Dual threats for indigenous communities in the Philippines
September 29, 2020
The United Nations designated August 9 as the International Day of the World’s Indigenous peoples. This year’s theme is COVID 19 and Indigenous peoples’ Resilience to bring into focus how Indigenous peoples all over the world continue demonstrating resilience and strength in the face of the pandemic while confronting grave threats to their survival.
COVID 19 is disproportionately affecting Indigenous peoples owing to such factors as a high level of marginalization, poverty, poor access to health care, lack of access to services and sanitation, lack of clean water, and others.
As many governments fail to include Indigenous peoples in their COVID 19 responses, they are taking matters into their own hands, finding their solutions to respond to the health crisis. They are using indigenous knowledge and practices to cope up with the situation. Their capacity to adapt to such changes is based on their deep relationship and understanding of the land and the environment.
In the Philippines, Solidagro partners Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV) and Mindano Interfaith Services Foundation (MISFI) are both at the forefront of the Lumad (Indigenous peoples in Mindanao) communities' response to the challenges of the COVID 19 pandemic.
The two schools carried out education campaigns to equip the people the knowledge on the nature and the possible impact of COVID 19 on the communities. Community health workers, who are mostly former students of the schools, lead their communities in finding ways on how to respond to the pandemic and make sure that the people are educated on how to effectively prevent the spread of disease. As a traditional preventive measure, they coordinate with their traditional watchmen and tribal leaders in sealing off their communities, increase surveillance within their communities, and ensure compliance with the health measures.
While in some parts of the country, the COVID 19 lockdown measures by the government left millions of people hungry, Lumad communities under Solidagro's food security program have pushed for greater agricultural productivity producing tons of corn, coconuts, various fruits, and vegetables ensuring that no one will go hungry.
In fact, COVID 19 is not their primary problem but the continuing human rights abuses by the military and paramilitary groups in their attempt to quell the Lumad’s resistance against mining and other forms of development aggression.
COVID 19 has not stopped military operations in the Lumad communities targeting Lumad schools, including ALCADEV and MISFI. In May, a group of soldiers and police personnel, encamped in a nearby community, broke in the campus of ALCADEV and took photos of the classrooms and dormitories without permission. They also threatened to arrest the teachers who at that time were on vacation.
Without observing basic health protocols, the soldiers would roam around the communities and talk to people without facemasks bringing anxiety to the people that these soldiers might carry the virus and spread it to the communities.
On August 26, about 50 members of a paramilitary group ransacked and tore down MISFI’s school buildings in front of the students and teachers in the town of San Fernando in Bukidnon. The area is under MISFI’s food security program being supported by Solidagro. They also threatened to arrest the teachers and ordered them to leave the area.
The Save Our Schools, a network of child's rights advocates, already urged the United Nations to probe what it calls as a systematic assault by government soldiers on Lumad schools, including destroying, burning and vandalizing facilities.
To date, a total of 178 Lumad schools were forcibly closed either as a result of military encroachment to Indigenous communities or a direct order from the Department of Education on a baseless accusation that the schools are teaching the students to fight against the government.
One Lumad student has this to say to answer the accusation:
“We are not taught to hate the government. Life teaches us to hate some of the things the government does.”