Sierra Madre tribesmen join barangay polls
LUCENA CITY—Desperate for government attention to address their plight, members of the indigenous tribe in Sierra Madre in northern Quezon province have joined the race for barangay (village) seats on October 28.
Ramcey Astoveza, Agta chieftain, said tribal elders have encouraged their members to offer themselves as candidates in the village polls.
“If we want to make our voices heard, we might as well seek government positions through election, even in the barangay level,” Astoveza said in a phone interview on Monday.
He said one Agta member has so far filed his certificate of candidacy for barangay captain in Barangay Lumutan, General Nakar town, while several other tribesmen have also decided to run for barangay council seats in the nine mountain villages of General Nakar, located at the foot of Quezon’s section of the Sierra Madre.
“We expect more to follow, either as village chair or barangay councilor,” he said.
Astoveza said more than 2,000 Agta voters in General Nakar reside in nine mountain villages.
He lamented that the indigenous people are still voiceless and lack representation in local governments despite a government order.
Astoveza noted that more than two years after the Department of the Interior and Local Government ordered barangay and municipal councils to include representatives of indigenous communities in their respective legislative bodies, the order had yet to be implemented due to the lack of local budget for the purpose, lack of office space and “other petty reasons.”
Section 16 of Republic Act No. 8371 (Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act of 1997) gives indigenous peoples the right to participate voluntarily in policy making, especially policies that may directly affect their lives.
Astoveza said they have long been fighting to be allowed to participate in local government affairs to protect their interest.
“But our efforts were often ignored because of petty partisan politics,” Astoveza said.
Two tribe members once joined past local elections as candidates for town council members in General Nakar. Both of them lost in their bids.
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