MANILA, Nov. 7, 2014 – A community of over 700 Aetas, who used to worship Mt. Pinatubo before it turned them homeless following its eruption in 1991, will begin planting over 300 hectares of land with dwarf coconut this month.
Initially, the Aetas will plant 3, 000 coconut seedlings from the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), plus 1, 500 more donated by Columban Fathers, said Sr. Eva Fidela Maamo, SPC, Foundation of Our Lady of Peace Mission, Inc. (FOLPMI) president.
They used to believe death would come to anyone who would not see ‘Apo’ everyday, the nun said. But efforts to provide them with shelter, livelihood, medical assistance, and education paved the way to their conversion to the Catholic fith.
No forced conversions
“We don’t convert,” Maamo noted. “We only help provide what poor people need. We let the Holy Spirit convert them.”
The Aetas saw God in people whose actions confirm His loving presence, she said.
Their conversion could not have happened by simply saying “there is a loving and compassionate God while they were starving, sick, and troubled”, the nun said.
They could have died without knowing God, she added.
The coconut plantation will be legally owned communally by the Aetas later or divided equally into private ownership by each family, depending on what is better after assessment in the future, Maamo said.
The PCA, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and Magsaysay Institute are helping FOLMI in the coconut project, Maamo said. The institute will provide
the Aetas with technical know-how on coconut farming.
Caca0, coffee, and vegetables will also be inter-planted later with coconut trees to maximize the land.
According to Maamo, the Aetas were relocated after the Mt. Pinatubo eruption to a 33-hectare land bought by FOLMPI from the funds raised by the Jesuits.
Each of the over 150 families were given 500 square meters of land to build a new house.
“Three years after relocation, the Aetas start to embrace monogamy,” Maamo said. “About 75 percent of the 130 couples were mass-wed in 1994.”
Today, every December they have their kids baptized to Catholicism, she said. (Oliver Samson)