The Iraya Mangyans and the Love that sustains them

May 24, 2012 Travel

It's a unique love story.

On Valentine's Day last year, I stumbled upon one of the most memorable love narratives ever presented on television. It wasn't a romantic love, but a love that fueled my determination to advocate for our indigenous brothers and sisters with more heart.

Their story is a familiar one.

Once prosperous along the coastal areas, their cultural group faced adversity when forced to leave their land. Treated as second-class citizens, they endured neglect and discrimination. However, a turning point came with the love that blossomed between Dona Bea Zobel de Ayala, her husband Don Jaime Zobel de Ayala, and this Mangyan cultural group from Mindoro.

Earlier this week, I assisted my friend, former Panorama editor Randy Urlanda, and his friend Robert Evora in organizing a group of journalists from Manila to cover an environmental forum hosted by the local government of Puerto Galera. Our local hosts, led by Puerto Galera Tourism Officer Aileen Bareng, arranged a tour for us a day before the actual conference.

She mentioned that we would be visiting a Mangyan Village, but I never expected it to be the village built by the Ayalas for the Iraya Mangyans—one of the eight Mangyan cultural communities in Mindoro.

Currently, our group, Trails to Empower Kids (TREK), is in the midst of planning our next outreach in Quirino Province and monitoring a classroom we are helping to build in Aurora. Therefore, I am delighted with this new surge of inspiration. As mostly mountaineers, we often travel great distances to reach out to our friends in isolated areas.

We were welcomed by Mr. Pabling de Jesus, the right-hand man of the Ayalas in Mindoro, who oversees this project.

The Mangyan Village is situated at Sitio Talipanan, Barangay Aninuan, in Puerto Galera.

In the story produced by the PROBE Team, the Mangyans didn't have access to basic education, health care and decent housing.  When we visited the community, there was already a public school, a medical facility being managed by Indian nuns, common comfort rooms and 62 houses.  

It was truly amazing to witness all of this. Mr. de Jesus graciously permitted us to step inside one of the newly constructed houses.

Mangyan families, courtesy of the Ayalas, receive a spacious 36-square-meter hut equipped with two bedrooms, beds, furniture, kitchen, and eating utensils. Each house is estimated to cost Php 150,000.00, covering both labor and materials. The houses are electrified, reducing family expenses from almost P 400 to just P 45, as opposed to using gas.

A total of 62 houses have been constructed, with priority given to the community elders. Mr. de Jesus shared their vision of building 200 houses on the 3.3-hectare property, owned by the Mangyans.

While the elementary school serves grades 1 to 6, high school and college students attend classes elsewhere but continue to receive scholarships from the Ayalas.

Tourists visiting the Mangyan Village have the opportunity to purchase locally crafted handicrafts, with Mangyans showcasing their expertise in basket weaving.

Indeed, while money may flow abundantly from the Ayalas, it is not just financial resources that built and sustained this community. It is a genuine and profound love—the kind of love that also serves as inspiration for me and my group. It's a love that has the power to bring about a better life for all our indigenous brothers and sisters.

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