I once worked for and with the Mangyans of Occidental Mindoro and even from the confines of my comfortable home today, I can’t help thinking about them with regards to the recent global outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic. This includes Berto, the Tao-Buid tribesman and the unidentified Fufuama (tribal elder) sitting next to him as shown in the picture above.
While the mainstream local governments are busy with all their efforts to “flatten the curve” of the drastic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the already marginalized, geographically isolated and disadvantaged population of IPs are again apparently being neglected and abandoned, here and maybe elsewhere.
With the full implementation and the legal fruits of the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act or the RA 8371 is still to be fully enjoyed, the indigenous political structure they have been aspiring for still cannot gain equal opportunities as they have in the dominant civil authority or government. This ecologically-fragile island is home to more or less two thousand individual IPs and I believe that it is imperative that any government response to the pandemic should address the needs of all Filipinos, including our IPs, the Mangyans.
The most needed act of immediate and impactful relief to indigenous peoples/indigenous cultural communities (IP/ICCs) is by way of emergency relief in the form of food supply, specifically rice. Next is sustained health interventions in line with defeating this dreaded COVID-19.
This tragedy and health debacle that the world face today further isolated our brethren IPs from total human progress the rest of the modern world could offer. Because of the enhanced quarantine strictly implemented from the smallest sitio in rural areas of the country, to exclusive villages of the elites in the urban centers, the Mangyans cannot go to town and sell their produce, handicrafts, animals, and crops to earn a living. They also cannot work as daily wage earners in the nearby barrio. The situation of hunger is more distressing than the virus itself.
May I earnestly appeal to the civic organization and welfare institutions to please find ways to help the Mangyans by way of establishing a wide network of mission partners towards this end. This must start from religious organizations that have Mangyan ministries, the LGUs’ Mangyan affairs offices, the M or PSWDOs, the tribal Filipino organizations in coordination with the NCIP and your respective IPMRs. I just do not know.
But at the height of this emotional and invisible devastation, the Mangyans just stayed foot, waiting what will happen next. This virus caught them flatfooted and their totally livable customary practices are being affected.
The Mangyans are now at risk and isolated more than ever. They are extremely susceptible to disease not only because of a lack of health interventions from the government solely aimed at them and their situation. The Mangyans, especially those in the wild are unaware of what is happening in the world because they have no means to see or understand to look beyond the global window. God forbids, if the Mangyans get infected, their whole tribe could easily be infected and decimated by COVID-19.
Nothing is heard of from National Commission for the Indigenous Peoples or NCIP on this note. Seldom in the news, we can read about COVID-19 and the IPs and how it affects them. Such absence of anything from the commission would not flatten the curve of the pandemic, ever.
A human rights-based approach in regulating this pandemic is imperative aside from welfare-oriented ones. This cannot be against the rule of law and human rights protection. This is not Martial Law, the Writ of Habeas Corpus is still in effect. A certain top official of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) should know this.
I cannot imagine how these IP/ICCs will go against COVID-19. Our public health system is truly frightening, especially when the weakest among our brethren have nothing to buy essential commodities in this time of COVID-19.
With or without the risk of COVID-19, the IP/ICCs are experiencing a lack of water access, poor health conditions, and malnourished children making them particularly susceptible to a COVID-19 outbreak. The immediate thing we could do is to give them food and nourishment to capacitate their immune system. If cases would start in the IP areas, with such vulnerability, a real catastrophe will fall upon them. It will create havoc in their communities. With that, the Mangyans will be erased from the face of the island.
I am saying this taking the risks of being branded as alarmist and/or conspiracy theorists.
Pray with me that this may not happen…
(Photo: Occidental Mindoro Getaways)
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