Mangyans of Mindoro: A Christmas Story

I.  Kuya Philip

Months ago Kuya Philip barged into my room in the Ionosphere building armed with a mop.

“Hi, Kuya,” I said.  “Is Kuya Randy not around?”

“No,” he said.  “I was asked to take his place for today.”  And he began to mop the floor.   This was unusual.  Kuya Philip normally fabricates rain gauges and DOAS (Differential Optical Absorption Spectroscopy) systems based on designs of a senior scientist of Manila Observatory.

“Is your brother still in Mindoro?”  he asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“It has been a long time since we went to Mindoro,” he said.  “When we went there, we have to ask the permission of the Army Commander and the Bishop to install our rain gauges.”

“Otherwise, people will mistake you for communist guerrillas patrolling the mountains and installing land mines,” I said.  We laughed.

“Was the rain gauge you installed the one that transmits text messages to Manila Observatory?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said.  “We need to estimate the amount of water soaked in the soil in real time, so that we can warn residents if a landslide may happen.”

“To prevent a landslide similar to that in Guinsaugon, Leyte?” I asked.

He nodded.

II.  Mangyans of Mindoro

“Are still Mangyans in Mindoro?” I asked.  “I read that they preserved their alphabet that dated back before the Spaniards came.  I have seen pictures of them etching poems on a bamboo stem.  They wear g-string.”

“There are still Mangyans,” he said, “but because of their contact with lowlanders, they already wear clothes like us.  They have their own way of writing, but many of them were not formally schooled.”

“The Mangyans have a deep respect for authority.  If the barangay captain is not around to approve our coming in their area, they will call a council of elders, with the eldest leading the council.  The resolution approved by the council leader is obeyed by all.

“Manila Observatory has a good name among the Mangyans because of John Ong.  John Ong’s friends made donations for the construction of three  school rooms for the Mangyans.”

“I know John Ong,” I said.  “He once gave a talk in the physics department entitled “Hydrology 101: How to Find Water.”  He was a tall, lanky, white guy that always smiled until his eyes vanished to slits.  He was very unassuming and soft-spoken.  I heard that he only asked for a working space in the Observatory to do his research.  That was a few years ago.  I haven’t seen him since.”

“He is abroad doing his Ph.D. work,” Kuya Philip said.  He mentioned the name of the University, but I forgot.  “The older Mangyans know John Ong; the younger ones have only heard his name.”

“The Mangyans are hardworking but poor,” Kuya Philip continued.  “A lowlander once asked a Mangyan to give him a bunch of bananas.  The Mangyan went up the mountain, got the bananas, and gave it to the lowlander.  But the lowlander said, ‘No. I prefer unripe bananas.’  The poor Mangyan was at a loss.  Since he does not want to go back to the mountains without money, he settled for a much lower price for his bananas.”

“The Mangyans have been exploited by the lowlanders.  To prevent this exploitation, the bishop helped the Mangyans in their trade.

“But the bishop complained that some Mangyans have adopted the lowlanders’s bad ways.  They  have learned to smoke cigarettes and drink liquor.  They became lazy.

“The Mangyans have a strong stamina in mountain climbing.  I once saw of group of Mangyans playing basketball in the noon day sun.  I asked them, ‘Why are playing under the hot sun?  Where did you come from.’  They said that they came from the other side of the mountain.  They left a day ago before the cock crowed and they just arrived at that hour at noon to play.”

I shooked my head.  “Unbelievable.”

III.  Mangyan Christmas

“Christmas is a happy time for the Mangyans,” Kuya Philip said.  “They would go down the mountains and join the lowlanders.  They like the sounds and lights, the festivity.  They beg for money from the lowlanders and they are given peso coins in exchange for a dance or a song.  This means that they can live their day without working, just begging.  So they encamp in churches and City Halls and the places become filthy.

“The bishop is not happy with this.  He told the Mangyans not to go down to the city anymore during Christmas.

“But some Mangyans objected.  ‘Bishop,’ they said, ‘do we not also have a right to be happy during Christmas?’

“‘Yes,’ the bishop said, ‘you have a right to be happy.  But many already complained about your behaviors in the city. So from now on, you will not anymore go down there during Christmas.  Instead, I will bring food and gifts for you here in the mountains.”  The Mangyans nodded in agreement.  And to this day, this is how the Mangyans celebrate their Christmas.”


Here is a related article: “Group seeks end to Mangyan begging” by Madonna Virola, Southern Luzon Bureau (Philippine Daily Inquirer 12/24/2008).