Higaonons in Esperanza exceed targets for COVID-19 vaccination

ESPERANZA, Agusan del Sur (MindaNews / 23 February) — The high vaccination rate against COVID-19 in the 20 villages on the western side of this town can be attributed to the Higaonons’ cultural traits of obedience and loyalty to their leaders,  information officer Pauline Jaramillo-Ang said. 

Leaders of the Higaonons, the Indigenous Peoples (IPs) dominant in the area, set the example by being the first to be vaccinated, paving the way for the vaccination of majority of residents in the 20 villages that have almost reached the 70 per cent herd immunity goal of the local government unit, she said. 

Residents in Esperanza, Agusan del Sur patiently wait for their turn to be vaccinated. Photo courtesy of Municipal Information Office of Esperanza

Esperanza, whose population as of the May 2020 census of the Philippine Statistics Authority, is 59,353,  has 47 barangays. (As of February 19, 2023, the Municipal Health Office survey in the continuing vaccination drive puts the total population at 52,411). The total population of the 20 Higaonon villages in the western part of Esperanza, according to the May 2020 census is 15,883.

Esperanza has a vaccination rate of 82.25 %.  

At least 69 percent of the residents in the western villages have been fully vaccinated: 77 percent for the first dose and 61 percent in the second dose.

The western villages near the Poblacion exceeded the 100 percent vaccination while the farthest nine villages have an average of only 27 percent.

“We are vaccinated,” an elderly Higaonon couple says. File photo courtesy of Municipal Information Office of Esperanza

Dindi Remillete, focal person for the National Immunization Program at the Provincial Health Office, said the reason why some villages near the town center have exceeded more than 100 percent vaccination rate is because some residents from the far western villages availed of the vaccination there.

Booster shots however  are notably low with the highest in Barangay Hawilian at 20 percent and only 1 percent in many of the villages.

Information officer Ang narrated that their campaign for vaccination against COVID-19 was successful because as soon as the campaign rolled out, 20 members of the Higaonons’ Council of Elders in the western part of the town were the first to get the jab. 

She said Higaonons are expected to follow orders without question because that is part of their culture. “They’re not as brave or as aggressive as some of the other Lumads (Indigenous Peoples or IPs),” Ang said, adding that Higaonons are not only submissive, but also peaceful and unconfrontational people who value unity over conflict within their society.

During an IP council meeting in the first quarter last year, then mayor Leonida Manpatilan, a Higaonon herself, urged the elders to be the first to be vaccinated to  set an example.

Then Communications Secretary Martin Andanar in his TV show “Network Breaking News” asked the mayor if the Higaonons would go for vaccination and she assured him they would.

The mayor’s appeal to the leaders to be models for COVID-19 vaccination was unanimously approved by the council because then councilor, Deo Manpatilan Jr., the mayor’s son, was already the supreme chieftain. 

Dr. Maria Theresa Cacal-Labiao was the first to give a comprehensive presentation to the IP leaders on the importance of vaccination. 

The mayor’s appeal to the leaders to be models for COVID-19 vaccination was unanimously approved by the council because then councilor, Deo Manpatilan Jr., was already the supreme chieftain. 

Deo Manpatilan, Jr. is now the mayor of this town. (Chris V. Panganiban / MindaNews)

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