By Czarina Nicole Ong Ki
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has highlighted the plights of the indigenous peoples (IPs) of the Philippines during the height of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and stressed the need to provide them with equal health services, among many other things.
Ever since the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) was implemented, Mangyan IPs from Occidental Mindoro have complained that there was lack of food provisions due to government-imposed restrictions on movement.
Meanwhile, other members of indigenous communities complained that they find it hard to bring their crops to trading posts due to the proliferation of checkpoints manned by Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). As a result, their movement is limited.
Sadly, some indigenous farmers have been forced to leave their crops to rot they have no means to transport them. Without the sale of these crops in markets, the indigenous farmers have no money to purchase even their most basic needs.
At the same time, IPs are also deeply concerned about their lack of capacity to address COVID-19. Since there are only limited test kits in the country and currently only the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) and few other testing centers doing the tests, the IPs are doubtful that they will receive key health services.
The CHR said that international instruments and domestic laws protect IPs against discrimination. Under these laws, basic services including health must be afforded to all without distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference.
CHR Spokesperson Atty. Jacqueline Ann de Guia earlier said that the government needs to prioritize pending bills in Congress that pertain to better protection of barangay health workers and enhancing healthcare systems in cultural and indigenous communities.
She said that everybody deserves to achieve the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. This means access to medical services, proper sanitation, adequate food and nutrition, decent housing, and a safe and healthy environment.