By Czarina Nicole Ong Ki
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has urged the government to attend to the health requirements of indigenous peoples and minority groups in the country.to protect them from the coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19).
CHR Spokesperson Atty. Jacqueline Ann de Guia said that indigenous communities all over the globe face a huge health vulnerability because of their lack of access to adequate medical and health services, poor sanitary conditions in far-flung territories, and the constant threat of land dispossession from outsiders.
“As most of our indigenous communities have little or no immunity to common diseases, a pandemic could entirely wipe out our tribes if they get exposed to the virus,” she said.
Currently, there are no confirmed COVID-19 cases among the Philippines’ indigenous peoples. However, De Guia said that steps must be taken to ensure that the numbers stay that way.
“When natural or manmade emergencies occur, experiences on the ground show that indigenous peoples and other minority groups are at risk of being excluded from humanitarian interventions. The current COVID-19 pandemic is no different. It is a state obligation to ensure that everyone receives emergency aid according to their needs and regardless of status,” she said.
De Guia urged both local and national governments to ensure that indigenous peoples have access to food, basic nutrition, and clean water, especially now that everybody needs to stay at home in order to steer clear of the virus.
“These communities are generally poorer and have fewer economic resources to buy and store food to sustain themselves while unable to work. Depleting food supply in their respective ancestral domains would prompt them to migrate regularly, thus staying at home would not be applicable to their situation,” she explained.
Indigenous groups have expressed that they continue to experience discrimination in accessing healthcare services. Most of the clinics and hospitals are also far from their area of residence.
In light of this, De Guia encouraged the government to provide them with free COVID-19 related health services.
She added that lack of proof of identity of indigenous peoples should not be used as a barrier for them to receive government services, especially food and medical attention.
“The lack of ID cards should not put our ethnic minorities at a major disadvantage,” she stressed.
While the CHR recognizes that there is high competition for health services and essential supplies all over the country, De Guia said that minority groups must not be forgotten since they are less represented in decision-making processes and have lower social and economic capital to protect themselves from the threat of COVID-19.