LABO, Camarines Norte -- The Kabihug tribe, the oldest surviving tribal group in the Bicol region, no longer dwells under the trees, especially during bad weather conditions, after housing units were constructed for them through a core shelter assistance program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in Bicol.
Arnel B. Garcia, DSWD Bicol director, said to date, 70 shelter units have been built through the agency’s Core Shelter Assistance Project (CSAP) that has received support from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).
He said since the project started in 2009, 23 shelter units out of the 70 core units have been given to Kabihug families so they could cope with extreme weather events brought by climate change.
The Kabihugs, also known as Agtas, who live in the highlands of Camarines Norte, are of pre-colonial origin whose culture has been preserved through the ages.
Kabihug literally means “friend,” a cultural minority who subsists on root crops, rice and vegetables that they grow in their farms.
“Rice is often hard to come by and is readily substituted with a root crop called “dogma,” said Garcia.
He said the Agtas thrive on fishing and catching crabs, copra making, charcoal making and gold mining.
Garcia said the tribal group is known to seek refuge under big trees during heavy rains that makes their lives miserable and devoid of dignity.
“They sleep in improvised beds while taking shelter in makeshift dwellings framed in wood and roped with leaves with the hard ground as flooring,” he said.
Garcia said because of their isolation, the Kabihug tribe members have lost their network of ties with families and kin that used to provide members with assistance, privileges and protection.
“The Kabihugs, who have their own history of contact with society, wanted to be placed somewhere on a spectrum from ‘isolation to acculturation,’” he said.
Garcia said to improve the living conditions of the Kabihug tribe in Camarines Norte, DSWD-Bicol, the provincial government and the municipal government of Labo, started implementing CSAP that initially benefited five Kabihug families in 2009.
He said the project aimed to provide indigenous families with decent dwellings they could call their own.
“In fact, there were 18 Kabihug families who have signified their intention to avail of the program and be relocated to a permanent site,” Garcia said.
In 2010, UNDP linked arms with DSWD to construct another 65 core shelter units, 18 of which were allotted to the 18 Kabihug families.
Garcia said the tribal folks later realized there was more that could be derived from the project’s implementation.
Lorelie Villanueva, municipal social welfare officer of Labo town, helped organize the CSAP beneficiaries into the Neighborhood Association for Shelter Assistance or NASA.
Garcia said the beneficiaries, who were actively involved in the project’s implementation, worked collectively so they could an realize their dream of having a home they could call their own.
Doris Candule, one of the Kabihug recipients, said the house given to her family has been of big help as they will no longer move from one place to another, particularly during bad weather conditions.
“There will be no more sleepless night for us during typhoons and heavy downpour,” she said.
Garcia said following the assistance given by the government and UNDP, the Kabihug tribe is now closely working with other local communities and sharing their knowledge in community building.
He said some tribe members are now employed in the Guisican Multi-purpose Cooperative that engages them in the planting of fruit bearing trees for P250 a day.
Garcia said tribe members were also provided with disaster preparedness training and given orientation on an early warning system for different calamities.
“These trainings are helpful to them especially that they travel from one place to another,” he said.
Garcia said DSWD has provided them with around a hundred battery operated transistor radios as requested by their tribal chieftain, who said they need these as source of information, especially when there are weather disturbances.
He said that while transistor radios serve as a means for information dissemination, 70 percent of the tribe’s members have their own mobile phones. (PNA)