A tribal community of 140 families who lived in isolation in the jungles in the tri-boundaries of Davao del Norte, Bukidnon and Agusan del Sur is getting help from government for the first time in their lives.
On Friday, I joined Davao del Norte Governor Edwin Jubahib, Congressman Pantaleon Alvarez, Mayor Tess Timbol and Maj. Gen. Ruben Basiao of the Army’s 10 Infantry Division to meet members of the tribe in Barangay Gupitan.The engagement, where the members of the tribe received food supplies from government, happened in a point in the jungle where the road ends, literally.
From there, the tribal people will have to walk back to their village for another 6 hours.Discovered by a long range patrol of the Philippine Army in Feburary 2019, the members of the Ata-Manobo community lived isolated deep in the forests surviving on the seasonal Ata rice, cassava and camote that they grow in the open areas of the forests.Children grew up without knowing what a school is and worse, they did not even know that there is government or even the faintest idea of what government is.
Their only contact with outsiders was when cadres of the New People’s Army, many of whom are also members of the Ata-Manobo tribe, occasionally strayed into the forests.The Army Long Range Patrol first reached the village by accident as they pursued members of the New People’s Army who operated in the area.Gen. Basiao said it took sometime before the members of the tribe became comfortable with the presence of the armed soldiers of government.
They lived in huts made out of tree barks and round tree branches with leaves as their roofing which they had to change every time the rainy season comes.Only the elders and able-bodied men of the village had gone out of the village to sell fiber harvested from the native Abaca which grows naturally in the forest.Carrying 15 to 30 kilos of Abaca fiber on their backs, the men walked for 2 to 3 days to reach San Fernando, Bukidnon where their produce is bought for P50 per kilo (instead of P90 to P100 which is the prevailing price).”Asin ang pinaka-una namo paliton, asukal, kape ug kung naay mabilin, makapalit mi ug tabako,” tribal leader Bansing Balamban told me.(Salt is the first thing we biy, sugar, coffee and there is extra money, tobacco.)
Since the discovery of the village in February 2019, change had slowly come to the tribe.Children, especially young girls who were found half-naked, were given clothes while able-bodied men have been engaged by government to guard their village with a small compensation.
Gov. Jubahib, the former bus conductor who won as Governor of Davao del Norte in 2019, is now building a road leading to the isolated community.Cutting through mountainsides, the road has already stretched for about 60 kilometers but the village of the Ata-Manobo “lost tribe” is still a good 30 kilometers deep into the jungle.
Government support is either carried on the back of the tribesmen or flown in by Air Force helicopter.Army soldiers now act as the first teachers of the children in the community.My encounter with these tribal people who were never touched by government in their lifetime was an emotional awakening for me.
How many more Filipinos are living out there in the remote areas of the country who do not even know that they are entitled to receive schools, water system, health services and even 4Ps funds?How many more Filipinos live silently in pain and hunger while the privileged squander, if not steal, government funds, a tiny fraction of which could have changed the lives of these people?
This week, the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) Beauty & Bounty of Mindanao Media Team will feature a video presentation on the “Forgotten Tribe” following our visit to the edge of the jungles.It is my hope that this video production will jolt us people in government to the reality that we should stop posing for pictures every time a road section is built to show what we have accomplished.There is a lot more to be done, many more Filipinos who have long waited for government to touch their lives.