Sitio Target and Gawad Kalinga: The Social Context

This is an accompaniment piece to We All Have Our Eden, my reflection piece on the AKSIS immersion in Sitio Target. Somehow this part edited itself out. I spontaneously wrote the previous piece and then organized it after I was done, leaving this part out entirely. Perhaps because it is very curt and academic, and so it didn’t fit the tone of a reflection. Yet, this is a very crucial part.

It answers the question, Why does Gawad Kalinga continue to exist despite the Aeta’s resistance against them?

Simple answer: Because not everyone in Sitio Target is an Aeta.

Sitio Target is composed of two general populations, the traditional Aeta and the unat (“pulled”) or straight-haired people who come from the surrounding regions. Generally speaking, the unat refers to the general Filipino outsider and a lot of them have made their home in Sitio Target.

Though bound to their land, the Aeta are not a fiercely territorial people. When the first Aetas returned in 1994 after the explosion of Mt. Pinatubo, there were only ten families in the area. As Target became more hospitable, more and more Aetas returned from their evacuation center in Nueva Ecija. As of today, there are one hundred fifty families in Sitio Target, and almost half of them are unat. Intermarriage was and continues to remain a powerful force in integrating these two.

Over the years, a lot of the unat have successfully acculturated into the Aeta community. When they marry, they are made to pay a dote (or dowry) to solidify the contract. One of my students stayed with a family whose father came all the way from the Visayas. He acts very Aeta, from the time he wakes to the life he leads. Pastor Philip pointed him out to me as the best example of an unat who successfully integrated with the community.

Below is their family picture, with my student, Sheena, on the leftmost. Observe the features of their children.

Pastor Philip even jokes that since most of the Aeta are related to each other (imagine an entire village where everyone is your cousin), the young ones have no choice but to find someone from another village — Aeta or unat, it doesn’t matter.

In many ways, the unat are a positive force in Sitio Target. They have introduced a lot of modern amenities such as education and a more progressive way of thinking. During our stay, some of us played pool, shot hoops and watched Pokemon on GMA-7. The unat introduced basketball, billiards and even the TV to the Aetas, opening them up to the wider world little by little.

However, not all the unat have successfully acculturated into the Aetas. Not all of them completely subscribe to the subsistence ethos that the Aeta have had for centuries. During the days we were there, a lot of the unat males simply lazed around or played basketball whereas all of the Aeta males (save for our hosts) were off to the mountains gathering food. Simply put, they cannot live off the land as effortlessly as the Aeta.

On the other hand, the unat are generally more mercantile. They know the value of money and have a more commercial orientation. They’re the ones who deem it more valuable to sell their surplus to the market, instead of saving them for a rainy day. The Aeta are not entirely opposed to this, of course. They see this added income as another way for their hard work to pay off, though whatever they sell they give back to each other eventually. It can be said that the presence of the unat and their outward orientation raised the standards of living in Sitio Target. However, it is not that simple — living standards were never much of a problem.

It is in understanding this social configuration that we can place Gawad Kalinga in its proper context. This is a very important distinction to make since the divide between Aeta and unat is most clearly seen in how they receive GK; it is the unat who are generally more welcoming and the Aeta who are left wondering.

The unat are a powerful lobby group in support of GK, and the Aeta, who are not really the type to put up a fight, have no choice but to let their straight-haired brothers have their way and yet quietly resist. At times, Pastor Philip would describe those who welcome GK as “not truly Aeta” and it was true. They weren’t.

Therefore, it can be argued that Gawad Kalinga did not cause a split among the Aetas. However, it cannot be denied that their presence amplified a division that in their absence was virtually unspoken of. There may be two people in Sitio Target but as far as the Aeta were concerned, there was only one.

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2 thoughts on “Sitio Target and Gawad Kalinga: The Social Context

  1. Thank you for all the articles that you have written. They do inded provide good insight at Sitio Target. It is indeed true that being happy depends on how satisfied you are with your state of life.

    Although GK may have not been very effective in what was done in Sitio Target, it is a good learning experience for everyone. I am an ardent GK supporter but do acknowledge that in any type of social work there will be mistakes made and new things learned. Not everyone can be satisfied, not everyone will like you. However, I am glad you and your students did the immersion at Sitio Target. That probably would have not happened without the attention GK and the issues surrounding the implementation, had brought. In any case I am hopeful you will not label all GK supporters as insensitive.

    Something like GK has been a great inspiration for many of us in concretely helping give back to our homeland. We pray that as we continue with this work you and everyone gives us patience, understanding and support. Surely nobody is perfect and no organization is perfect. We learn from our mistakes and encourage those who have fallen to do better. I really believe that a positive and supportive attitude is what our country needs today.

    God Bless =)

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