Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Mangyans of Mindoro: Fighting the Odds

Mangyan is the general term for the indigenous people of Oriental and Occidental Mindoro, 140 kilometers south of Metro Manila. A Mangyan alliance, Samahang Pangtribo ng mga Mangyan sa Mindoro (SPMM) or Association of Mangyan Tribes , estimated the Mangyan population in Mindoro at 260,000 as of 2006, a 34 percent reduction from the 1989 estimate of the Office of Northern Cultural Communities.
Mangyans largely depend on swidden agriculture (slash and burn) for subsistence, with hunting, fishing and gathering of forest products as major supplements.

Difficult existence
Asked to describe the current situation of Mangyans, Antonio Calbayog, an Iraya and chairman of SPMM shook his head saying, “Our life is hard, miserable.” Mangyans suffer extreme poverty largely because they are losing their lands.

Like other IPs, Mangyans believe that land is not merely a piece of property to be owned or disposed of by anyone, but is part of the ancestral domain. For decades now, however, they have been driven from their ancestral lands as landlords, corporations, and even government projects take these lands away from them.
Calbayog cited government forestry projects and the 9,720-hectare Mindoro Nickel Project of Crew Minerals Philippines that constricted their areas and limited their communities’ access to natural resources they depend on. The mining company’s Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) was cancelled by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in 2001 due to overwhelming public protests but was reinstated by the Office of the President in March 2004. Calbayog said crew is set to start operations this year, which they plan to protest against.

With their source of subsistence shrinking, many are forced to leave their communities. Calbayog estimates that about 20 percent of the Mangyan population have become farm workers who are often deceived and exploited.

Military operations in the island also force Mangyan communities to flee. Aside from being caught in the midst of armed conflicts between government troops and rebels, they have become targets of harassment as the military accuse them of supporting the New People’s Army. According to Calbayog, Mangyan leaders have also become victims of extrajudicial killings, with at least four Mangyans killed in 2003-2004.

Poor, insecure, and discriminated against, it is no longer surprising that Mangyans do not have access to basic services such as education, housing and health. Lack of adequate health and sanitation services for Mangyan communities has resulted in malnutrition, illnesses, and death among adults and especially children.

The Oriental Mindoro Health Investment Plan (OMHIP) 2006-2010 admits that “public health facilities which cater to the poor are mostly ill-equipped, with inadequate supply of drugs and medical supplies. Private hospitals that provide better health care are beyond the reach of the poor.” It also acknowledges the limited access of Mangyans to health services.

In this province, respiratory diseases still rank as the leading causes of mortality and morbidity. The most common causes of morbidity are upper respiratory tract infection, bronchitis, pneumonia, diarrhea and pulmonary tuberculosis (TB). In Occidental Mindoro, acute respiratory infection has also been the leading cause of morbidity, followed by diarrhea and gastroenteritis.

Barangay Health Stations (BHS), run by rural health midwives and volunteer health workers, provide primary health care at the barangay level. In Oriental Mindoro, only 91 out of 426 barangays or 21 percent have BHS. Meanwhile, nearly 25 percent of the 162 barangays in Occidental Mindoro do not have BHS.

Oriental Mindoro has 22 hospitals, 13 of which are privately owned and nine are government-operated. Occidental Mindoro has eight government hospitals and three private hospitals.

The OMHIP contains a specialized health care program for the Mangyans with the goal of making health care services more accessible for Mangyan communities. Among the plans are special Mangyan wards in all government hospitals and provision of free medical services to Mangyan patients in all government facilities; construction of additional 25 BHS in different Mangyan barangays; and training of Mangyan volunteer health workers.

Calbayog acknowledged that training for barangay health workers (BHW) are given, but he laments that no medicines are provided. He said the common illnesses are tuberculosis, pneumonia, measles, and gastro-intestinal diseases, all of which are curable but many Mangyans still die of these. Since there are no doctors in the barangays, they have to go to the municipal health units and usually all they get is a prescription. In hospitals, even public ones, they are still confronted with biases and are often not attended to.

Moreover, even if there are BHW trainings and medicines provided, if they still go hungry, are sleepless and terrorized by military presence, then they can never be healthy, Calbayog said. A widower with six children, Calbayog cited his own experience, “I believe my wife died because of the constant stress brought by military operations.”

Due to poverty, hunger and the effects of militarization of their communities, many Mangyans are malnourished and thus have low resistance and are easily infected by diseases. With government projects and mining operations encroaching into their domains, they are not only losing their freedom of mobility but also their source of food and medicinal plants.

Health and beyond
It is not enough that local governments recognize the Mangyans’ lack of access to health services and plan special programs for them. Strategies such as those contained in the OMHIP, if at all implemented, are like mere drizzle in a parched field. As expressed by Calbayog, his people’s problems are very basic – land to till, food to eat, right to live in peace. Without securing these, social services will not reach them or make a dent on their hard life.

The overall approach to addressing IPs’ issues must change. Government policy regarding IPs has been directed at their assimilation or integration into mainstream Philippine society and at the expropriation of their land and resources for the “national interest.” Oppression has already forced the IPs to retreat deeper into the mountains where they have a much harder existence. But they are still being pursued because mountains are rich in mineral deposits and diverse forest products.
Although laws have been passed ostensibly to protect the rights of IPs, the government has supported the intrusion of commercial activities into ancestral domains. The struggle of the Mangyans against Crew Minerals Philippines is a case in point. This only shows that state policies recognizing IPs’ rights are mere lip service as IPs continue to be marginalized, dispossessed and live in abject poverty. IPs like the Mangyans of Mindoro still face a long journey towards genuine socio-economic advancement and self-determination.

By Jennie Malonzo

1. Interview with Antonio Calbayog, 14 March 2007.
2. Oriental Mindoro Health Investment Plan 2006-2010
3. “Occidental Mindoro.” NSCB Fact Sheet Special Edition, April 2005.
4. Malonzo, Jennifer del Rosario. “Indigenous Peoples.” IBON Facts & Figures, 15 April 2001.

The original article of this appeared in Health Alert Asia Pacific Issue No. 10, 2007 (Supplementary issue). For copies of the newsletter, please email Jennifer R. Malonzo is the publications head of IBON Foundation. Contact Ms. Malonzo at


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