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Strange tales about the Huluga archaeological site
By Elson T. Elizaga, 2009.

"The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has limits." -- Albert Einstein

The Huluga archaeological site in Cagayan de Oro became front page item again in October 2009 after the discovery of a prehistoric grave site. As expected, Agnes Paulita Roa (aka Nanette Roa) of the Heritage Council of City Hall reacted by spreading peculiar tales.

Roa is a close friend and propagandist of mayor Vicente Y. Emano, who bulldozed a huge portion of Huluga in 2003. That year, Roa denied that Emano desecrated the site. In 2004, she assisted a team from the Archaeological Studies Program (ASP) of the University of the Philippines, which produced a misleading report about Huluga. In 2006, Emano eventually rewarded her loyalty by making her manager of Kagay-an Resort. She lost this post, however, when she had trouble with the tourism office. She claims to be a student of ASP. There are reports that Emano funds her alleged education. Emano called her “a genius” during a radio interview.

Huluga grave site

The Huluga grave site. Left to right: Dr. Antonio J. Montalván II,1 Engr. Darwin Enopia, Dr. Erlinda M. Burton,2 Angel Bautista, and Nick Aca.

Normally, I would be pleased to know someone in Cagayan de Oro is studying at the ASP. But Roa’s writings in a local daily clearly show her aim: To degrade Huluga so that Emano’s cultural offense would seem small. Her consistent statement is that Huluga is a “camp-like area”, not a settlement.

This distinction doesn’t really matter because a prehistoric camp is also important to science, and also deserves protection. Dr. Sebastian Stride, an archaeologist who studies Central Asia, for instance, wrote that scattered occupations are also important. Part of his email says, “In some cases, it is more useful to study the remains of a small campsite of which only a few sherds remain than those of a large stone built city, and even, in some cases, more interesting that well-known big settlements.”

But to Roa, anything that makes Huluga increasingly significant to the public deserves a strike – unaware that the more she persists in describing Huluga as a camp-like area, the more she magnifies the wrongdoing of Emano. So, when news about the discovery of the prehistoric grave site came out in several local papers, she quickly went about doing her usual job.

1) First, she issued a press release to Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro, claiming it was an official stand of the Heritage Council, when it wasn’t authorized by her boss Dorothy Pabayo. The PR said, among other things, that published opinions about the grave site are “speculations”, and that only the National Museum can make final statements about the finding.

She didn’t mention that the head of the Cultural Properties Division of the National Museum was present in the grave site, sorting the bones with his bare hands, and describing the discovery as indicating the presence of a prehistoric settlement.

He is Angel Bautista, a physical anthropologist respected by scholars of Huluga because he conducted a detailed archaeological survey in Cagayan de Oro and vicinities in 1991. Because of his survey, the National Museum gave accession numbers to Huluga, officially recognizing the place as an archaeological site. Bautista also received the Kapwa Award of the National Museum in 1992.

2) Roa issued the press release without first going to the grave site or conducting an interview of three important people who had been there: Bautista, Dr. Erlinda M. Burton, and Dr. Antonio J. Montalván II.

3) In her column, “From Huluga to Gisoc” in Sun.Star Daily, Roa wrote that the newly discovered grave site is called “the Sung burial site” when no scientist who has visited the area use that phrase. Instead, Bautista calls the site “Huluga 3”.

4) Roa suggested that the grave site is not part of Huluga because it is in Bukidnon. But Bautista told us that though the spot could be part of Bukidnon, in ancient times Huluga did not have geopolitical boundaries like we have today.

5) Roa wrote that the grave site is three kilometers away from Huluga, apparently to suggest that the discovered site is outside Huluga.

Maps show Roa is wrong about this one. But it is necessary for Roa to make that claim. It is an attack on Burton, because in 1999, when Burton was asked by city government officials to say how much of Huluga should be protected, Burton recommended a two-kilometer radius. Even then, Burton knew that the prehistoric settlement could cover a wider area if fossils and artifacts were found outside this place.

6) Roa wrote she examined the sack of bones in the grave site, and claimed that they “belong to several persons who probably died less than two decades ago.” When Bautista learned of this statement, he was reasonably upset because unlike Bautista, Roa is NOT a bone expert.

