy awarded a coal operation contract to the construction company DMC Construction Equipment Resources Inc.  The same Consunji family that owns the coffee plantation. The area that was converted into a mining area has the size of 3000 football fields, it covers boundaries of the provinces Sultan Kudarat and South Cotabato. It also overlaps with the ancestral lands of the T’boli.

The Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act gives the indigenous peoples the right to use their lands according to their customs and traditions.  But the Philippine Mining Act contradicts the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights, mineral resources are owned by the State and that the government can therefore grant mining contracts to companies.  This is provided they get a free, prior and informed consent from the claimants of the ancestral domain.

The T’boli are not the only people affected by the new rush for coal in Barangay Ned. An hour ride on muddy mountain paths away from the T’boli town Datal Bonlangan lies the town Kibang, a Christian community who migrated there a few decades ago. The town lies within the area that was declared for mining. 

The thick forest that surrounds houses in Kibang makes the air cool and refreshing. Seated in the middle of a long dining table, the beautifully aged wood shines under the fluorescent light.  “They say that power supply in the province is not enough. But we use solar energy and this is enough for us.  We don’t need the coal.” says Yellen Zata.  Zata is the head of the anti-mining group HUKOM. Many in Kibang have since sold their property to mining corporations. 

In 2010, Governor Daisy Avance-Fuentes declared a ban on open pit mining to protect the landscape of the province. She vows to continue this ban during her term, which ends in 2016.

President Aquino also signed an order that is supposed to stop new mining. From 2012 on, government agencies are not allowed to issue new mining agreements until new revenue sharing schemes have been designed. But in October, a revision declared national laws superseding local laws. That means that mining companies in the Philippines who got their permits earlier can continue with their operations. It also threatens the open bit ban of Governor Avance-Fuentes.

About three hour ride north from the two small towns of Datal Bonlangon and Kibang lies the the headquarters of the mining company Sagittarius Mines. The company plans to open a new mine right on the spot. With $6 billion, it’s the single largest investment in the Philippines, and promises 9,000 jobs during construction, 2,000 during operation and scholarships to children of company employees. This new mine is the reason why the coal from Barangay Ned is so important. It needs the coal to fuel their operations. In the mine, called the Tampakan project, the Sagittarius Mines company is looking for gold and copper.

The T’bolis and the small Christian community of Barangay Ned could call themselves blessed, with rich soil, making them self sufficient in food. But they also could call themselves cursed. Because it is exactly for those rich resources above and below their soils that companies and investors are threatening their lives and livelihood.


Counting Fingers

Poor nutrition, measles, and premature birth are among the leading causes of preventable blindness in children.  Emmanuel Kean Jopson is blind in one eye and can only see at a distance of 2 feet in the other eye, he was born 3 months premature and has the condition called retinopathy of prematurity.

I first met Kean at a Low Vision workshop.  It was only at 6 years of age did the parents realize something was wrong with his vision, nothing could be done.  He’s 10 years old, his left eye is blind while his right can only see fingers at a distance of 2 feet, and he has to see sideways. At the time he was born, his eyes has not reached its full development at birth. He is also not sensitive to contrast, he has a hard time seeing rice on a white plate.

The next opportunity I got to meet Kean was at his birthday party, made sure I was invited, to both family and school party.  He was very excited, made it a point to introduce me to all his guests.

Kean enjoys going to his SPED class everyday for 3 hours, but on Fridays is when all the students of the SPED class meet up to have fun, sing, dance and play games.

Kean’s best friend is Lucky Tabug who has retinopathy of prematurity also and is totally blind.  He loves to hug Lucky, but Lucky not wanting to be hugged pushes him away, but the persistent Kean comes back in under a minute.