SOMETIMES we could just wonder why it took so long.
Thursday afternoon, President Rodrigo R. Duterte met with more than a thousand leaders of indigenous peoples at the Panatagbo alang sa Kalinaw og Kalambuan held at the Naval Forces Eastern Mindanao covered court.
It's the first such meeting ever by a Philippine president.
Having been frequently covering IP villages, we see how little it takes to stir them to communal and community action, usually by just visiting them and bringing some materials they can work with. True, it may take some time to see results as what anyone can expect from people who have long been relegated to the sidelines, ignored. But a little prodding here, a major teaching there, and soon after, they would be all ready to present the model farm, the livelihood project, or whatever it is in its working form. But, as those who have been working in far-flung IP villages would lightheartedly remind you, just don't go into any livestock fattening because of the tendency of livestock to get sick or die just before the village fiesta. After all, livestock are there for the eating...
Most other programs that hone their skills and knowhow will be welcomed with pride in their strides and a million handshakes and speeches with the visitors.
That it took this long for that token meeting underlines what ail our society. The poor have been used as backdrop for political ambitions, nothing else. And as a result of decades of this kind of treatment, they have festered in their state of poverty, willing to accept scraps, not knowing what else to do.
As we have realized almost a decade ago in a visit to a sloping agriculture program of a non-government organization (NGO) in the upland villages of Marilog, Davao City, the IPs, specifically the Matigsalugs there were left with barren lands and no knowhow how to tend to their farms. They were forest-dwellers, they lived on the riches of the land. Their "botica" was the forest, their grocery was the forest. They got everything they needed there except for the rice and corn that they till in swidden farms, that in those times were still sustainable since after a few plantings, they move to a new place allowing nature to heal the cleared area and regain nutrients. Not anymore. Leaving one's plot these days will mean some other people will get it, and there's not much land you can move to anyway.
The logging companies moved in, took away all the forests, and left the area with the IPs losing their botica and their grocery.
So they planted and planted and planted, with no one telling them that soil nutrients have to be nurtured for it to bring about the harvest they have once enjoyed.
The sloping agricultural land technology was first brought to their attention and knowledge 30 years since the technology was developed. And then they understood why their soil was becoming less fertile, and then they learned how to make a multi-crop farm. Before that, they were left to their own devices, the indigenous knowledge of their ancestors no longer applicable to the logged-over areas they were left with.
At that time, one question on top of our mind was, "Why did it take so long?"
The same question now is asked, and our answer is, as it was before: Because no one cared enough to do so before.