In the remote Singnapan Valley where caves become abodes during the rain, one can find the indigenous community of Tau’t Bato. A sub-group of the Pala’wan ethnic group, the Tau’t Bato is among the communities in Geographically Isolated and Disadvantaged Areas (GIDA) where even the delivery of basic services is a big challenge. However, the Modified Conditional Cash Transfer (MCCT) accepts this challenge.

Reaching Sitio Singnapan – the gateway to the Tau’t Bato community – requires a day of hike up and down the rough and steep landscape of Mount Mantalingahan. Because of the isolation of the valley, the Tau’t Bato community runs on simple, if not scanty, living conditions. Their houses are made of bamboo and rattan straw only while the caves up the basin serve as their houses during rains. Their diet consists mostly of root crops, wild leaves, and bats. Diarrhea and measles are among the most common diseases that plague the community. In addition, malaria risk is very high year-round.

Under the governance of the municipality of Rizal in Palawan, the community receives occasional services from the local government such as medical missions and civil registration. However, because of the challenge of reaching the community, even the local government agrees that the Tau’t Bato deserves more.
Paving the way

The Tau’t Bato is one of the indigenous cultural communities being catered to by the Modified Conditional Cash Transfer for Indigenous Peoples in GIDA (MCCT-IPs in GIDA) implemented by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). It is part of the efforts of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program to include the most vulnerable and disadvantaged sectors such as homeless street families, families in need of special protection, and IPs in GIDA.

Dormin Tamu, a Panglima or a member of their tribal council, shared how the inclusion of their community in the program allowed them better access to local government services. “Noon, wala pang serbisyo ng gobyerno ang nakarating dito sa amin. Simula nang dumating ang programa, dumating na rin ang iba’t-ibang tulong (Before, government services did not reach us. When the program came, other types of assistance started to arrive as well),” Panglima Dormin narrated.
MCCT for IPs in GIDA aims to facilitate the establishment of accessible and suitable delivery of healthcare and alternative educational services to extremely remote communities. Using the conditional cash transfer scheme, the program encourages indigenous cultural communities to avail of health services and alternative modes of learning.

This, in return, urges the local government to provide such services.

Embracing the changes

Literacy is low among the Tau’t Bato. Jonathan Daklay, one of the two persons from the community who finished high school with the help of missionaries, serves as the teacher to the community. He teaches literacy and non-formal education not only to children but to willing adults as well.

Dati, akala ng mga kapwa ko katutubo ay nakakasira ng kultura ang pag-aaral. Pero simula nang pumasok ang Pantawid, hindi na ako nahihirapang ipaintindi sa kanila na mahalaga ang pag-aaral dahil nirerespeto ng programa ang mga kaugalian namin (Before, my fellow IPs believed that education destroys our culture. But when Pantawid came, it’s no longer hard for me to make them understand that education is important because the program respects our heritage),” Jonathan shared.

Jonathan also shared that since the community does not have a school, he conducts his classes inside their house. This changed one day when the parents in the community helped hand-in-hand to build a classroom with bamboo roofing and nipa walls, tied only with rattan straw, for the community to have their own school. This, for him, is the turning point in the community’s acceptance of education.

Now Jonathan knows that he is not alone.

Manglino Laan, one of the beneficiaries of MCCT in the community, also shares how happy they are that the program reached the Tau’t Bato. He shared that being one of the few who know how to read and write, he teaches abakada to the children. With MCCT around, encouraging them to study became easier. “Nakikita na namin na importante sa aming mga katutubo ang makapag-aral ang aming mga anak para matuto silang makabasa at makasulat (We now see the importance for us IPs that our children become educated so that they would know how to read and write),” Manglino shared.

The community’s perception of healthcare has also changed through time. Pregnant mothers are now willing to be checked-up by the municipal midwife who frequents the community. More children also undergo regular health monitoring and avail of immunization. This, according to the barangay health workers and their Panglima, could be attributed to the joint efforts of MCCT and the local government to encourage the Tau’t Bato.

‘No one left behind’

According to DSWD Secretary Corazon Juliano-Soliman, it is important that the indigenous cultural communities in GIDA are included in the program because it enables the beneficiaries to have access to health and educational services despite geographical challenges.

“Conditional cash transfer is proven to be among the most effective poverty alleviation strategies in the world, and including the most vulnerable sectors such as IPs in far-flung communities would mean that the program will leave no one behind no matter how challenging [the situation]. It makes the CCT work for them,” she added.

MCCT now has 218,377 household beneficiaries nationwide, 163,950 of which are indigenous peoples in GIDA.

The Tau’t Bato community, once regarded as unreachable, now believes that the day will come when every child and every Tau’t Bato would no longer need to walk for hours to get the services they deserve. As MCCT for IPs in GIDA extends a hand of service to them, the community extends theirs wide open – with their culture and heritage still intact.