Pia Ortiz-Luis, executive director of Cartwheel PH, opened with welcoming all attendees, explaining that the title of the event is a reflection of the its purpose: to come together to learn from one another in how multiple sectors of society can improve and sustain the well-being of IPs’ respective cultural groups.
Gabriel “Gary” Romano Vargas, Deputy General Counsel and Global Practice Leader for Health of Cartwheel Foundation International, provided a primer on Public Health and discussed methods utilised by the United States for their own indigenous groups. He spoke about how the U.S. government and its own IPs collaboratively take action to nurture health and cultural heritage. Furthermore, the U.S. federal government has core functions and essential health services that serve as a guide as to how healthcare is assured and maintained within the country. Nevertheless, the federal government and the authorities of IP reserves are able to work out how the main health expectations can be while being able to maintain cultural respect to said IP groups.
Second and third speakers, Ray Justin Ventura, Chief Health Program Officer of the Bureau of Local Health Systems and Development, and Dr. Penelope Domogo, Provincial Health Officer of the Mountain Province, further explore government initiatives through a local lens.
Mr. Ventura discussed how policies for IP health, while present, have been proven to be show insufficient results. The Joint Memorandum Circular (JMC) 2013-01 was put forward to monitor successes and conflicts in the IP health maintenance. Coordination between the different government levels and IP groups needed to be strengthened, however. The JMC would later be reinforced with a multi-year Strategic Plan and the Department of Health continues to identify the gaps in its approach and the solutions to fill them.
Dr. Domogo of the indigenous Applai community in the Mountain Province further adds that the earlier education and programs the government provides for them are often not aligned with what IPs learn within their respective groups. This contributes to the toxic mindset IPs may sometimes suffer through how outsiders view them—that they are uncivilized and their customs are not worth keeping because they need to “keep up with the times.” She instead advocates that IP systems be integrated with mainstream health practices, calling for a rediscovery of traditional values, knowledge, systems and practice to recover better well-being for all. Final speaker, Loreta Sta. Teresa, Director of the Ateneo de Zamboanga University’s Center for Community Extension Services, further elaborated on concrete steps on integrating governmental policies and health standards with that of IP customs.
Ms. Sta. Teresa revealed that there are many ways where we can help enhance the well-being of IPs. She explained that well-being should not be a priority just for the community, but is ideally monitored in the familial level. She encouraged families to play an active role in monitoring the health of their members and that assisting in the documentation of family health history is a something that must be addressed by government officials. It was also suggested that officials or other well-meaning groups must approach their health assistance through a culture-sensitive manner by interacting with authorities and members of the indigenous groups. While there is a lot to be done, it will be beneficial not just to IPs but to the rest of the country when key players act accordingly.
An open panel forum moderated by Maria Teresa “Miks” Guia-Padilla, Executive Director of Anthrowatch, encouraged other attendees to dialogue with the guest speakers and gain further insight into their field of expertise. To close, Coleen Rae Ramirez-Panahon, Country Manager of Cartwheel INTL, shared an overview of what has been accomplished by the Cartwheel group through Project LUSOG (Linking the UnderServed with Opportunities for Growth and Health) in partner Tagbanua communities in Culion, Palawan, as a means of responding to the call for culture-sensitive health approaches specifically for Filipino IPs through health research, education, and partnerships.
After a final prayer and community dance succeeded the response and the event finally came to a close.
Read more about the event’s learning sessions by viewing all the speakers’ presentations here.
Special thanks to Cartwheel Volunteers, CC Yulo-Loyzaga for the writing of this article and Jerlie Sianda for photo documentation during the event.