MULTIMEDIA

Revisiting the Dumagats of Kaliwa River

Nico Sepe

Posted at Oct 29 2019 07:54 PM | Updated as of Nov 01 2019 07:13 PM

Author (right) Nico Sepe converses with one of the Dumagats living in the community within the banks of the Kaliwa River in General Nakar, Quezon Province, that will be affected by the construction of the Kaliwa River Dam Project. Photo by Judy Afan Pasimio

Water has always been central in the life of the Dumagats living in the foothills of the Sierra Madre.

Close to 20 years ago, documentary photographer Nico Sepe captured the life and culture of the Dumagats and the river that sustains them. The river was not only a source of livelihood, transportation, and everyday necessities to the Dumagats, it was the river that shaped their lives. 

The Kaliwa river is sacred and central to the life of the Dumagats and Remontados of Quezon. 

It was also the theme that weaves the pictures of Sepe now currently on exhibit at the Conspiracy Bar on Visayas Avenue in Quezon City. Sepe’s documentation of the Dumagats in General Nakar shows us how life and culture—their sources of food, livelihood, sense of community in harmony with nature—are being passed on from one generation to another. 

When news of the P18.7-billion Kaliwa dam project surfaced, Sepe, now based in Bangkok, Thailand, dug deep into his archives and, like the river in his pictures, led him back to the Dumagats.

The dam will be built on the ancestral domain of the Dumagats and Remontados. Under the Indigenous People’s Rights Act or IPRA, the State recognises the rights of indigenous peoples to self- determination, identity, territory and social justice. 

Sadly, our indigenous peoples remain either invisible in the eyes of the government and the public—we don’t even know their exact population and therefore they are largely ignored and neglected, or worse, their communities face threats from State oppression and corporate takeover of their ancestral domains. 

Sepe's exhibit seeks to rouse the attention of the people to the struggles of the Dumagats. As Sepe said during the opening of the series of exhibits at Ateneo de Manila, “photographs play a role in preserving our common humanity. In the wake of the current threats to the Dumagat and Remontado communities, and the Sierra Madre, we hope that these photographs will invoke deeper solidarity to the struggle of the indigenous peoples,” he said. 

The Dumagats have made their stand against the Kaliwa Dam. Through the consultations for free, prior informed consent (FPIC) a requirement for any project within ancestral domains, they have said an emphatic "NO To Kaliwa Dam". 

President Duterte warned last Monday that he would use his “extraordinary powers” for the construction of the China-funded infrastructure project. He conceded that “it might create some danger or damage, but that is not my concern. My concern is the welfare, the greatest good for the greatest number. That is democracy." The chief executive was referring to the urgent need to replenish the water supply needed by over 12 million people in Metro Manila.

Sepe was able to return to the community he documented almost 2 decades ago and was reunited with the people and environment of the Sierra Madre. As he flashed the photographs to the community, some sort of ritual ensued—a collective revisiting of their community’s past. They paid tribute to those who are no longer with us—some victims of a flood that happened years ago.

“Mga Yapak sa Paanan ng Sierra Madre: Isang Pagtatanghal sa Buhay ng mga Dumagat” is currently on exhibit at Conspiracy Bar along Visayas Avenue. Focus on the Global South and LILAK are working together to bring the exhibit to different universities and organize discussions on the IP struggle against the Kaliwa Dam.

The Dumagats of Kaliwa river. Photo by Nico Sepe

The Dumagats of Kaliwa river. Photo by Nico Sepe

The Dumagats of Kaliwa river. Photo by Nico Sepe

The Dumagats of Kaliwa river. Photo by Nico Sepe

The Dumagats of Kaliwa river. Photo by Nico Sepe

The Dumagats of Kaliwa river. Photo by Nico Sepe

The Dumagats of Kaliwa river. Photo by Nico Sepe

The Dumagats of Kaliwa river. Photo by Nico Sepe

The Dumagats of Kaliwa river. Photo by Nico Sepe

The Dumagats of Kaliwa river. Photo by Nico Sepe

The Dumagats of Kaliwa river. Photo by Nico Sepe

The Dumagats of Kaliwa river. Photo by Nico Sepe

The Dumagats of Kaliwa river. Photo by Nico Sepe

The Dumagats of Kaliwa river. Photo by Nico Sepe

The Dumagats of Kaliwa river. Photo by Nico Sepe

The Dumagats of Kaliwa river. Photo by Nico Sepe