I would like to share with you some concrete thoughts about the extreme poverty and poor health conditions of our Alangan mangyan
recipients in San Ignacio Banilad on Mindoro Island, the Philippines.
But before I go on, please allow me to give you a brief description of
Mindoro, my home province.
Mindoro is the seventh-largest island in the Philippines, with two
provinces, Oriental and Occidental Mindoro. The total population is
estimated at approximate one million, and 10 percent of that number, or
one hundred thousand, constitutes the mangyans. Oriental
Mindoro is located in Mimaropa Region IV-B in Luzon. Its capital is
Calapan City, and it occupies the eastern half of the island of
Mindoro, while Occidental Mindoro is on the western half. To the east
of the province lies the Sibuyan Sea and Romblon. To the north is
Batangas across the Verde Island Passage. The Semirara Islands of
Antique are to the south.
Oriental Mindoro alone is composed of 1 component city, 36 municipalities, 426 barangays
(smallest administrative division), and 2 congressional districts. We
have a total population of 681,818 based on the National Statistics
Office (NSO) survey of 2007. Ten percent of that number constitutes the
mangyans, who are distributed all over the island, namely: Alangan, Iraya, Tadyawan, Tau-Buid, Buhid, Hanunuo, Ratagnon, and Bangon.
The word mangyan is a collective term for the above-mentioned
eight indigenous groups in the province. Among them, the Alangans are
believed to be the island's first inhabitants, living in the rugged
interior of Mindoro Island, which is about 150 kilometers south of
Manila. They make clothes out of tree bark, pandan leaves, rattan, and nito
twine. Despite modern times, many of them still occupy the rugged
uplands, preferring to have as little contact with lowlanders as
possible. But as resources from the forest have dwindled, a good number
of them have settled on the lower foothills of Mount Halcon (2,582
meters above sea level), Mindoro's highest peak. One of the mangyan
settlements is in Sitio Banilad, San Ignacio, Dulangan 3 Baco, which is
about a forty-five-minute jeepney ride from Calapan City. Based on our
latest survey (November 2008), about one hundred families make up this
The San Lorenzo Ruiz Academy (SLRA; formerly Lorenzo Ruiz Formation
and Learning Center) of Calapan City, a private school initially
established for indigents of Calapan City in 1990, expanded and put up
a school exclusively for the mangyans in Sitio Banilad in the latter part of 1991. The establishment was prompted by the sad experiences of the Alangan mangyan
children attending school with the Tagalogs and other lowlanders. We
started the education program in Sitio Banilad in 1992, using two
classrooms and depending on the voluntary efforts of our two teachers.
To date, we have 105 mangyan students, whom we are giving free education following a multigrade educational system.
Looking back, it was after a strong typhoon in 1991 when I first
arrived in Sitio Banilad. The Reverend Bishop Warlito I. Cajandig
assigned us to monitor the flood victims and flood situation in the
area of Dulangan. That was when I met Pinoy Oscado, an Alangan mangyan leader, and other mangyan
elders in Dulangan. They lived miserably under thick rain clouds and on
a land pulled asunder by the weight of the mountain above them. I was
deeply touched by the heart-breaking situation of the mangyans
in that place. And when they requested educational assistance several
months after the typhoon, I responded positively and did the best I
could to cope with the requests, despite the lack of material resources.
With nipa as roof, kakawate logs mixed with bamboo as
walls, and earth as floor, we started the education program for
children aged nine to fifteen years old in June 1992. Those were the
children who had stopped attending classes conducted in Tagalog in the
public schools. Our first week of teaching was excellent. However, as
days and months passed by, we encountered problems that greatly
affected the teaching and learning process. To give you a concrete idea
of the level of poverty that our mangyan brothers are suffering, it would be good to share with you the real situation in relation to this.
On a normal school day (Monday to Friday), during recess, the
children left the classroom for snacks. After recess the children came
back inside the classroom for the next subject. We teachers presumed
that they were having good snacks, with boiled bananas or other root
crops from the mountain. But we were wrong, because children went out
at recess not to eat but to substitute snack time with play in order to
forget the hunger they felt.
Because of the unavailability of food, the majority of the children
left their homes without having anything in the morning and even
throughout the day. The parents left the house as early as possible to
hunt for food in the mountains and returned home only after finding
something to eat for the family, such as nonpoisonous rats and frogs,
sometimes being gone for two or three days. Others work for Tagalog
lowlanders as tenants, citrus-fruit pickers, or grass cutters, and at
other lowly jobs that earn them very little: fifty pesos, or if the
Tagalog lowlander is generous enough, they could have one hundred pesos
for a full day's work. That amount is not enough to meet even the most
basic need of the family--food.
