COVID-19 leaves indigenous peoples at a disadvantage -- CHR

The COVID-19 pandemic has left indigenous peoples at a particular disadvantage, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said.

Commission on Human Rights (Facebook / MANILA BULLETIN)

While many Filipinos in Metro Manila are grappling with their daily commute to work, the resumption of online classes for children, and worrying about how to avoid getting infected, among many others, indigenous people are struggling for access to relevant information and healthcare, the CHR said.

CHR spokesperson Atty. Jacqueline Ann de Guia said that a lot of IPs have experienced discrimination in availing themselves of health services.

They even lack access to safe water and sanitation which are crucial in preventing the spread of the disease, she added.

"Like every Filipino, they endure some of the most devastating impacts of the virus including disruption of food systems, joblessness, and of course, the threat of illness and death," she said.

In implementing any policy, program, or intervention that affect indigenous peoples, the CHR said that the government must first get their consent.

Any response given to indigenous peoples must take into consideration their traditional health practices while healthcare responders must train in their languages, De Guia said.

"In the same vein, the government must ensure that all forms of humanitarian assistance will be available and accessible to these communities, especially that most of them reside in far-flung areas," said De Guia.

The CHR said another issue is the continuous attacks against indigenous groups and the red-tagging of their tribal leaders even in the midst of the community quarantine.

A report made by the Global Witness declared the Philippines as the deadliest country in Asia for land and environmental defenders.

With the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Law, indigenous people’s groups have become more scared of being labelled as enemies of the State and the constant militarization of their communities, according to the CHR.

"The Commission urges the government to intensify protection measures to mitigate possible human rights violations against them, and to stop external settlers, private firms, and industries who are taking advantage of the present crisis, from entering indigenous peoples’ territories," said De Guia.