02/16/2010, 00.00
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Over 15 million indigenous Filipinos suffer from hunger and government indifference

by Santosh Digal
Filipino indigenous groups live on the margins of society and lack access to basic social services, they represent approximately 10% of the population. According to a recent UN document their life expectancy is 20 years less than that of the civilized world. The bishops are asking the government for more resources for indigenous peoples, especially in education and the preservation of their cultural identity.

Manila (AsiaNews) - About 15 million indigenous people (10% of the population) suffer from poverty and human rights violations and their life expectancy is 20 years shorter than that of civilized peoples. This is according to a recent report by the UN Development Program in the Philippines. "The indigenous Filipino are fighting every day against hunger and cultural degradation - says Jacqueline Badcock, UN coordinator in the Philippines - they have no access to basic social services such as education and healthcare."

According to the document about 370 million indigenous people in the world live. These represent one third of the poor in the world, well below the poverty line. In the Philippines, the tribal groups are concentrated in the regions of Mindanao (61%) and Cordillera (33%), home to the country’s major natural resources. Because of this they are often forced to abandon their land to make way for industries and mines,  amidst government indifference, which sees tribal peoples as an obstacle to economic interests (See AsiaNews.it, 14/11 / 09 "Protesters on hunger strike against mining on Mindoro Island"). This condition leads young people to enter the communist revolutionary groups, such as the New People's Army (NPA). This is mainly active in the areas of the archipelago of the Visayas and northern Luzon and tribal groups are its prime recruiting pool.  

"The government must devote more resources to indigenous people - says Msgr. Sergio Lasam Utleg, Bishop of Laoghaire and head of the Episcopal Commission for indigenous groups - especially in education, health and preservation of their cultural identity. " "Often local governments are not interested in their needs - underlines the prelate - and force them to live on the margins of society."

The conditions of extreme poverty and marginalization suffered by Aboriginal people in 1995 led the Catholic Church to create the Philippine Episcopal Commission on Indigenous Peoples (ECIP). Its purpose is to defend the rights of minorities and to help them develop a relationship between their culture and the world. Among their initiatives a free program of informal education (nfe), which consists in teaching literacy and numeracy, considering the learning abilities of different groups of Aborigines. (See AsiaNews.it, 14/05/09 "Filipino bishops promoting education and integration for indigenous peoples).

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