IRIGA CITY, June 19 (PNA) –- From the mountains, Arnel de la Cruz, 35, his wife Letty, 38, and their six young children have moved closer to a lowland village here and joined the mainstream of the community outside their marginalized world.
The family belongs to a community of Agta, the generic term used in Bicol to refer to its 50,000 natives with dark-colored skins, short stature and kinky hair.
Their descent, along with 12 other families of the tribal community in this city that for decades made the mountainous terrain of Mt. Isarog their home, marked the entry of local Indigenous Peoples (IPs) to the society’s mainstream sponsored by the government’s Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps).
At the shoulder of this potentially active strato volcano standing 2,000 meters above sea level at the heart of Camarines Sur province, the De la Cruz family, along with the others in the tribe, lived in makeshift houses made of thin tree trunks that are too small to conveniently accommodate the average of eight members that each family had.
Farmers by heart, being born and raised in an environment where the earth is the only means of survival, the couple produces the family food like cassava, camote, rice and vegetables.
Since their harvest is just enough for family consumption, other basic needs are left unmet.
Swayed by what they observe around every time they would trek their way into the center of the village, the couple dreamt of sending its children to school.
“Isa sa aking pangarap ay ang makapag-aral ang aking mga anak. Ayaw kong matulad sila sa aming mag-asawa na hindi man lang nakatuntong sa eskwela (One of my dreams is to send my children to school. I don’t want them to become like us who were not able to go to school),” Letty told the Philippines News Agency as she admitted that it is a dream that their life status in the mountain certainly cannot provide.
Geographical factors such as the distance from their dwelling point to schools have also made children’s education limited for the tribal community.
The nearest elementary school is some 10 kilometers away and can only be traveled by walking, making it very difficult for the children to attend classes every day.
Since the school could not go nearer to the tribe’s place, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) regional office for Bicol based in Legazpi City early this year partnered with the National Commission for Indigenous People (NCIP) in moving the De la Cruz family and that of the dozen others to Barangay San Ramon here.
The NCIP facilitated their occupancy of pieces of land still classified as ancestral domain at the outskirt of the village and helped them build their new homes.
The DSWD, on the other hand, enrolled them with the 4Ps under the recent inclusion of IPs with their beneficiaries to make them avail of one of the government’s poverty alleviation programs that provides financial assistance through Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) to the poorest of the poor families.
Under the program being implemented by the DSWD, beneficiaries are required to send their children to school and avail of health services provided by the government, which include pre- and post-natal care of the newborn and birth delivery in the presence of a trained health professional.
Children aged 0-5 years old must also receive regular preventive health checkup and vaccines, among others, as required for them to continue receiving cash subsidy under the CCT amounting to a maximum of P1,400 monthly.
Up in their old place, “quack doctors” or herbolarios are the only health service providers that the tribal culture had introduced to them.
Seeing her children in school now is a dream realized for Letty.
“Kahit papaano, ang pagsisikap naming mag-asawa para sa magandang bukas ng aming mga anak ay may nakikita nang malaking pag-asa (At least our efforts to have a good future for our children are already seeing hope),” she said.
Also with the 4Ps, the De la Cruz family became conscious of the family’s health with their regular attendance to the family development sessions where the couple’s health practices and parenting skills are honed.
With their entry to the 4Ps, Letty said, she is not only confined at home doing her daily chores or her husband in the farm but has also learned to integrate with people, join community activities and attend meetings when called.
According to Arnel Garcia, the DSWD regional director for Bicol, the inclusion of IPs in Bicol to the CCT or 4Ps is now correcting the common mistake made by people in more civilized communities in thinking that Agtas could only dwell in their primitive world, dressed in their native garb.
Through this program, Bicol Agtas now are already adopting the fashion in the modern community along with their integration with the mainstream, Garcia said.
4Ps for IPs is still young even as it has been around since 2008 and now covers all provinces, cities and municipalities in the region with 356,959 total household regionwide.
There are about 50,000 IPs occupying a total land area of 74,000 hectares in Bicol, with Camarines Sur having the widest area proclaimed as ancestral domain and, Garcia said, the DSWD regional office is taking the untraveled paths into the domains of these people to put an end to their long history of marginalization and neglect. (PNA) LAP/FGS/DOC/CBD/