SUBIC BAY FREEPORT — “Please don’t take this pride away from us.” This was the appeal made by the Magbukun Ayta tribe of Morong, Bataan on Monday after some groups questioned the construction here of a shooting range for the 2019 Southeast Asian Games SEAG).
The tribe, whose ancestral domain includes the area where the SEAG project is built, called for a press conference with the assistance of the Subic Indigenous Peoples Assistance Group (SIPAG) and urged groups that opposed the project to stop making an issue about it.
“Ipinagmamalaki po namin na ang bahagi ng aming ancestral domain ay ginagamit para sa pagdaraos ng SEA Games. Masaya po kami na kahit papaano ay mayroon po kaming ambag sa kaganapan (We are proud that part of our ancestral land is being used for the SEA Games. We are happy to know that we are able to contribute to this event),” said Joseph Salonga, who is Magbukun tribal vice-chieftain.
“Patahimikin na po natin ang isyu. Huwag ninyong alisin sa amin ang pagkakataong ito (Please stop making an issue about this. Do not take this pride away from us),” Salonga added during the press conference at the Golden Dragon Restaurant here on Monday.
Salonga, along with tribal chief Belinda Restom and eight other Magbukun officials and elders, also issued a statement pointing out that the former Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) area where the shooting range is being built is part of the tribe’s ancestral domain.
“Patuloy ang mga katutubo sa pagkalinga ng gubat dahil ito ay pamana sa aming lipi (The indigenous people continue to protect the forest because it is our inheritance),” said Restom.
She said the Magbukun tribe has been chosen to implement a conservation and sustainable development plan for the area under a United Nations Development Program (UNDP).
The tribe issued the statement after the Subic Bay Marine Exploratorium Inc. (SBMEI), operator of the Ocean Adventure marine park, questioned the SEAG project and criticized the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) for allowing the project “in a protected area.”
News reports quoting the SBMEI and the Save Subic Bay Coalition (SSBC) claimed that “a protected area in the Freeport had been cleared to give way to a shooting range.”
The tribesmen, however, clarified that the EOD is not a forested area which the US Navy used to explode bombs and bullets.
Salonga also said that most of what was removed when the land was cleared for project construction was grass and secondary growth of ipil-ipil and guava trees, and the three gubas trees that the SBMA Ecology Center had permitted for cutting.
He explained that the tribe did not make an issue of the project because they knew it was located in a built-up area set by the Magbukuns for recreation and multi-purpose use to augment their income.
“Naaayon ito sa aming conservation plan na patayuan ng isang pasilidad pang-turismo ang naturang lugar (It agrees with our plan to put up a tourism facility there),” Salonga said.
Earlier, SBMA Ecology Center manager Amethya dela Llana pointed out that while the construction project is within a protected area, the location is no longer classified as a forest.
She described reports saying that a forest has been destroyed to make way for the said SEAG project as “a very irresponsible assertion that makes a mockery of truth.”