A high-ranking Muslim leader has appealed anew to the local givernment of Iloilo not to strip Badjaos of their dignity with their plan to transport them back to their hometowns in Mindanao.
Deputy Speaker and Basilan Rep. Mujiv Hataman added that the Badjaos cannot be deported in their own country, explaining this is only applicable to foreigners who violated the laws of the Philippines.
“There have been reports that Iloilo City has been deporting Badjaos to their home province of Sulu. Strictly speaking, you cannot deport Filipinos from one part of the country to another. Perhaps they mean to apply the long-standing Balik-Probinsya program of the government. Deportation is only for foreigners, usually those who have violated the country’s laws,” Hataman stressed.
“I urge the Iloilo City government to act with caution and care when dealing with the Badjaos, and that it should ensure that the rights and welfare of our citizens are protected and preserved,” said Hataman.
“Why send them back in a manner that strips them of their dignities? And simply sending mendicants away from its area of jurisdiction does not address the underlying problems that brought these Badjao people to Iloilo City - and other urban centers for that matter - in the first place,” Hataman explained.
Hataman urged the local government units (LGUs), the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Philippine National Police (PNP) and other national government agencies “to provide these IPs like the Badjaos with long-term solutions that protect their dignity and their rights as human beings who are citizens of the Republic of the Philippines.”
“We need to act with compassion, understanding, efficiency and integrity to stop the exploitation of our people for good,” he said.
At the very least, Hataman said the Iloilo City government can only use the Balik Probinsiya program, but it should be voluntary.
“And it (Balik Probinsiya) should be voluntary; the Badjaos should agree to go back to Sulu or to relocate anywhere they are taken to. Proper coordination between Iloilo City and the receiving local government should be maintained to ensure that they arrive safe and secure,” Hataman pointed out.
Also called “sea gypsies,” many Badjaos were displaced by decades of conflict in Mindanao.
As indigenous people whose lives are tied very closely to the seas on the Sulu coast, these Badjao live on coastal areas and make their livelihoods from the Sulu sea.