From the first social investigation done by us during June and July of 1992, we learned that some Alangan mangyans
had been awarded a piece of land in the lowlands to till, under the
agrarian reform program of the government. However, they lacked the
necessary tools and supplies needed in farming, which meant that the
land remained unproductive from the date of awarding. There were some
who courageously farmed with their bare hands and hoes, but it took
them a couple of months to plant palay seeds. Thus, the results were negative.
To survive, during the palay harvesting season of the
Tagalogs from the neighboring town (Calapan) and other municipalities
(Naujan, San Teodoro, Victoria), entire mangyan families,
including the youngest child, which the mother carried on her back,
went out and looked for newly harvested rice fields and took leftover
grains from palay stalks or from winnowed crops. When they
returned home in the evening, they pounded the mixed grains from
different rice fields and set them aside for cooking. On the other
hand, the chewing of betel nuts by children and adults was a daily
necessity. According to the mangyan, they don't feel hunger as long as they chew betel nuts. Indeed, the chewing of betel nuts is popular among all the mangyans in the province, young and old. For adults, chewing betel nuts is also a sign of social acceptance.
From the extreme poverty that the mangyans are suffering, you
cannot expect good health, a good and decent life, or a good way of
living. I could definitely say that the indigenous peoples are the
poorest of the poor. They have the lowest income levels (below
hand-to-mouth existence); many of them are unable to eat complete meals
and have very limited access to basic education, health care, and other
We know for a fact that the government, nongovernment organizations,
and the church are doing their best to help the poor. However, we also
cannot deny the fact that many remain helpless even now, and this
includes not only the mangyans of Mindoro but also the tribal Filipinos and even the non-mangyans
(Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilocano, and others) from different regions all over
the Philippines. Poverty remains one of the hottest issues in the
Philippines, and despite the ambitious development goals laid out by
the government, church, and other nongovernment agencies, the fact
remains that the country has not been able to sustain the economic
growth required to reduce poverty.
True antipoverty programs remain a dream for us. The politically
driven nature of Philippine government programs almost ensures that the
emphasis will continue to be on quick fixes or interventions that
provide high visibility and political payoffs. This is truly very sad,
given the seriousness of the situation and the implications for the
country if concerted action is not taken.
Poverty and malnutrition are at alarming levels, not only in Banilad
or the province of Mindoro, but throughout the country. Our rapid
population growth is magnifying the strain on limited budgetary
resources. The rapidly growing population is jeopardizing the quality
of basic social services, contributing to the fast and ongoing decline
in the quality of basic education; the poor, most especially the mangyans, have very limited access to primary health care, reproductive health programs, immunization, and feeding programs.
Poverty in the Philippines is most acute and widespread in rural
areas like ours. Although Manila certainly has its share of urban poor,
the National Capital Region has the lowest incidence of poverty in the
country. Nationwide, one can compare the 2007 poverty incidence rates
of 21.5 percent in urban areas with the 50.7 percent rate in rural
areas. The rural poor tend to be self-employed, primarily in
agriculture or casual labor.
Going back to our suffering brothers, the mangyans of
Mindoro, needing help and assistance with education, the reduction of
poverty, and the improvement of poor health conditions will remain a
very big challenge for anyone with big hands and hearts. Our mangyan
brothers are not merely treated by us as beneficiaries. They are
directly involved in planning, in identifying problems, and in the
implementation of what we have planned.
We came to Banilad to give formal education to mangyan
children and informal education to adults. And as a living educational
institution, we accepted from the very start the fact that the whole
matter of education was not the main priority for the mangyans--survival is. And thus, we cannot just close our eyes and sit quietly in front of our mangyan
pupils. Despite the lack of material resources, we actively stay with
them, work with them, and journey with them through thick and thin
until such a time that together we might reach our dream of having a
moral, healthy, decent, productive, and educated community.
In our country, there is so much that could help the poor, such as
giving a share of taxes to the poor, stopping the culture of
corruption, and putting an end to excessive politics. However, you and
I know that until now, these have all been abstract hopes. Nonetheless,
one with our mangyan brothers, we will never stop hoping and
believing that positive changes are bound to happen as long as we
remain vigilant and willing to speak openly with our minds.
The school's active response against poverty has been this: we have
taught children not only academic subjects but also how to make
themselves productive. In the above picture, the children are making
necklaces, rosaries, and bracelets out of beads. This is our simple way
of helping them fight hunger. Catching kuhol (edible,
nonpoisonous snails) by our teachers and students is a way of combining
survival skills and handicrafts. We can cook the delicious kuhol
meat, which is good for the children's lunch, while also using the
shells for good necklaces and bracelets or decorative wall frames.