Indigenous people in Bicol rarely benefit from gov’t taxes, services
By Rhaydz B. Barcia 2nd of a Series IRIGA CITY --- As of April 2016, there are 48, 743 registered Indigenous People (IP) across the Bicol region out of the 213,311 estimated population nationwide. The Agta tribal communities in Bicol, are subdivided into several sub tribes, predominant of which are the Agta-Tabangon, Agta-Cimaron, Agta Taboy, and the Dumagat and the Kabihugs of Camarines Norte. Based on NCIP record, of the 9,007 IP families in Bicol, 24,507 are males and 24,187 females. Among the six provinces of Bicol, Camarines Sur has the biggest number of tribal communities with 4,799 families, or 26,199 persons (13,336 males and 12,863 females); followed by Sorsogon, with 2,231 families, or 12,127 (6,174 male, 5,953 female); Albay, with 1,229 families, or 6,947 persons (3,471 male and 3,427 female), and Camarines Norte with 774 families, or 3,470 (1,526 male and 1,944 female) kabihug tribe. Kabihug tribe is the region’s oldest and pure aborigines virtually without intermarriage practices with lowlanders. 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 2015 census of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) regional office. Evelyn Jacob, NCIP regional director in Bicol, said that the IPs in the region are confronted with poverty; discrimination; lack of basic services, specifically water; livelihood; and only a fraction of them are actually benefitting from the government’s collected sin taxes despite the zero balance billing policy, because only few IPs go to hospital. Most of them said they do not have money or could not access hospital services easily. The NCIP office, according to Jacob, is fighting for IPs’ rights and needs but was allocated only a meager budget to cater to the needs and programs for tribal communities here. NCIP Bicol has a P45,160,946 of budget allocation for 2017. “Despite the small budget given our agency, we’re mainstreaming the indigenous community so that they could avail of government programs, including free housing units; free hospitalization through zero balance bill policy and; priority lane and scholarships so that they will not be discriminated anymore,” Jacob said. She said that less than 30 percent of the indigenous people in the region are registered with Philheath and the 4Ps beneficiary program of the DSWD. One technical problem why they reportedly could not be registered with these programs is that many of these tribesmen lack middle initials in their birth documents, if any. The inclusion of IPs in DSWD’s 4Ps program, however, partly entitles them to benefits being provided through the government’s so-called sin taxes. As to small percentage of tribal communities going to hospital, Dir. Napoleon Arevalo of DOH Bicol issued a memorandum ordering the Bicol Medical Center in Naga City and the Bicol Regional Training and Teaching Hospital in Legazpi City to prioritize IPs seeking medical assistance. “Because of Director Arevalo’s memorandum, indigenous tribesmen are now included in the priority lane of the senior citizens and pregnant and person with disability because until now there is discrimination being felt against the IPs,” Jacob said. The NCIP and DOH also established the “point of care” program where liaison personnel are assigned to look into the IP’s needs while inside hospital and ensure the zero balance billing for them. She said that the NCIP wishes to efficiently deliver the needs of the IPs across the region. But limited resources constrain them to provide full service to the tribesmen. “This is the reason why until now IPs continue to be the poorest and the most marginalized sector of our society,” she said. The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) regional office in Bicol has a special program for indigenous people called Modified Conditional Cash Transfer (MCCT) intended for the so- called Geographically Isolated and Disadvantages Areas (GIDA). MCCT-GIDA aims to provide equal opportunities to indigenous cultural communities in accessing the services and benefits of 4Ps. MCCT beneficiaries are the homeless street families, indigenous people (IP), and other vulnerable families who are in need of special protection. It aims to empower, promote and protect the IPs from any unavoidable adverse effects caused by the development program. It provides cash grants and social welfare assistance to IP families not covered by the regular 4Ps. Currently, the registered and active beneficiaries of the program are 5,709 families out of 9,007 IP families. Of the total household IP beneficiaries, 952 came from Albay, 1,724 from Sorsogon, 2,814 from Camarines Sur, and 219 from Camarines Norte. For the support services intervention for partner MCCT IP families for the year 2016 and 2017, the DSWD allocated P29,778,615. This budget for MCCT covering 2016 and 2017 will be utilized until 2017 only, Sharlyn Altavano, DSWD Bicol MCCT focal person here said. The registered active beneficiaries of the MCCT under GIDA are the eligible indigenous people families not assessed by the Listahanan. The MCCT for IPs under GIDA program started last September 2014, according to Altavano. Adding that these MCCT IP beneficiaries will soon be included and mainstreams in 4Ps program. The province of Camarines Sur has the largest number of beneficiaries comprising 49.07 percent of the total registered, while the province of Camarines Norte which is home of the predominant Kabihug and Dumagats has the least number of beneficiaries, with 4.01 percent. As of February 28, 2017, there are 375,094 Bicolano 4Ps beneficiaries across the region. Out of 8,389 monitored children, 8225 are compliant to education with 98.04 percent for the month of December 2016 while 8,254 are compliant to health requirement, posting 98.39 percent this January. From 2014 to date, the government allocated P23,949,916,000 for 4Ps and MCCT program. Based on record, the DSWD has been allocated with the biggest budget in 2017 with P6,879,929,000, an amount slightly higher compared in 2014 with P6,026,264.000; In 2015, the government allotted only P5,853,000,000 and for 2016 it went further down to P5,190,723,000. Oafalas who also served as the IP representative to Sangguniang Panlungsod of Iriga representing 16 tribesmen in Rinconada area, said that the inclusion of indigenous people in 4Ps program as well as registration with Philhealth somehow ease IP’s burden for health care, particularly on pregnant women. “The inclusion of tribal communities in government’s 4Ps program is a plethora of hope among the Agta-Tabangnon tribe here,” Oafalas said. “This somehow helps us benefit from sin taxes of the government. Before, we have to go to NCIP to avail of free medical services and medicines. But with the 4Ps, the tribesmen can go to hospital, send their children to school, and avail of regular check-up, as required by the government,” he said. “At least, 4Ps program and Philhealth coverage are a big help to our communities though only a few are benefiting from the so called sin taxes,” the tribal leader here said.