7) Also extraordinary was Roa’s allegation that the Heritage Conservation Advocates (HCA) asked mayor Constantino Jaraula to nullify the land titles of Huluga, causing “panic among several landowners.” Quite the contrary, it was Jaraula’s idea in 2007.

8) In another article, “Of Bones and Lunatic Fringe”, Roa speculated that the bones in the grave site could be of World War II Japanese soldiers who boarded a plane that crashed in Huluga. Of course, anything is possible, especially in the Twilight Zone. But consider that the grave site contained Sung Dynasty and Sawankhalok bowls, and the bones belong to 52 men and women, one a child. There is no wreckage in the site, and the potteries are intact. Is Roa telling us that because of this mystery, Huluga is, therefore, a camp-like area and deserves to be further destroyed by her mentor?

When I questioned Roa’s intellect in my column in Mindanao Goldstar Daily, Roa appeared to defend herself by claiming she has read “tons of books” and has written many papers. The quotation mark is hers so we need not take the phrase to mean she used an industrial weighing scale.

The historian and anthropologist Dr. Antonio Montalván II told me that years ago, Roa's brother gave Roa his collection of artifacts for safekeeping, but to his dismay, Roa sold them instead. This story is corroborated by other sources. Does this act make her a good candidate for membership in the Heritage Council, or in other cultural and historical group?

Montalván, who is Roa's cousin, also said that Roa didn't finish college. In 2010, a member of the Heritage Council told a group that Roa didn't have a business, and lived only in the house of a friend. So, how was she able to enroll in ASP? Who funds her travels to Manila? Is she a student or guest?

These questions must be asked not to invade her privacy, which should be respected, but to understand why a person working with the government is relentlessly issuing propaganda. Is propaganda a subject of the ASP, which is a government institution? Is Agnes Paulita Roa not concerned that telling false statements would ruin her reputation as a student of science, if indeed she is? Why is the City Council silent about Roa's qualifications, her relationship to Emano, and her attacks against a heritage site of the Republic of the Philippines? End

On scattered occupations

ELSON ELIZAGA: ... this idea about upholding "scattered occupations" instead of only the large vestiges of big civilizations, is this embodied in a kind of theory in archaeology? If so, what is it and how is it received by other archaeologists whom you know?

SEBASTIAN STRIDE: ... Today no serious archaeologist would deny the relevance of "scattered occupations" to our understanding of the past. Landscape Archaeology in particular (a major branch of archaeology) considers that the whole landscape is an archaeological site since it has been continuously affected by humans for thousands of years.

Of course, archaeologists do not claim that it is necessary to preserve the whole landscape but they would argue that the potential historico-cultural importance of a site cannot be judged simply from the size of the remains.

In some cases, it is more useful to study the remains of a small campsite of which only a few sherds remain than those of a large stone built city. Why ? Simply because it is likely that the people who built the city left behind other cities and texts describing them and that we already know a lot about them, whilst it is quite possible that the people who camped one evening and left behind next to nothing remain unknown.

Scientists study elusive insects deep in the jungle, not only sheep and cows -- and, despite us having almost no archaeological remains of the Mongols, no one would deny that the Mongol Empire was the most extensive empire ever to have existed. (Finding the trace of a Mongol campsite would be more important for archaeologists and historians than finding a new Roman city!).

Personal emails sent on February 18, 2009.

From the Silk Road Foundation Newsletter: "Stride spent four years living in Uzbekistan and has been working in Central Asia since 1995. He is a member of the MAFOuz de Bactriane and the Observatori del Tíbet i de l’Àsia Central and currently teaches Central Asian History and Archaeology at Barcelona University."

See also "A Habitation, But Unlikely A Habitation."

1 Montalván is a historian and anthropologist. He is also the president of the Mindanao Association of Museums and is the author of "A Cagayan de Oro Ethnohistory Reader."

2 Burton is a cultural anthropologist and archaeologist, curator of Museo de Oro of Xavier University, and recipient of the Datu Salangsang Award given by City Hall years ago. Salangsang was the chief of Himologan (today Huluga) in 1622 when Spanish missionaries arrived in the area.

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