[Press Release] Indigenous women ask: where is the government for us? -LILAK

“We fear to die from starvation more than the virus itself,” said Librada Isidro, a Mangyan leader from Oriental Mindoro.

Indigenous women from Nueva Vizcaya, Saranggani, Palawan, Oriental Mindoro, Zambales and Quezon call for help as the community quarantine or lockdown ordered by the national and local governments bring food crisis among indigenous and rural communities.

No case of COVID-19 has been confirmed in these provinces, but indigenous women leaders are concerned government policies, particularly the enhanced community quarantine in Luzon and lockdowns in other provinces in Visayas and Mindanao, endanger food security.

“The dry season came early for us. The heat was too much; our rice, pineapples, and vegetables all died,” told a B’laan woman leader. “Even before talks of COVID-19, we are preparing for the worst. This lockdown has suspended public transportation and now we don’t know how else to earn cash to buy
food.”

A Higaonon woman leader told the same story, “The heat brought in a poor harvest. That’s why many of us in our community worked as labor workers, construction workers, and domestic helpers. But because of the lockdown, many of us were forced to stop working – by our employers to avoid transmitting the virus or because there was no more transportation that could take us to our jobs.”

Indigenous women that were not struck down by the heat wanted to sell their harvest in the market but now fear going outside because of the virus. Those who braved going outside could still not sell either because of the suspension of public transportation or because there are no buyers in the market.

“We have vegetables and sweet potato from our backyard, but until when will this last? We have no money to buy fish or even rice,” said an Aeta Abelen leader from Zambales. “I work as a caregiver to the elderly and my husband works on the farm. Both of us had to stop which means both of us stopped earning for our family.”

Indigenous women not only fear for their food security but also fear for their health brought by lack of proper nutrition, lack of food, extreme heat, and anxiety during the pandemic. Many of them have access to traditional medicines but fear not knowing what to do when COVID-19 strikes their communities.

“What means do they have to fight this virus? They have no money to buy medicines, and health centers are too far from their homes. They have no defense against this virus and the government is certainly not equipping them with any,” said Judy Afan Pasimio of LILAK (Purple Action for Indigenous Women’s Rights)

Pasimio added that the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the worsening inequality in our country, “Before the health crisis brought by the virus, rural and indigenous women and their families have already been suffering. Extreme weathers brought by climate change ruin their harvest – their food and their income.

Many indigenous communities are victims of land grabbing by corporations and the government to make way for mega-dams, large-scale mining, and industrialized plantations. Militarization runs rampant in their communities. They have no choice but to leave their ancestral lands or be killed. And indigenous women whose primary role is to secure food in their households suffer the most. They have no means to earn and they have no means to feed their children and themselves.”

Pantawid ng Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps)

Many indigenous women are beneficiaries and largely depend on the Pantawid ng Pamilyang Pilipino Program or 4Ps of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). The DSWD announced that they would continue their services despite the enhanced community quarantine and work suspensions. In their statement, they announced that they would be implementing a “force majeure” to all DSWD programs amidst the declaration of Public Health Emergency by President Duterte.
Monitoring of compliance of beneficiaries will be suspended which include Family Development sessions and check-up of mothers in health centers. Instead, the agency announced, beneficiaries will automatically receive financial support for education and health starting from February until the end of the Public Health Emergency.

However, reports from indigenous women collected by LILAK state that accounts of beneficiaries have remained empty since February. Indigenous women also reported that the DSWD has suspended claiming pay-outs from over-the-counter. In places such as Midsalip, Zamboanga, Subanen senior citizens have yet to receive their pension. They also reported no assistance from their barangays. “There’s nothing. They don’t even tell us if they have plans to help us,” said Isidro.

Indigenous women and support organizations such as LILAK demand action from DSWD, “The DSWD should have a system that can quickly and effectively support vulnerable communities. They should release clearer guidelines and mechanisms, especially in the community level. We in LILAK demand that they release the February, March and April pay-outs of 4Ps beneficiaries and secure that they will continue to receive this in the coming more months. We need to work faster because of a single day of
the delay could result in a life lost in our indigenous communities,” said Pasimio.

Militarized Response to a Health Crisis

LILAK and human rights organizations also question the extreme militarized response of our national government. “The President demands obedience or be put to jail. In this time of health and food crisis, instead of a mechanism to secure peace and order, should we not have a mechanism that is more geared towards helping and supporting our vulnerable communities,” said Pasimio.

LILAK fears that militarization could further endanger the lives of indigenous women. In the past, LILAK has received reports from the ground of indigenous women not receiving the help they need in times of crisis – either because they live in far and remote areas or because they are labeled enemies of the local government.

“We fear our barangay won’t help us. We were known critiques of our Mayor. In February, they called us to sign a petition that says we support federalism. I did not sign and told them we should first conduct a discussion in our community. They told me, bahala ka,” said an indigenous woman leader that requested to remain anonymous for her security.

Indigenous women together with LILAK and other support groups demand action from our government. “It is our government’s obligation – from Malacañang to barangays – to secure that communities in need of utmost help are supported. They need to assure the country that everyone has the capacity to overcome this crisis with hope and with dignity. We at LILAK call on the DSWD, LGUs, and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples. You have resources as evident by your efforts in implementing EO
70 (Creating a National task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict). Now we are in a health and food crisis. We hope you show the same vigor in combatting this virus, hunger, and poverty in our indigenous communities. We have enough stringent policies on lockdown and checkpoints, now we demand policies that are compassionate and that will prioritize indigenous women and their families
and vulnerable communities.”

For more information contact,
Judy A. Pasimio – judy104@lilak.net / 09175268341
Shar Balagtas – sharbalagtas.lilak@gmail.com / 09771966122

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