THE BADJAOS have returned to Iloilo City. Lots of them. What now?
The Badjaos have had a long history of displacement due to the loss of their ancestral waters, armed conflict in Mindanao, poverty, and discrimination. Loss of livelihood and state neglect forced many of them to migrate to urban areas. Many have resorted to begging as a form of livelihood.
The migration from Mindanao to other cities must be viewed from a much larger perspective – the plight of indigenous peoples (IPs) in general. IPs suffer the worst marginalization. Their villages are the poorest, with the least trickling of health and education services. Their lands, which they had protected and defended with the blood of their ancestors, are grabbed by mining corporations and other business. Landlessness and poverty force some of them to beg on the streets. Some become jesters peddling culture for entertainment. Some resort to shady sources of livelihood.
As our nation pursues a path of progress, we should include in public discourse the unique situation and needs of our IPs. Oh yes, they are, first and foremost, Filipinos. Thus we must ensure that they are afforded social services and are empowered to be productive citizens. We must press for policies and programs that give IPs the respect and opportunities due them as Filipinos and as human beings.
We remember “Badjao Girl” in the TV show Pinoy Big Brother. She became a victim of teasing by other housemates. It was a manifestation of discrimination and lack of sensitivity to IPs. It was symptomatic of a system which treats IPs as lesser citizens and as targets of maltreatment.
Discrimination against IPs comes in many shapes and sizes. It may be in the sniggers and loose comments when one sees the exposed posteriors of the loincloth-clad people in Baguio City. Or perhaps how, when one scolds in disdain someone who were inadvertently sun-burnt after soaking in the beach, use the name of a proud people in Central Luzon as if it is an insult. Or how people chaste their grimy kids after a day of playing in the hot sun and dirt by calling them the name of the people who climb jeeps and play peculiar beats on their tin drums for change. These give us a sense of how IP discrimination and chauvinism are ingrained in the minds of Filipinos.
Two years ago Iloilo City’s Mayor Jose Espinosa III ordered the rounding up of Badjaos and their deportation to Mindanao. He called them a social menace, citing their mendicancy and poor health and sanitation habits. But that outlook does not address the problem squarely. With public awareness on IPs, we can counter the discrimination.
We must provide the needed support for our IPs to strengthen their part in nation-building. Yes, IPs can take part in the country’s development if given more opportunities and stronger support by the government.