On a mountain village in this quake-stricken municipality, residents live in virtual cages while monkeys can roam around undisturbed.
Barangay New Israel, along the foot of Mt. Apo, at about 800 meters above sea level, is surrounded by lush vegetation and tree farms.
It is home to 600 human families and around 300 monkeys.
The village is among places that suffered in the recent series of earthquakes, the strongest at magnitude 6.6, that hit many parts of Mindanao, particularly in Davao del Sur and Cotabato provinces.
According to estimates by barangay officials, close to 90 percent of the houses in the area inhabited by the religious group Moncadista sustained damages and rendered unsafe to live in.
Barangay chair Eduardo Delfin said many of the residents prefer to sleep in tents outdoors instead of entering their homes. “We only go in if we need to use the toilet,” he said.
The situation has exposed the human residents to live in the open with the monkey inhabitants sans the usual barrier between them. Houses in the village have screen and other barriers to prevent the monkeys from entering and ransacking their homes for food.
Sixty-three year old Rodolfo Aguillar said he once forgot to close the door of his house and when he came back, the meal he had prepared was gone and his belongings strewn all over the house.. “Morag giagian sa mga kawatan (Looks like thieves came to my house in search of something),” he said.
The monkeys in New Israel, originally led by an alpha male named “Mike,” have their own politics and have since divided themselves into three factions, Aguillar said.
A group of about 60 monkeys have established themselves in the barangay center, while the two other groups who used to live with the community, but whose leaders were dethroned, left for the wooded areas surrounding the community.
The outside groups would at times attempt to enter the community, triggering a bloody encounter among monkeys, Aguillar said, describing the conflict of the monkeys, which he said “must be due to territory and food resources.”
Even with that situation of the monkeys, residents themselves have not hurt or harmed them, which have lived with the community for about five generations already.
Last November 8, New Israel held “Amo (Cebuano for monkey) Festival” to mark the 108th birthday of Maximino Guibernas, founder of the Moncadista religious group that established itself as a community in the area.
During the festival, residents and monkeys eat together on a long table of fruits and veggies.
As the residents suffer from the calamity brought by the series of earthquakes, the monkeys struggle as well, especially with the inadequate food.
Residents who used to feed the monkeys as part of their household, now rely on aid coming from relief agencies and volunteer groups.
Eutiquia Medel, 83, said they have to look after themselves and care for the monkeys as this was taught to them by their leader, whom they call Papa Guibernas, who established the Moncadista religious group in 1935.
“Lisud man siya, pero dawaton kay nahitabo kini sa pagtugot sa Kahitas-an (It may be difficult, but we accept it because it is the will from the heavens),” she said, while holding a roll of sleeping mat and tent given as aid by the Rotary Club of Dadiangas.
She said she will still share food with the monkeys as they used to do.
Egg not bananas
On Saturday, soldiers brought to the village several truckloads of belongings and bags of foodstuffs, including boxes of bananas, apparently for the monkeys.
But a load of bananas in a military truck was noticeably untouched even as the monkeys roam around.
“Busog na sila! Daghan sila nakaon kagahapon sa selebrasyon. (They’re full. They had plenty from yesterday’s celebration),” remarked Aguillar, referring to the birthday celebration of their leader, Papa Guibernas.
Aguillar narrated in Cebuano that a volunteer group brought in food, including popsicles that the monkeys grabbed and ate. After several minutes, he said many of the monkeys were throwing up. “Nabugnawan ang tiyan (Their tummies are not accustomed to it)!” he said, laughing.
But, give them raw egg and even if they are full, they will consume it. Aguillar, who grew up as a child in the place, said it is not bananas that they love to eat.
He told the aid volunteers: “Sa sunod magdala mo, itlog (Next time, bring eggs instead)!”
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