“We are worried that if this will not be addressed, the outbreak will also spread to nearby communities in the Sierra Madre. We also hope that this will be disseminated to private citizens and other non-government organizations who can help the Dumagats.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Environmental and indigenous peoples’ advocates are urging the government and civil society organizations to take action on the diarrhea outbreak in the Dumagat communities of sitio Nayon, barangay Sta. Inez in Tanay, Rizal and barangay Lumutan in General Nakar, Quezon.
In an online press conference, the Network Opposed to the Kaliwa, Kanan and Laiban Dams said that based on their monitoring as of Oct. 9, Saturday, there are at least 12 who have died in Sta. Inez and five in Lumutan. Nine other Dumagats are confined in hospitals in Antipolo City and Morong, Rizal.
At least a hundred had fallen ill, the group said.
Orly Marcellana of Bigkis at Lakas ng mga Katutubo sa Timog Katagalugan (BALATIK) and regional coordinator of Tanggol Magsasaka said they began to receive reports of the diarrhea outbreak after super typhoon Karding (international name Koru) made a landfall on September 25.
He said that this is the first time that Dumagats living in communities in Sierra Madre experienced an outbreak.
Marcellana called on the local government units of Rizal and Quezon to help address the diarrhea outbreak.
“We are worried that if this will not be addressed, the outbreak will also spread to nearby communities in the Sierra Madre. We also hope that this will be disseminated to private citizens and other non-government organizations who can help the Dumagats,” Marcellana said.
They also urged the local government as well as national agencies to conduct a medical investigation to identify the scale and exact nature of the outbreak.
“This is not just simple contamination because deaths are rapid. Every two to three hours there is one infected patient dying. There was also a case where the patient was frothing in the mouth and nose,” said Gina Cabonero, program coordinator of Sandiwa Network of Advocates for National Minority Rights.
She also said that the Dumagat also followed recommendations to boil the water, even putting herbal medicines in the water but they still got infected.
“The question really is why (there are still deaths)? It means that there is poison in the water. This is worrying. Because the water is flowing in the communities, there are possibilities that other communities will be infected too,” Cabonero said.
She added that there are about 30 families who evacuated from their communities for fear of being infected.
Meanwhile, for environmental group Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment, the outbreak could be related to the environmental damage caused by the Kaliwa Dam which construction is ongoing despite the strong and continuous opposition of local residents.
They said that the recent typhoon may have triggered the contamination of the local water supply.
“The Sierra Madre ecosystem is complex, and it hosts organisms that pose a threat to human health,” said Jon Bonifacio, national coordinator of Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment.
“With the scale of ecological disruption brought about by big projects such as the Kaliwa Dam, there’s no telling what the downstream effects are in store for local communities. Unfortunately, these may include disease outbreaks, such as this,” he added.
Kalikasan also expressed its support to the call for a medical investigation, noting that the ongoing public health emergency in the community is hurting the community’s livelihoods, as sick villagers are unable to tend to their farms or go to work.
Marcellana also called on the public to support House Resolution 430 filed by Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr., which seeks to look into the reported degradation of the Sierra Madre mountain range and how to protect it.
“Protecting Sierra Madre will be a big help in avoiding the spread of the diseases. Let us all protect Sierra Madre,” he added.
The call to protect Sierra Madre also went viral in social media when super typhoon Karding hit southern and northern Luzon.
Meanwhile, Kakay Tolentino, spokesperson of the Network Opposed to Kaliwa, Kanan and Laiban Dams criticized what they viewed as “inaction” from the Marcos administration.
They called for a “strong and resolute” response on the outbreak from the government.
They also decried the presence of Marcos Jr. in the Singapore Grand Prix F1 race days after the onslaught of super typhoon Karding.
“We cannot have a president who prioritizes leisure at a time when the Filipino people are suffering. This Indigenous Peoples’ Month, what we need is a strong commitment to uphold the rights of our indigenous peoples for a safe and healthy environment, and to put a stop to destructive projects taking place in their lands,” Tolentino said. (RTS, RVO)