LUCENA CITY, Philippines—The Agta-Dumagat tribes in the Sierra Madre have lost their chieftain or tribal governor, Nap Buendicho, 35, who succumbed to high blood pressure in Infanta, Quezon, on Wednesday.
Ramcy Astoveza, a tribal leader and director of the Tribal Development Center in Infanta, said Buendicho, whom the tribe called “Gov. Nap,” died while being treated at the Claro M. Recto Hospital.
“The whole tribe is now in deep mourning. The leadership of Gov. Nap was a great loss to all of us,” Astoveza said over the phone on Thursday afternoon.
Buendicho, who was chosen governor in 2008, led his tribe in their struggle to protect the sanctity of the Sierra Madre mountain range, their natural habitat, from continuous environmental destruction.
He also never stopped appealing to government security forces and the communist New People’s Army not to turn the Sierra Madre into a bloody theater of war in their armed conflict.
Buendicho had registered as an independent candidate for councilor of General Nakar, Quezon, in the upcoming local elections.
In an interview after he filed his candidacy, Buendicho said his entry into electoral politics was motivated by his desire to help protect the Sierra Madre from illegal logging, unlawful mining and other forms of environmental destruction.
Buendicho lamented that in past electoral campaigns, candidates projected themselves as protectors of the environment. “But once elected, for most of them, it’s back to business as usual — protect the environment destroyers in exchange for material consideration,” he once told the Inquirer.
Buendicho hosted the successful “1st National Negrito Cultural Revival Festival and Development Forum” held in October last year in General Nakar.
The forum gathered tribal leaders of the Negrito race, such as the Agta-Dumagat-Remontado from Quezon and Rizal; Agta from Isabela; Aeta from Tarlac, Zambales and Pampanga; Agta from Camarines Sur, Guimaras and Antique; Ati from Aklan, and Batak from Palawan.
The Agta/Dumagat tribe is the largest population of indigenous people in the Sierra Madre mountain range.
Astoveza said they would soon convene the tribal council composed of leaders from Agta, Dumagat and Aeta tribes in Southern Quezon to choose Buendicho’s successor.
“Whoever will be selected will receive blessing from the tribal leaders in a ceremony as a sign of his being chosen as the new tribe governor,” he said.
Buendicho left behind a wife, Estela, and seven children.
His body lies in his residence in Barangay Anuling in General Nakar. Astoveza said internment has not yet been scheduled.