MANILA - The coronavirus pandemic has aggravated discrimination against an Ayta community in Porac, Pampanga, an indigenous people that researchers said often neglected during crises, according to a report from the University of the Philippines (UP).
The Ayta-Magdi community was blamed by lowlanders for the COVID-19 spread due to their "bat-eating" diet, said July Sumayop, independent researcher of the UP Center for Integrative and Development Studies (UP CIDS).
"Sinasabi ng mga taga-patag na sa Ayta nanggaling ang COVID-19. Nakaugat sa diskriminasyon ang pagbabawas ng mga bigas at donasyon sa mga Ayta," he said in a virtual forum organized by the UP CIDS.
(Those living in the lowlands were saying COVID-19 came from the Aytas. The discrimination led to the decline in ration of rice and other donations.)
But the World Health Organization (WHO) said the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December.
Experts have agreed the novel coronavirus, which causes the respiratory illness, had an animal origin. They suspect it came from bats, a major reservoir for coronaviruses.
The remote distance learning, Sumayop said, also discriminated the Aytas who were unable to access the required technology.
"Dahil sa pilit na pagpapatupad ng online class, hirap na makasabay ang mga katutubo dahil na rin sa kakapusan sa gadget at internet connection," he said.
(Due to the forced implementation of online class, the indigenous people can hardly keep up due to lack of gadget and internet connection.)
With scant support from the government at the onset of pandemic, the Ayta community in the villages of Camias and Planas left their homes and returned to their ancestral lands to survive the crisis.
"Dahil sa likas na diskarte at malikhain ng mga katutubong Ayta, nagpasimula sila ng mga inisiyatibo para maagapan ang pagkalat ng sakit," Sumayop said.
(Because Aytas are innately resourceful and creative, they made initiatives to prevent the spread of the disease.)
They relied on their bountiful agricultural harvest that allowed them to last the entire lockdown. They also produced face masks made out of banana blossoms, enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
To strengthen their immunity, the indigenous community dug into their traditional indigenous knowledge about medicinal plants, according to the report, made in collaboration with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Despite the minimal government assistance, in which only 27 out of 250 Ayta families reportedly received the emergency cash subsidy, they shared it equally among their members.
While generally complying with COVID-19 protocols, the Aytas considered the lockdown and quarantine alienating and strange to their culture and traditional practices.
"Instead, they adhere to and uphold principles of solidarity and caring for one another – constantly engaging in community-wide discussions to assess their needs and address them despite scant resources," said Dr. Eduardo Tadem, convenor on UP CIDS's program of alternative development.
OTHER MARGINALIZED COMMUNITIES
Aside from the Ayta community, the coronavirus pandemic also posed multifaceted challenges to other marginalized sectors. But despite the difficulties, some grassroot organizations have taken up initiatives in providing relief for their communities.
Mina Justo of Alyansa ng mga Samahan sa Sitio Mendez, Baesa Homeowners Association (ASAMBA) in Quezon City said their association started collections for a community relief fund after finding the distribution of government aid unreliable.
Meanwhile, Rowena Osal of Maigting na Samahan ng mga Panlipunang Negosyante ng Towerville Inc. (Igting), a women's micro-social enterprise in San Jose del Monte, Bulacan, said they shifted from manufacturing pouches and bags to sewing face masks as a response to consumers’ changing needs.
For Rose Hayahay, volunteer teacher of Save Our Schools Network, schools for Lumad or indigenous groups and bakwit or evacuees have managed to continue with their learning programs.
Activities that promote cultural skills and hobbies provided support to the distressed youth who could not return to their communities due to military incursions.
UP CIDS's Tadem noted that some marginalized communities were able to undertake minimum measures to address a health crisis.
"But because their own resources are scarce, and livelihood opportunities and basic public services are wanting, their
capacities to cope with a health disaster of the COVID-19 magnitude are limited and insufficient," he said.
"This is where the state and its agencies need to boldly step in, recognize and appreciate what the grassroots are undertaking on their own, and provide what the communities are in short supply of."