Siay and Ayan (Siayan) of Bravery, Love, and Respect

Ubuntu. A philosophy that comes from the birth place of human existence, Africa. It, means, “I am what I am, because of who we all are.” Ubuntu, can be seen in a place at the north-western edge of Mindanao where people see each other’s importance in addressing their needs, where they see the essence of rising together without leaving each other behind.

Based on the National Statistical Coordination Board’s (NSCB) 2009 Small Area Estimates (SAE) of poverty among population, Siayan, Zamboanga del Norte is the poorest municipality/city in the Philippines with a poverty incidence of 79.9 %.

Given this condition, the people of Siayan takes pride in the way Mayor Flora L. Villarosa addresses the poverty incidence by giving the net proceeds of her salary to 22 barangays and using it as a start-up capital in organizing cooperatives. These newly-formed cooperatives are then accredited by the Department of Labor and Employment and other recognized agencies and thus having legal personalities.

But this is not just the case, because there is something distinct in this place situated in hills and mountain ranges.

Majority of Siayan’s population, 70-80%, are Subanens. This is both a challenge and a blessing. “Before bahala na system lang ang naa diri kay lage vulnerable ug illiterate man kung ma-ingon ang uban pero sa matag karon gi hatagan jud siya ug importansiya. (“Before it was just disregarded for the sole reason that [they] are vulnerable and illiterate but today they are given much importance.”) This municipality is an Indigenous Peoples (IP) municipality, this is a Subanen municipality and that is why the projects we have are catered on the involvement and recognition of IP’s”, firmly stated Sixto S. Atug, Jr., the Municipal Planning and Development Coordinator of Siayan.

Moreover, the participation of the IPs in mainstream society is apparent. Their Vice-Mayor is a pure Subanen and most of their barangay officials too. There are opportunities for scholarships and similar programs are catered. For instance, Analyn Badia-on, 19 years old and a pure Subana is a full scholar of the University of Southeastern Philippines taking up Bachelor of Arts in Applied Anthropology. In light of her course, she hopes to let people know and understand the beauty of the Subanen culture.

“Ang politics man gud lahi man ug definition diri sa Siayan, [kanang] public satisfaction, public service, so dili ang politics election lang. Ang politics sa Siayan kada adlaw. So kung kailangan ka mag serbisyo ug magpasabot sa mga tao dapat kada adlaw dili kay mu adto lang ka sa mga bukid, kung campaign period na. So lahi ilang perception sa politics sa mga tao sa bukid, kung maka dungog silag politika- election dayon ang naa sa huna-huna, kay ma-adtuan ra man sila sa mga officials kung election time. Gi wala namo na nga concept nila, gipasabot namo na ang pulitika [kuan ni] pag serbisyo. Mao na ang politics diri, kinahanglan mangompanya ka kada-adlaw”, said Xavier Indiape, the Grassroots Local Development Council Coordinator (GLDC). (“The definition of politics in Siayan is different, it is about public satisfaction and public service so politics is not just during election time. When we say politics, it is every day. So if you want to serve and to let people understand, it is every day and you do not just go to the people in the mountains during campaign period. That is why their perception is when they hear ‘politics’- election directly comes to mind. We have changed that concept, and let them understand that politics is service. That’s why politics here is like campaigning every day.”)

Focusing on the enhancement and development of Subanen practices and the preservation of the traditional knowledge of IPs, Siayan now has its One Town One Product (OTOP) named Pangase Wine, a native Subanen wine and also a herbal medicine that can be used for cleansing. The continual development of its processing has a huge potential on the Subanen’s socio- economic condition such as additional income of IP farmers, and its contribution to the economic growth in the municipality.

In terms of socioeconomic development, the LGU has identified low income barangays and formed its Grassroots Local Development Coordinators (GLDC). The GLDC members, headed by Xavier Indiape, play a vital role in identifying, prioritizing, and implementing different local development projects such as livelihood initiatives in the barangays. The GLDC members, or the community organizers as they may be called, come from their respective barangays, thus are tapped as the “leg-workers”, who are there in the communities and ensure that their concerns are brought to the LGU and given action. It is one of the core values of the Siayan LGU that they do not implement a project just for the sake of implementing it but because it is needed by the people.

Now think about Ubuntu again, imagine a world where we impact each other in a way that we are connected and what we do affect others, where deep relationship is present despite diversity. A place where we are conscious of each other’s needs because we believe in the responsibility of taking care of one another.

At the north-western edge of Mindanao, in the municipality of Siayan, Zamboanga del Norte, a place that envisions itself as an agri-based, self- reliant community, empowered by skilled and enterprising people conserving the richness of biodiversity and culture, there exists Ubuntu- the essence of being human.

Ayana Jamnia Maranda is a Psychology major at Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology. Passionate about peace and gender advocacy, she participated in the National Youth Ambassadors Program for Peace 2012 and served as a parliamentarian at the National Youth Parliament. She is a graduate of the Philippine Youth Leadership Program 10 (PYLP 10), a U.S. Department of State youth exchange program. She spends time doing productive summers in volunteering and organizing cause oriented projects.