Instead of one-time charitable acts: Address social handicaps of indigenous tribes | Inquirer Opinion

Instead of one-time charitable acts: Address social handicaps of indigenous tribes

/ 05:01 AM November 25, 2022

Last week, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) headed by Secretary Erwin Tulfo “rescued” a hundred or so Badjaos begging on the busy thoroughfares of Metro Manila. Tulfo said that he plans to give each family P10,000 to take up livelihood projects before sending them home to Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Basilan, or Zamboanga. Hopefully, he added, they’d cease their mendicant ways.

Humane acts of charity like these from government agencies are most welcome, but I’m afraid the secretary is merely encouraging them, and that we’d see more of them in the coming days.

The festering social problems related to indigenous tribes have been with us for as long I can remember. Just this July, former justice secretary Menardo Guevarra called on the National Bureau of Investigation to investigate a syndicate that shipped in more than 300 Badjaos to Metro Manila to beg in the streets. And that’s barely scratching the surface of the problem.

To appreciate the seriousness of the issue, let’s look at the literacy statistics on indigenous peoples. In 2012, there were around 15 million indigenous peoples (IPs) belonging to 110 ethno-linguistic groups (Cariño, 2012). The following data show how they’ve fared so far:


1. Less than 50 percent of the IP population have finished elementary education.

2. Nineteen percent graduated from secondary schools.

3. Only 2 percent finished college, an achievement that remains a pipe dream for the Badjaos, a sea-dwelling tribe.

The education secretary should be challenged enough to do something about the pathetic state of literacy among ethnic tribes, which may have been worsened by the lack of schoolrooms, teaching materials such as textbooks, computers, quality teachers, and budget. The result is that benighted Badjaos and Aetas have become fixtures on the streets as they beg in droves during the Christmas season. In the process, they lose their self-esteem, one of the last valuable thing an individual should hold on to.


The education department must think of a novel approach to their social problems by providing them informal education with a basic and simple learning curriculum:

1. Teach them the alphabet so they’d be able to understand simple English, write their names, and know enough to use a cell phone, the computer, and the internet.


2. Establish a village center for them with internet connectivity and an audio visual system where children and adults can congregate and access practical and useful information online.

3. If budget allows, or with the help of nongovernment organizations and the private sector, provide each family an inexpensive, even a secondhand, computer so they can learn from the internet.

We can learn from Estonia, a small country of 1.4 million composed mostly of young people, who mastered informal education and became independent and weaned from Russia. With little arable land but readily available Wi-Fi, they used their digital knowledge to manufacture exportable products. It has since become a major economy with a high GDP.

A few billions from the intelligence funds of some government offices would find much more valuable social value for indigenous tribes, rather than be used for spying on each other.

Marvel K. Tan,

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Quezon City

TAGS: Badjao, DSWD, indigenous, Metro Manila, Tulfo

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