JOSE PANGANIBAN, Camarines Norte: Kabihug tribesmen were recipients of free rides, food and health-care services for the second time courtesy of the Indigenous People’s (IP) Summit of the Department of Health (DoH) and the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP) held in this town in the Bicol Region recently.
Herbert and Dalia Magdaraog of Sitio Calibig Osmena came to the town’s covered court to avail of free health services with their children Nicole, Angelica, Macoy, Relen and baby Joseph.
The couple do not know their dates of birth because of illiteracy. Two of their five children have bloated stomach caused by malnutrition. Delia said she is happy they can have free health care. This is only the second time since their childhood that they have had medical attention just like their children.
Susan Velasco of Tabas, Labo town, and mother of a one-year-old baby said this was the first time she and her baby have undergone medical check-up and received free vitamins and medicines.
Ricky Noblesala, 24, Kabihug overall tribal chief, told The Manila Times that majority of the tribal communities, transported here from six municipalities for the IP Health Summit, were undernourished.
He said there are 540 families or 2,000 tribesmen in the towns of Basud, Labo, Santa Elena, Jose Panganiban, Paracale and Capalonga in Camarines Norte.
The Kabihug (friend) tribe is the region’s oldest surviving group of indigenous people living in the highlands of Camarines Norte. Believed to be of pre-historic origin, they have preserved their culture because they have not married lowlanders.
The Kabihug are nomads who move from one place to another and stay in makeshift houses. For their survival, they depend on root crops, rice and vegetables that they grow.
Napoleon Arevalo, DoH regional director, provided a P1-million budget for the program to deliver health services to tribal communities here as well as train the barangay (village) health workers who will assist the tribesmen.
Evelyn Jacod, NCIP director, said the IP Health Summit is covered in the joint memorandum circular of the Department of Interior and Local Government, NCIP and DoH for delivery of basic health services to indigenous cultural communities.
The first IP Summit was held in 2015 at the tribal community of Sitio Calibigaho, Barangay Osmena in Jose Panganiban, while the second and third summits were held in Buhi, Camarines Sur.
Jacob said the IPs in the region are saddled by poverty, discrimination, lack of basic services – water and livelihood – while only a few tribesmen are benefiting from the government’s collected sin taxes despite the zero balance billing policy because only a few IPs go to the hospital.
Jacob said the NCIP office is fighting for IPs’ rights and needs but allocated only a meager budget, particularly in Bicol, with about P45 million for 2017.
As of April 2016, there were 48,743 registered IPs across the region out of the 213,311 estimated population nationwide. The Agta tribal communities in Bicol are subdivided into several sub-tribes, predominant of whom are the Agta-Tabangon, Agta-Cimaron, Agta Taboy, Dumagat and the Kabihug of Camarines Norte.
NCIP records show that of the 9,007 IP Bicol families, 24,507 are male and 24,187 female.
The tribesmen in Bicol are among the 2.2 million Bicolanos belonging to the poorest of the poor out of 5.8 million population based on the 2015 census of the Philippine Statistics Authority. Rarely benefiting from health care because of their isolation, they rely on herbal medicines.
RHAYDZ B. BARCIA