The Mabaca tribe
After eight hours walking, we finally reached the community. Barangay officials, health workers and residents met us. The people were very hospitable, friendly, and easy to get along with.
The Mabaca people’s main source of livelihood is agriculture. They produce rice, coffee, legumes, vegetables and fruits. They also raise chickens and native pigs, and fish in the nearby rivers. They sell their products like native coffee and handcrafted baskets outside the community.
There was no cellphone signal and no television reception. The community is energized only a few hours during the night. The electricity is not supplied by the National Power Corporation (Napocor), but by a 25-kilowatt micro-hydro power plant that supplies power for 35 households. The power plant was constructed by the Montañosa Resource and Development Center (MRDC), Montañosa Relief and Rehabilitation Services (MRRS) and the Center for Development Programs in the Cordillera (CDPC). The power plant is operated and maintained by the community members who contribute minimal monthly dues. The electricity generated also powers the rice mill, operated by the community’s youth who do so in exchange for a small share of the milled rice. In June of this year, the community also set up a blacksmith shop that produces farm tools.
The area has been tagged by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) as a base of the New People’s Army (NPA). The residents are worried about the military presence. From time to time, their houses are searched for any subversive documents, guns, or anything else that would link them to the rebels. Many of them have been questioned and harassed. They told me the story of Jeffrey, 32 who was killed on August 21, 2006 while he was gathering firewood. The people of Mabaca strongly suspect that the military was behind the killing.
Government health services hardly reach this community. Ill patients who need a physician’s intervention are carried on improvised blanket stretchers for eight hours to the hospital. According to them, most opt not to be brought to the hospital for lack of money.
The residents depend on their midwives and barangay/community health workers for consultation. It is through the initiatives of NGOs and the residents that health services and health trainings reach them. You can see in the people’s faces their gratitude that health activities were to be conducted in their own community.
During the first two days, we helped the Chestcore staff conduct a review for the community health workers (CHWs). The CHWs are volunteers willing to help improve their community’s health situation without any compensation. They came from various backgrounds — young and old, married and single, men and women.
The review dealt on first aid, herbal medicines, physical assessment and diagnosis, rational drug use and acupuncture. The community clinic held the following day was another experience I would never forget. We helped the CHWs in conducting medical check-ups. Aside from taking the medical history and physical examination, the CHWs were also expected to come up with their own diagnosis and treatment plan. A group of CHWs also sutured the wound of a farmer.
During the medical mission, there were cases of ulcer, muscle and joint pains and cough. Other prevalent complaints were hypertension, upper respiratory infection, skin diseases and pneumonia.
We encountered several cases of epilepsy. One suffered third-degree burns after falling on their indoor fireplace during an episode of seizure. One young man suffered several episodes of seizure while waiting for his turn to be interviewed. He was accompanied by his elderly neighbor as his parents were busy in the fields. These patients were unable to get any anti-seizure medicines for several months, since the Municipal Health Officer resigned due to local politics.