The Badjao: At the Edge of Utter Desolation

By: Johnny R. Lee

The Badjao, also formally known as Sama Dilaut, is a highly recognizable ethnic group because of their unique culture, their way of life as ‘nomads’ of the sea and their physical appearance of having bronze colored hair and dark brown skin which clearly distinct them from other tribes. They are mostly fishermen and hunters on the bounties of the sea.

A very gentle people and considered as the most peaceful tribal group in the Sulu Archipelago, the Badjaos can also be found in Malaysia, Indonesia and other Southeast Asians countries including northern Australia. 

In recent times, the Badjaos are seen roaming the streets of major cities of the country forced by circumstances like the protracted war in Southern Mindanao during the 80’s. The dwindling stocks of fish and fishery products, which has been their major source of their livelihood, are becoming scarce due to the entries of a huge number of modern-equipped fishing boats coming from Manila, Cebu and Zamboanga City. Staying in said urban areas are harsher because of the high cost of living which often turns them into ‘street beggars’ or mendicants and even worse become slave workers to local underground syndicates that end up as drug peddlers and prostitutes for their young women. 

What has the Philippine government done to improve their lot since they are also considered as citizens of this country? As a citizen they are also entitled to all rights and privileges that everyone is enjoying. And yet a Badjao is always last in terms of priorities and the services accorded to its citizens. A clear example is the ‘doling out’ of 4P’s in which only a few percentage of Badjaos received what they deserved. The ‘ayudas’ given-out during this time of pandemic seldom reached their food table. 

More often, the Badjaos and their communities are only used as ‘props’ for ‘photos-ops’ by unscrupulous political leaders and frontliner agencies to showcase and justify their so-called services for the poor and the destitutes. Time and again, the Badjaos have always been relegated to a second class citizen in their own country and domain. To sum it all, the Badjaos are among the most obscure, misunderstood and marginalized among Filipino ethno-linguistic groups. (To be continued on the next issue…)

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