by Johnny R. Lee, Ph.D.
During the first International Conference on the Sama Dilaut held at the Mindanao State University-Tawi-Tawi College of Technology and Oceanography (MSU-TCTO) in Tawi-Tawi on December 1, 2015, Atty. Lorenzo Reyes the then Chancellor of the MSU-TCTO stressed that ‘it is high time for the government to address the plight of the Badjao to correct the neglect and historical injustices it has committed towards the ethnic group’. He surmised that “It is not just their citizenship issues but their economic status as a people as well”.
A number of other academicians who attended the conference have expressed their ideas and concerns with regards to the plight of the Badjaos. Jesuit priest and anthropologist Fr. Albert Alejo said that governments cannot just turn a blind eye to the plight of the Badjao. ‘Let’s acknowledge it. It is a difficult problem and there are many theories and recommendations that did not work,” Alejo said. Leslie Bauzon, chairperson of Division VIII of the National Research Council of the Philippines (NCRP-DOST), supported the idea that the Badjao community should be empowered and capacitated, especially on their rights as indigenous people under the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA).
But sad to note, all these wonderful ideas, opinions and recommendations barely reached the attention of concerned government entities and nothing concrete came out from it.
Since the government can barely provide for their basic needs, this writer would like to lay on the table some important and relevant measures that may be of help to improve the stagnant if not deteriorating social status of the Badjaos within our midst.
First and foremost is giving them education. It is a well-known fact that only a handful of Badjaos have reached the tertiary level of education. Education is empowerment and a tool to capacitate an individual. Because of poverty and lack of means to send them to schools and be educated like a normal citizen, the Badjao children can only reach a certain level of education and instead opted to stay at home to help their parents scour the seas to augment their day-to-day needs, especially food for their family. They should be given equal and if not preferential treatment in availing the government’s program like scholarship for Indigenous peoples and the so-called the 4Ps.
To be at school, the Badjao children has always been behind their local counterparts because it takes more than just a personal presence in the classroom – where one has to be properly dressed, with minimum school supplies (paper, notebooks, pens and pencils) and a little pocket monies for their snacks and other stuffs that could hardly be met by a Badjao parents. (To be continued in the next issue…)