This was the consensus of the more than 50 Muslim and Lumad leaders from Region 12, or Central Mindanao, who attended a two-day discussion intended to come up with “specific policy recommendations toward a more responsive birth/civil registration system among Filipino Muslims and Indigenous People (IP)”.
The participants to the National Statistics Office-sponsored gathering since Thursday disclosed that “majority of the IPs and Muslims who are poor are those who often fail to register their newborn and already grown children”.
“Financial aspect is a big factor for the Lumads’ failure to register their birth,” said Bae Florie B. Rapista, Tribal Affair Assistant II in Cotabato Province. She said she would “strongly recommend that our government must provide mobilization for deputized ‘birth registration agents’ like the NCIP (National Commission for the Indigenous People) staff and Barangay Health Workers”.
Her view was shared by Marino B. Icdang, a leader of Bagobo-Manobo tribe who also works as the executive assistant of the provincial governor of Cotabato. Icdang said that government should offer “at least six months free registration of birth and marriages, considering that we, the IPs are poor”.
Aside from poverty, the Muslim leaders also said that “lack of awareness on the relevance of birth registration is a major factor why many Muslims are not registered”.
NSO Regional Director Jaime S. Paller said that “physical barriers in terms of geographical location, social and cultural barriers and legal issues are [likewise] hindrances to effective registration of birth among Lumads and Muslims”.
Birth registration is a child’s right under Article 7 of the UN Convention of the rights of a child which the Philippines has adopted. It states, “the child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right to name and acquire nationality…”
Paller said that birth registration “is necessary for our children to enroll in schools, and when they grow up, they can vote, be employed, open bank account, get various licenses, and avail of benefits like Philhealth, tax exemptions, etc.”
The participants had agreed that the promotion of the birth registration should not solely rest on government, but also on various sectoral groups.
The gathering was held at the Phela Grande Hotel here.
The region comprises the cities of General Santos and Cotabato and the provinces of Saragani, Sultan Kudarat, North and South Cotabato.