Saturday, March 08, 2008

Agency and the AGTA on-line database

I received a comment on the AGTA database published online by Dr. Thomas Headland and the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) from one of the research team's technical consultant, someone named Lars. I blogged about it recently. His insightful comments deserve publication not only in the comments section, hence I'm posting it below. Publications like Science magazine and anthropology websites and listserves noted the significance of the on-line publication AGTA database.

I appreciate Lars' comment on "agency" of the Agta in their desire to ensure that their history, their heritage, their individual stories are preserved in whatever manner, including in the virtual world. It reminds me of my visit to a Gawad Kalinga Aeta community in Tarlac, supported by a business association from Manila.

There must've been a confusion or breakdown or misunderstanding in the consultation process, but the Aeta community refused to install the composting toilets provided to them by the GK partner organization. They continue to refuse to install these toilets, which now serve as rainwater receptacles. To the few I spoke to, they wanted flush toilets similar to what they see in the cities they visit. They appreciate the convenience of the flush toilet, its symbolic value of progress and modernity, and their perceived further inclusion into "mainstream" Filipino society. Compost toilets to them, at this point in time, seemed like an attempt to provide them with low-tech materials, while other GK sites had flush or water-sealed toilets. Note the issue of justice and discrimination lurking underneath this discussion.

Working on some alternative technology research in Arizona and Sonora, I heard comments of how "green technologies" are actually "regressive architecture", which necessitate more research, consultation, and experimentation to suit specific contexts.

This is another discussion, but I thank Lars for reminding me that our indigenous peoples have agency (free will), think and reflect on their existence as individuals and as an indigenous community, and have knowledge and wisdom honed by experience and life-long learning.

Dear livingplanet,

Thanks for linking to this research. I'm curious, how did you hear about it? Through the AAA poster session?

You wrote,
Hopefully, society can understand more the Agta and look at how research and action-research may assist them in their quest for social justice, autonomy, cultural survival, and prosperity.

On the other hand, what are the implications on privacy and human subjects rights with this publication (despite the Agta giving permission)? [emphasis mine -Lars]

This is a good question. FYI, some of the more sensitive originally-gathered data has intentionally been withheld from publication because of privacy concerns.

Here's an important follow-up question: if "society" thinks the publication of this data is bad for the Agta in terms of privacy and human subject rights, but the Agta want it published ... Do we know what's good for them better than they do?

Note that "the permission of [the] Agta" is an understatement here. The Headlands did not just get permission from the Agta people (and informed consent, as required by the UND Institutional Review Board), but Agta leaders' strong request ("command"). Click on the link to download the "Accompanying documents", open "InformedConsent.pdf", and note the several pages of signatures and thumbprints. In particular, read why the Agta say they want this data published. Here's an excerpt from the English translation of their informed consent letter. (Sure would be nice if there was a blockquote tag available.)

We, all of us Agta, we have been helping them [the Headlands] for about forty years. What we want now is that they list all of our many-names in a [computer] so that all the people in the world can read our names. We want it like that, so that even if we die, they will know them. And our future-grandchildren, they will see/know our names even after one hundred years have passed.

What we are commanding to Grandpa Headland is, "Don't you erase our names from the sensos." Good-grief! If they get erased, for sure our grandchildren will forget our names!

Also, we give-permission for Grandpa Headland to place all of the photographs of us in the computer and on the internet. Do that also with [photos of] our children and our great-grandparents of long ago, so that other people in the world will see our images (what-we-look-like). And we want them to list all of our names attached-right next to our photographs, and [we want] our names [in the sensos], too, so that other people will know our names.

And also, the Agta sensos that Headlands will make, it is our proof that we are true Agta of Casiguran, so that we can prove to the government that we have always-lived on this land of ours in Casiguran. This land here is our ansestral domen ('ancestral domain') since long ago, even more than a thousand years ago. If our true names are not listed in the sensos, maybe the government won't believe that we are truly Agta from Casiguran.

My point is, any consideration of the privacy and human subjects rights implications of this research needs to take into account the expressed desires of the Agta themselves, not just externally-applied criteria.

Thanks again for blogging about this database. To me, one of the most significant aspects of how it was published is the fact that the raw data -- not just analysis thereof -- is made available in open formats that anyone can download and process. Thus, interested researchers can answer for themselves questions that the Headlands never thought of. Ethnographic data goes open source.

Disclosure: I helped as a technical consultant in the preparation of the database for online publication.

Monday, March 03, 2008

"Stay the Course": Gawad Kalinga's ACTION is the Message

Gawad Kalinga's Executive Director Luis Oquinena wrote to categorically state what Gawad Kalinga's position is on the current corruption scandal haunting the Arroyo Administration. Entitled, "STAY THE COURSE", their stand is:


It is a commitment to build 2,000 GK communities in 2008.

By bringing out the good and noble in one another through heroic addressing poverty in myriad maintaining high standards of integrity and accountability in GK activities...Gawad Kalinga hopes to show those in power that power must be used responsibly.

While conflict and confrontation may engender political change, concerted action on doing good is shaping up to be a more potent symbol of the CALL FOR CHANGE and a rebuke of corrupt officials, politicians, and businessmen.