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The Mangyan of Mindoro - disease and malnutrition among “the poorest of the poor”

Posted: Mon, April 28, 2014 | By: Philippines



by Rosalina Melendres-Valenton

Despite the ambitious development goals laid out by the government, church, and other nongovernment agencies, the Philippines has not been able to sustain the economic growth required to reduce poverty.

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 community.

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 social services.

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.

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.

Rosalina Melendres-Valenton is president and founder of the San Lorenzo Ruiz Academy and other private schools for tribal children in Oriental Mindoro, the Philippines. She pursued master units in child psychology at the Philippine Normal University, Manila, where she also completed her specialization course for preschool children. She has devoted her life to helping the underprivileged children of Oriental Mindoro, and she has also worked as a vocation promoter since 1987. She is a Fellow at Brighter Brains Institute.

This article was originally published in the April-June 2009 issue of Dharma World - Here

To assist the Mangyans via money or supplies, contact Rosalina at sally_melendres@yahoo.com or Hank Pellissier at brighterbrainsinstitute@gmail.com

A wishlist for what the Mangyans need is listed HERE



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