Self-isolation a customary practice . . .
Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, recently noted that self-isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic has come naturally to some Indigenous groups. For her own people, the Kankana-ey Igorot, and other groups in the Cordillera region of the Philippines, closing off communities is a customary practice represented by a number of names: ubaya, tengau, or tungro. Ubaya is usually enacted during planting and harvesting seasons, but has also been used during past epidemics. Local customs and traditional knowledge allow for group support systems to take over, including the sharing of food, resources, and labour, and liberal use of words like kasiyanna, meaning ‘all will be well.’ These self-isolation measures have helped keep Indigenous COVID-19 numbers low (approximately 20) compared to national numbers (6,710).
‘Enhanced Community Quarantine’ threatens food security . . .
But difficulties remain for the country’s Indigenous groups, which make up about 10-to-20 per cent of the national population and occupy 26 per cent of the island nation. President Rodrigo Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’-inspired COVID-19 responses, including the strict ‘Enhanced Community Quarantine’ throughout the country, have made it difficult for some groups to access hill farms, harvest food in traditional forests, or fish. And for the thousands of internally displaced Indigenous people, particularly from the violence-stricken Mindanao region, COVID-19 lockdowns have exacerbated ongoing challenges including food security, decreasing income, limited health services, and cramped housing.
Slow government support . . .
Government food relief efforts have been slow to reach Indigenous communities throughout the country. And some communities that have received relief supplies have reported receiving less than their non-Indigenous neighbours. Like in Canada, a number of Indigenous organizations in the Philippines are involved in response efforts and work with different levels of government to co-develop policies. For example, BAI Indigenous Women’s Network, KATRIBU, and the Cordillera Peoples Alliance have been delivering and calling for increased support in the form of testing in their communities, food, medicines, and personal protection equipment. The Department of Agriculture, meanwhile, has called on Indigenous peoples throughout the country to turn their “idle” ancestral lands into agricultural and livestock farms to support the country while it is under lockdown. We will be watching to see how communities respond to this request.
- Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact: Philippines: Indigenous Peoples will die of hunger not with COVID-19
- Inquirer.net: DA’s plea to IPs: Convert idle ancestral lands into farmlands amid ECQ
- Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: COVID-19 yet another challenge for Indigenous peoples