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Aytas, governor support entry of investors in Nabuklod

FLORIDABLANCA, Pampanga—Gov. Lilia “Nanay” Pineda and indigenous Aytas living in the 5,000-hectare area here, dubbed “Paradise in the Sky,” said private investors are welcome to invest in the agriculture-tourism project perched 1,200 feet high above sea level.

Ambo Santos, one of the Aytas leaders based in Barangays Mawacat and Nabuklod, said they do not oppose the idea of local and foreign firms investing in this vast ancestral domain known for its spectacular views of the mountain ranges of Porac, Pampanga, Bataan and Zambales.

“BOT [built-operate-transfer] sana [I hope],” said Santos, one of the more than 1,000 Aytas based in the two villages at the eastern portion of the town.     

Santos said new investors will spur growth in tourism and agricultural largely benefitting his fellow Aytas.

“This is so that the province will be removed from the burden of adding more fund, especially on maintenance. More important, it will increase activities and income for us,” said Santos in the dialect. He said the “help and attention” given by the governor is “a big boost and help.”

Santos and his fellow Aytas leader, Ricardo Guiao, said the tourists, most of whom are based in Angeles City, Central Luzon and Metro Manila, have begun to visit the portion of the area developed by the provincial government since last year.

A nearly complete statue of the ascension of Jesus Christ, zipline, cable car and other amenities for team-building were completed earlier this year, said Nabuklod agri-tourism project coordinator Roy Imperial, former executive director of the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) North Luzon Agri Business Quadrangle.   

Mountain biker Rudy Gueco of Santa Rita town said they visited the area regularly years before Pineda began to develop it.

“But there are more visitors now and not just bikers but tourists, especially after it was exposed in the media. If there are villas, I am sure many will come to spend the night,” said Gueco.

The Angeles City government library division, led by Agnes Gomez, recently held their team-building in the area with three view decks.

Gilda Padua, president of the Alliance of Travel and Tours Agencies of Pampanga (Attap), said their group supports “not just Nabuklod but other tourism areas in Pampanga.”

“Nabuklod certainly has huge potentials to be a major destination but the natural beauty of the area should be maintained while they develop it,” said Padua, whose group is working with the provincial government for local food promotion activity lined up for the Pampanga Day Celebration set in December.  

Second District Board Member Olga Frances “Fritzie” David Dizon, whose hometown of nearby Porac hosts at least 1,800 Aytas families, said the governor “is just giving love and attention due to the long-neglected Aytas.”

Meanwhile, Pineda said she welcomed the plan of Aytas leaders and their people to offer parts of their area for agri-tourism related developments.  

“Projects done with other private groups may be in our area or outside of it. It’s the call of the Aytas and the potential investors,” said Pineda in the dialect, adding that the welfare of the Aytas should be the “utmost priority” in agreements reached in coordination with the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples.

Pineda and the provincial board led by Vice Gov. Joseller “Yeng” Guiao earlier signed a memorandum of agreement with the Tribong Ayta of Floridablanca for the development of the 1,000-hectare area which is part of the total 5,000 hectares.

The provincial government is using more than P6 million for the development in the area. For the first time, potable water drawn from the lower portion of the area is now available in the developed area and houses of the Aytas.

Pineda cited the American government’s efforts to improve the tourism and leisure projects near San Diego, California, to benefit the Native American Indians.

The casinos at Fallbrook, California, a rural community about an hour by land from San Diego, had provided huge profits to the American Indians. She added that areas for the casinos and other related projects “largely benefited the Indians foremost.”

“We are not talking about the casinos in particular but businesses that can turn vast land into earning entities. In the American set-up, the Indians are the real primary beneficiaries,” said Pineda. At least seven Indian casinos are within 45 minutes away from Fallbrook.

Pineda said they were failed efforts from other top public officials in California to tax the earnings of the Indians. She said the government’s commitment in raising the welfare of the group who owns the vast lands prevailed over attempts to tax them.

“My point is that our Aytas should be like the now prominent American Indians. What will the Aytas do with the 5,000 hectares by their lonesome? They are still poor, deprived of benefits due them and this happening for many, many years already,” said Pineda, adding that the present and future business activities are designed to give “dignity and life to our Aytas siblings.”

In partnership with the DA, the Pampanga government gave vegetable seedlings to the Aytas. Their first major yield was displayed and sold on Saturday.

Pineda also gave goats and other animals for the Aytas’ livelihood. Third District Board Member Trina Dizon said the provincial government is closely working with the National Housing Authority to complete at least 350 houses for Aytas. 

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