Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Volume 2, Number 44               December 8 - 14, 2002            Quezon City, Philippines







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The Badjaos: Proud and Ridiculed

These Badjao beggars are a far cry from the Badjaos we know those who belong to a proud tribe that stubbornly resisted the onslaughts of Spanish colonialism and American imperialism, and were able to preserve the way of life bequeathed to them by their ancestors in the face of a massive deculturization carried out by the country's conquerors.

By Alexander Martin Remollino 
Bulatlat.com

Badjao children

My brother told me recently of a woman who knocked on our gates one day. The woman, he said, was either in her late 30s or early 40s. She had copper skin and golden brown hair. She is a Badjao, the woman told him. She was asking for whatever help that could be given her. She had left Mindanao because of a calamity that destroyed their homes and livelihood.

As my brother was telling me this, I recalled having been approached on the street once by two young men with copper skin and golden brown hair. They were asking me for alms. They are Badjaos, they told me, and they had left Mindanao because life there had become too difficult to be bearable.

Both happened within recent memory; they both happened under the present administration.

Knowing the Badjaos to be natives of Mindanao who have insisted on staying there and living the way they have always lived in spite of the temptations of what city dwellers call modern "civilization," those who would hear these stories might be surprised to know that some of these Badjaos have gone to as far as our hometown in Laguna to beg for alms.

But the Pacita Complex in San Pedro, Laguna, is not the farthest Badjaos have gone to; many of them are already in Metro Manila, and some of them have reached as far as Baguio City, imploring the mercy of passersby, asking for even just a few coins.

A far cry

These Badjao beggars are a far cry from the Badjaos we know -- those who have impressed both fellow Filipinos and foreigners for their hardihood, their skills as pearl divers, with nothing but daggers between their lips; with their bare eyes, without any diving equipment, they could scour the farthest, darkest depths of the seas and come back with the most beautiful pearls.

These Badjao beggars are a far cry from the Badjaos we know those who belong to a proud tribe that stubbornly resisted the onslaughts of Spanish colonialism and American imperialism, and were able to preserve the way of life bequeathed to them by their ancestors in the face of a massive deculturization carried out by the country's conquerors.

Today, many of them are in the streets, thousands of kilometers away from their native Mindanao, begging for alms. Along with other indigenous peoples (IPs), mostly Aetas and Igorots, they are seen in large numbers in the streets of Metro Manila during Christmas.

Bayani Fernando, chair of the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA), has threatened with arrest these indigenous people. According to him, they cause traffic.

Henry Borreo, a member of the National Council of the Kalipunan ng mga Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (Kamp), condemned the statements of the MMDA chair in a recent press conference.

Unmerciful attacks

"After Fernando's unmerciful attacks on vendors these past months, we indigenous peoples who are among the most abused and neglected citizens of this country are now his targets," Borreo said. "We do not say that begging should be tolerated but the issue of dire poverty, the lack of basic social services, unemployment, and the massive displacement of IPs from their ancestral lands -- these are the issues that government officials like Fernando are obliged to address, not the subjugation of the poor."

He went on to enumerate the factors that have driven indigenous peoples to beg in the streets: in the case of the Aetas, their having to remain in resettlement areas with no means of livelihood; in the case of the Badjaos, the destruction of their livelihood due to the entry of big fishing corporations; and in the case of the Igorots, the exploitation of their land by foreign energy and mining corporations.

Remembering the young Badjao men who approached me one day, and thinking of the Badjao woman who knocked on our gates another day, all to beg for alms, I can only surmise how many people must have ridiculed them. But did those who mock the Badjaos ever think of asking the government why, in the first place, they who hail from a proud tribe are now in the streets, begging for the mercy of people they do not know? Bulatlat.com


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