Mindoro is home to the Philippines’ indigenous people, the Mangyans. The Mangyans are made up of 12 tribes each with its own language, culture, and way of life – these tribes are Iraya, Batangan, Buid, Hanuno’o, Alangan, Ratangon, Tagaydan, Bangon, Pula, Buhid, Nauhan, and Furuan.
When Typhoon Haiyan (locally known as Yolanda) struck the Philippines on 8th November 2013, Mindoro was badly hit and the Mangyans were one of the most vulnerable groups and were significantly affected. The typhoon totally damaged their traditional homes and their ‘Kaingin’ or vegetable gardens - their only source of food. Despite the huge devastation, the Government seems to have forgotten the Mangyan people, as they didn’t receive any assistance, other than that from ActionAid’s local partner Lilak.
More than a year after typhoon Yolanda, the fear of disaster was awoken once again when Typhoon Ruby made landfall on 7th December taking a similar path to Yolanda. When I learned that I would visit Mindoro to conduct a rapid assessment, I was really excited as I wanted to meet the Mangyans and hear their stories. When I arrived in the community I was overwhelmed by their kindness and hospitality. I had a chat to a group of women in Bulalacao and they were so enthusiastic to share their stories and experiences during both Yolanda and Ruby. One of the women, Ailyn Antonio, is 35 years old and has 3 children. Whilst helping her husband in their vegetable garden, she told me how they never thought that Typhoon Yolanda would be so strong or disastrous.
“We did not leave our house and we all got wet because our roofs were blown off by the strong winds. I wrapped my children up in plastic bags to protect them from rain and cold winds.”
However, in December, when they heard that Typhoon Ruby was set to pass through Mindoro, they were very scared. They evacuated to schools nearby, but the infrastructure was not safe because it is located close to a landslide area.
“We tied our roofs so they wouldn’t be easily blown away and then we went to the evacuation center.”
The Mangyans are very dependent on their vegetable gardens, which were first destroyed by typhoon Yolanda, and while the crops were still recovering, Typhoon Ruby hit in December and damaged them once again. Day to day life is like living in a battlefield with a daily struggle to raise money to buy food. The average Filipino family eats 1.2kg of rice per day, but the women here cannot afford to buy rice, so have had to adapt eat cassava, ube (purple yams) and banana harvested from their gardens.
I met a woman named Antonitte who is 21 years old and has a child. Two months ago, her 24 year old labourer husband, Rommick, was electrocuted, leaving him unable to walk properly. Antonitte now has to take on her husband’s role to earn enough money to feed her family. Sometimes she washes other people’s clothes for 70 pesos ($1.5) or joins the other women and re-harvests the leftover rice grains threshed from nearby farms. But once the harvest season is over, if there’s no laundry work, Antonitte has no choice but to feed her family with cassava and banana or sometimes even salt.
Hearing these stories really saddens me, and shows how vulnerable and marginalized the Mangyan people are. They are not able to live with dignity. The Mangyans were the first inhabitants of Mindoro and for centuries lived peacefully along the coastal areas where they fished for a living, until migrants arrived and invaded the island. The peace-loving Mangyan people soon fled to the mountains to avoid religious conversion by the Spaniards; raid by Moro pirates; and the influx of the local migrants. Around 10% of the entire population in Mindoro are Mangyans.
The Mangyans are now treated as second class citizens- like many other indigenous groups across the world. They are exploited, neglected and discriminated by lowlanders. Since most of them can’t read and write, they are misjudged as uneducated and uncivilized people.
While the government is busy investing in development initiatives to measure achieve their ambition to lead in the ASEAN development milestone, it seems that they have forgotten that indigenous people living in the mountains urgently need help. These people are still suffering from poverty and injustice. These issues threaten the bio-cultural diversity and traditional knowledge within indigenous people, social problems and gender issues, and above all – poverty.
ActionAid through its local partner Lilak is supporting women in indigenous communities in Mindoro and Antique to raise their specific concerns and lobby various stakeholders including the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP); Commission on Human Rights, and national and local government departments to address the various issues affecting indigenous women.