Our stateless Badjaos PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 20 March 2016 15:03

The southerner

Rey-Luis Banagudos

A news report on Monday (March 14) said the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) has teamed up with the Philippine and Indonesian governments to provide legal citizenship to as many as 9,000 stateless Indonesians residing in central and eastern Mindanao provinces. These Indonesians are descendants of ancestors who migrated to the area as early as over a hundred years ago to as lately as during the middle of the last century, including of parents who inter-married with the native Filipinos but who until now have not legally registered themselves as either Filipino or Indonesian.  Under the UN-initiated program, any one of them may choose either citizenship.

Why has the UN embarked on such a program?“Without nationality, they cannot enjoy their human rights, including the right to freedom of movement, to formal education, to access social services and to own property,” the agency pointed out in the news report. “They have often have poor access to basic services like affordable healthcare and higher education.”

What is ironic about this news report is that majority of the estimated 400,000 Badjaos currently existing in  the Philippines, most of them in Western Mindanao, suffer from the same legal limbo.Their births are not registered with the government’s Civil Registrar Office, and so they cannot claim to be Filipino citizens. Moreover, being traditionally sea nomads, they have no land area to claim as their territory, except if and when they can claim and be granted ancestral domain rights of coastal strips where they have made their anchorage since time immemorial. And, because they are not legally Filipino citizens, they cannot own land, a major unit of economic productivity, and regular economic means is another one civil requirement forthe right to citizenship.

This status of being stateless is a major reason why the Philippine government kicks around with merciless, obvious impunity the Badjaos who were displaced by the so-called 2013 Zamboanga Siege, numbering in thousands. Uprooted by the war from their traditional enclaves along the coast of Zamboanga, they are now hamletted in so-called transitory sites, and visit to them is further restricted by the city government of Zamboanga. They live under inadequate social and economic services and opportunities. They are banned from returning to their original communities for alleged security and ecological reasons – yet these Badjaos are the most timid, peace loving of creatures on Earth, in mixed communities they don’t even send their children to school for fear of regular bullying by children of other tribes.

Hence, would they rather be abhorred beggars in the cities’ streets, or ridiculed as IDPs rolling as prostitutes, freeloaders or lazybones in transitory sites?  Do they as victims of neglect and impunity – like the other thousands of homeless families and children littering the nation’s sidewalks – have a choice? Their lack of developmental skills and education, their fatalistic culture of simple living, render them helpless and hapless to help themselves.  If that’s reason enough, why should their fellow countrymen bother to claim to profess a religion like Christianity or Islam and like majority Catholics to pray the Way of the Cross during next week’s Holy Week? Or, is it actually the “Way of the Crass?” for those responsible?