A SOURCE from Libacao, Aklan said that before higher education was introduced, a certain indigenous people (IP) girl may get married at an early age of 10 years old. Hence, at an age of 15, she may give birth to as many as five children. In their culture, at an age of 18, an IP girl may be treated as an old maid already. It was said that the introduction of higher education slowly changed the culture in the area.
IPs are groups of people sharing common bonds of language, customs, traditions, and other distinctive cultural traits. According to the United Nations, there are approximately 400 million IPs worldwide, or about 6% of the world’s population making 5,000 distinct tribes. The Episcopal Commission on Tribal Filipinos (ECTF) said that there are around 6.5 to 7.5 million IPs, or 10-11% of the population, in the country in 1995.
These IPs continue to live in their relatively isolated, self-sufficient communities several decades ago. They preserved their culture and traditions as reflected in their songs, dances, and folklore. They have their council of elders who customarily settled clan or tribal conflicts to restore peace and unity in their lands.
Some of the IPs in the Philippines are Atis, Badjaos, Igorots, Ilongots, Lumad, Mangyan, Negritos, among others. The Badjao is widely known as the “Sea Gypsies” of the Sulu and Celebes seas. They scattered along the coastal areas of Tawi-Tawi, Sulu, Basilan and Zamboanga del Sur. They are expert fishermen, deep sea divers, and navigators.
Many of these Badjaos landed here in Iloilo scattering around Iloilo City. The only culturally indigenous group of Visayan language speakers in the Western Visayas Region is the Tumandok or Suludnon Tribe of Panay. The tribe is an indigenous Visayan group of people who reside in the Capiz-Lambunao mountainous area of Panay. The Karay-a people of Antique are also one part of the Visayan ethnolinguistic group. It constitutes the largest Filipino ethnolinguistic group.
To honor the identities of the IPs, Republic Act 8371 was approved into law in 1997. The law recognized the ancestral land rights of the IPs. Also, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) has formulated guidelines on the implementation of Expanded Students’ Grants-in-Aid Program for Poverty Alleviation (ESGP-PA). This program educates the poor and deserving college students belonging to indigent households. In 2014, there are 40,453 slots nationwide allotted for this program.
Out of this number, around 3,338 slots belong to Region VI, proportionally distributed into 11 state colleges and universities. The ESGP-PA aims to address poverty alleviation by increasing the number of graduates in higher education among our indigenous people or poor households and let these graduates employed in high-value-added occupations in order to lift their families out of poverty at the same time contribute to national development. The program is implemented by the CHED in coordination with the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), Philippine Association of State Universities and Colleges (PASUC), DSWD, and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).
In the first implementation of the program, no other than the Chairperson of CHED and the Secretary of DSWD came to visit and talk to some of the IP grantees and promises to provide them quality education. Four years after, the same group of key government officials came to grace the graduation of the said IP grantees. One of the positive outcomes of this program is the success of 65 examinees, with two topnotchers, from the West Visayas State University – College of Agriculture and Forestry (WVSU-CAF) in the June 2018 Agriculturist Licensure Examination. Many of these new Agriculturists are ESGP-PA grantees. Also, one ranked 5th at the national level.
There is a need, therefore, to educate more IPs to make them productive members of the society as well as lifting them from poverty.