Worsening health, hunger hound Lumad internal refugees in Agusan del Sur

Three children, with ages two to four, have died at the evacuation center.

Main story: Int’l mission document human rights violations in Agusan Sur


San Luis, AGUSAN DEL SUR – Jane Mandakyan, 37, is seven months pregnant with her eighth child. She complains of the heat during day time in the evacuation center. Her children, although actively playing, have cough and colds. Mandakyan is from sitio (subvillage) Nakadayas, Mahagsay village, San Luis, Agusan del Sur.

She is one of the 969 Banwaons who fled their community and sought refuge in an abandoned hospital in Balit village, San Luis. The Lumads are still in the evacuation site as of this writing.
“It is difficult here in the evacuation center. We could not do anything. The children are getting sick, too,” she said in an interview with Bulatlat.com.

Recurring cough, colds, measles, amoebiasis are illnesses that the Banwaons have acquired while staying at the evacuation center. Many of the children and infants are undernourished, nursing mothers have been lactating less due to lack of food.

Emerita Lor, a community health worker from the Community Health Based Services-Northern Mindanao Region, said that lack of food and proper nutrition causes the recurring illnesses of the refugees. Lor had been at the evacuation center since Jan. 26, three days after all residents of 14 sitios of San Luis left their homes.

Nutritious food are scarce in the evacuation center making children susceptible to illnesses. (Photo by A. Umil/ Bulatlat.com)
Nutritious food are scarce in the evacuation center making children susceptible to illnesses. (Photo by A. Umil/ Bulatlat.com)

Since December of last year, residents of sitio Kandiisan has started to evacuate to another village because of reported human rights violations committed by members of the 26th Infantry Battalion Philippine Army (IBPA).

The “Balit Mission,” an international solidarity mission was held on March 9 and 10 to look into human rights violations and the forcible evacuation of the Banwaons.

A medical and dental mission was also held. The mission was jointly organized by the Northern Mindanao and Caraga formations of the Karapatan, Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, Kalumaran, Kalumbay, Kasalo, and the Asia Indigenous Peoples’ Network on Extractive Industries and Energy.


When the residents of the 14 sitios fled their houses, some of them were already reportedly ill especially children.

Karapatan had documented the deaths of four evacuees.

Magarabas Tilocan, 48, of sitio Tabon-tabon said his four-year-old son Jamson already had German measles when they evacuated. Due to exhaustion and lack of food, Jamson died on Jan. 6 in a temporary evacuation site at sitio Tabanganan.

Danny Man-anito, 39 years old, another resident of sitio Tabon-tabon also said his three-year-old son Miguel was already suffering from German measles four days since Jan. 4. He died on Jan. 8 due to exhaustion and lack of sanitation in sitio Kimambukagyang where they temporarily evacuated.

On Feb. 2, 18-year-old Nayan Gallino, died of ectopic pregnancy at the evacuation site after being discharged from hospital.

On Feb. 12, Printon Saya-saya, two-years-old, died in the evacuation center in Balit after suffering from severe pneumonia.

His mother, Neneng Saya-saya, 33, of sitio Kimambukagyang, said his son were suffering from fever and cough when they left their community on Jan. 23. As they trekked from their community, Printon was exposed to eight hours of direct sun and three hours of rain until they arrived in Kilometer 30 at about 6 pm. From there, they hitched in a dump truck going to Balit village and arrived at about 12 midnight.

Health workers have noted several cases of tuberculosis among the evacuees. (Photo by A. Umil/ Bulatlat.com)
Health workers have noted several cases of tuberculosis among the evacuees. (Photo by A. Umil/ Bulatlat.com)

Printon was brought to the Talacogon District Hospital where he was confined on Jan. 24 to 28. Believing that her son’s condition was not improving, Neneng decided to turn to the tradition option and brought him back to the evacuation center, where they performed their indigenous ritual hoping to cure her son. Lor said Printon had turned purple when he was brought back to Balit.

Printon’s condition did not improve even after the indigenous ritual was performed. His fever, cough and swollen feet became more severe due to lack of nutrition and he soon succumbed to death.

“It was a sad case,” said Lor.

There are patients needing laboratory procedures like x-ray or sputum test, because many of the adult patients are suspected to have tuberculosis. But patients choose not to pursue the test due to lack of money. They also worry about where to get money for their medicine because they do not have any source of income since they evacuated. Requirements in hospitals such as certificate of indigency and birth certificates also hinder the Banwaons, even when they direly needed medical attention.

Photo by A. Umil/ Bulatlat.com
Photo by A. Umil/ Bulatlat.com

Lack of potable water

Lor said about 65 percent of the refugees had diarrhea due to lack of potable water. The refugees even chose to make do without water, just to avoid passing through the soldiers, who were encamped at a barangay office, on the way to the water source.

After two weeks, Lor said they were able to procure a hose, with the help of a non-government organization, which made potable water accessible to the refugees.

Lack of toilets and sanitation facilities had caused diarrhea among the evacuees. Lor said the evacuees have dug up common latrines, but these were barely enough for such a large number of people. “When the holes are already full, many acquire diarrhea.”

Lack of food

Mandakyan said that what makes them suffer is the lack of food. “The children go hungry. Unlike in our place where food is always available, here there is not enough food for everybody.”

Ran Las Mareas of Karapatan-Bukidnon has been in the evacuation center since January. He and his colleagues from Karapatan are helping out evacuees.

“San Luis Mayor Ronaldo Corvera gave 20 sacks of rice once and it never happened again. The evacuees consume 15 sacks per day. So the rice that the Mayor gave was good for only one day,” Las Mareas said in an interview with Bulatlat.com.

Lor also noted that the children had difficulty in recovering from their illnesses due to lack of nutritious food. “Some children, even if they no longer have fever, are still weak. They don’t play. They just look at the other kids.”

Lor said the usual food at the evacuation center are dried fish, smoked fish, canned goods and noodles.

Lor said that at one point, they had to prioritize feeding 30 children, mostly babies, because their mothers could no longer lactate.

She said the evacuees survive everyday with the help of non-government organizations and the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines.

Lor and some members of CBHS are still at the evacuation center to monitor the health condition of the evacuees. The CBHS were also able to train health workers on how to get vital signs, principles of basic health and herbal medicine. In fact, they have assigned one health worker per sitio to monitor the people’s health.

Children are always sick at the evacuation center says Emerita Lor, health worker in the evacuation center. (Photo by A. Umil/ Bulatlat.com)
Children are always sick at the evacuation center says Emerita Lor, health worker in the evacuation center. (Photo by A. Umil/ Bulatlat.com)

The evacuees also made their own huts within the compound of the abandoned hospital in Balit which serves the evacuation center. Lor said this has somehow prevented the spread of cough and colds because each family has its own space.

Lor said displacement has a great impact on the Lumads, because it removes them from what they are accustomed to and ruins their routine.

Mandakyas hopes that soon they will be able to return to their community, live normal lives, with their children back in school and eating nutritious foods. (https://www.bulatlat.com)

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