In Talaingod, Ata-Manobo tribe can’t feel the 4Ps; cash aid goes to transpo

TALAINGOD, Davao del Norte  (MindaNews/15 August) —  Three years since its implementation here, the conditional cash transfer (CCT) under the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) has failed to uplift the economic condition of the Ata-Manobo tribe, a priest said on Sunday.

Fr. Larry Paqueo, head of the Sto. Nino quasi-parish, said that 4Ps cannot be sustained especially for the people who live in remote areas because motorcycle fare costs more than what they get.

The 4Ps provides each household a monthly cash grant of P300 per child aged six to 14  during the school year as long as they comply with the conditions, like 85 percent school attendance.

It covers up to three children per family.

Flora Juan, 40, who has only one child and gets P300 every month from 4Ps, said she stopped claiming her share because the amount is only good for a one way motorcycle ride from her house in Sitio Dulyan, Barangay Palma Gil, one of the three remote barangays in Talaingod.

Jomar Pugkot, 23, another resident in Sitio Dulyan, said he gets P900 as 4Ps education grant for his three children, but the amount could only buy two kilos of rice, oil and some condiments with the money.

This is because his transportation expense –600 pesos — eats most of the grant. A one-way motorcycle ride from Dulyan to Barangay Sto. Nino costs P300 per person.

The 4Ps beneficiaries are also entitled to a monthly cash grant of P500 for the health and nutrition of every child provided that they attend a family development session.

Pugkot said his family has not attended any session because it would be costly for them to travel to Sto. Nino and back to the mountains.

He said minus his transportation costs, the remaining money is not enough to buy his children school supplies and food.

Gone mad

“Our condition here is really difficult. The CCT has made our people gone mad,” he said in Cebuano.

He was referring to a relative, a mother of eight, who killed herself after claiming her grant from Sto. Nino. “She must have felt miserable when she arrived home with only two kilos of rice that could barely feed her children.”

“We want the government to provide us better programs to help us in our farms. We are asking the government to improve our roads, and establish more schools for our children,” he said.

Lolita C. Muya, school administrator of Salugpungan Ta’ Tanu Igkanugon Community Learning Center, Inc. in Dulyan, said she has not seen any improvement in the lives of the Ata-Manobos.

“Most schoolchildren are frequently absent in class because they have nothing to eat,” she said.

“When 4Ps reached this area, some of them stopped farming and depended on the cash provided by the program, although the money is intended to support their children’s’ education,” Muya recounted, adding that some parents used the money to pay for debts and buy food for the entire family.

She said that CCT is untimely for the people in Talaingod because they are not yet fully educated on how to have a sustainable livelihood, and what they actually need are farm tools, seeds and supervision of their farms.

Rat infestation

Muya said the government has not done enough to support their agricultural needs, especially in solving their problems with rat infestation which has jeopardized their subsistence since 2010.

Professor Myfel Joseph Paluga said the rodent infestation affected all their planted crops such as corn, sweet potato, taro, cassava and native banana.

Paluga is a researcher from the University of the Philippines-Mindanao who studied rat infestation in Barangay Palma Gil last year.

He cited in his study the case of Manuel and Inday Untod who have eight children, and own less than three hectares of land that  eight  could yield around 25 sacks of corn before the infestation. Their harvest, however, dropped to barely two scaks of rice after the rats acttacked their farms, Paluga stressed.

Residents said there was no sustainable support coming from the local government but barangay secretary Rene Walawala told MindaNews that last year, the Department of Agriculture distributed pesticides and corn seeds to farmer beneficiaries.

Muya, the school administrator, said the support was not enough because there was lack of supervision from the government. He said farmers instantly planted the seeds without proper management, only to be destroyed by the rodents later.

Through the parents, teachers and community association of the Salugpungan Learning Center, Manobo farmers came up with planting techniques such as planting root crops around corn plants so that rodents would would feel full before reaching the corn.

Paluga stated in his study that the Manobos developed various responses such as “the practice of eating some kinds of these rodent pests; shifting to planting abaca as cash crop, instead of the more traditional ones for subsistence; supplemental harvesting of wild abaca in the more interior areas; and developing varied rat-eradication techniques and tools.”

But Pugkot, the 4Ps beneficiary from Dulyan, said the rats are still present, adding that most of the time nothing is left to harvest in his farm.

Others not included

Marilyn Dao-an, barangay health volunteer, said only 42 of 82 families in Dulyan are beneficiaries, adding that when she raised the question of why others were not included, she was told by people from the government that the Manobos refused to answer socio-economic surveys conducted before the 4Ps implementation.

Residents in Dulyan received medical services and food donations from a group of foreign and local missioners led by the Father Fausto Tentorio Foundation, which is one of the founders of Salugpungan Learning Center; the International League of People’s Struggle; and the United Methodist Church last August 12-14.

There are some 600 4Ps beneficiaries in the entire Barangay Palma Gil which has a population of 1,345 households and 7,494 individuals based on the 2010 survey.

Talaingod is about 43 kilometers from Tagum City, the capital of Davao del Norte.

It has a land area of 46,000 hectares, which the dominant Ata-Manobos claim as their ancestral domain. (Lorie Ann A. Cascaro/MindaNews)