They Serve Us; They Save Us.
STOP HARASSING CHESTCORE AND COMMUNITY-BASED HEALTH WORKERS IN KALINGA!
No one can deny the vital role that community health workers have played in the survival of our indigenous peasant communities in Kalinga. Since the days of the Marcos dictatorship, they have fought side by side with us in our struggle to defend our ancestral lands, and thus our very existence as communities, against greedy corporations and oppressive regimes. They have come to the remotest of our villages to educate and train us so that we can take care of our own health, given government’s lack of attention to it. Where there are no medical professionals to tend to our ailments, there is CHESTCORE, and the knowledge and skills that it has equipped us with.
CHESTCORE, Community Health Education Services and Training in the Cordillera Region, first sent its staff to Kalinga in 1981, at the height of our communities’ struggle against the Marcos dictatorship’s Chico dams. Many of our communities then had little awareness of sanitation and preventive health care. CHESTCORE’s doctors, nurses, and educators were among the first community health workers to teach us the importance of such basic things as penning our pigs, digging latrines, and keeping our drinking water clean.
Even in this day and age, most of our communities still have no ready access to professional medical services. Although the state has established district hospitals in Kalinga, none are fully staffed or equipped, and all are poorly supplied with medicine. To consult a doctor and avail of medical treatment, we have to travel all the way to the provincial capital, Tabuk, or the capital of the neighboring Mountain Province, Bontoc. The cost of the trip alone is formidable to us, who have mostly remained subsistence farmers. It is thus a great help to have among us a significant number of women and men who can competently provide alternative medical assistance – the community-based health workers (CHWs) whom CHESTCORE has trained in five of our province’s eight municipalities, Tinglayan, Lubuagan, Balbalan, Upper Pinukpuk, and Upper Tabuk. Their services have saved many among us from dying of malaria, typhoid, dengue, measles, pneumonia, tuberculosis, other infective diseases, and infected wounds, and from continuing to suffer rheumatism and other debilitating illnesses common to rice farmers.
In recent years, however, both trainers and trainees have been persecuted by the state’s security forces. In 2006, a death squad operating under the command of the Police Provincial Director at the time attempted to assassinate CHESTCORE’s chief partner in Kalinga, Dr. Constancio Claver. From early 2007 to late 2010, the 21st and 77th Infantry Battalions of the Philippine Army either monitored the movements or outrightly interrogated CHESTCORE staff and volunteers who visited our communities, and tried to disrupt almost every training seminar they conducted. At present, the soldiers and the Citizen Armed Forces Geographical Units (CAFGU) operating in our villages keep tabs on our CHWs and harass them by accusing them of providing medical support to the insurgent New People’s Army.
State officials should be ashamed. They have not been able to ensure that government health services reach our mountain communities. And they persecute the people who have filled this gap!
It is our turn to point the accusing finger at them. We accuse them of neglect of duty. We accuse them of failing a most basic responsibility.
If the state cannot help us citizens to survive, then it should at least stop threatening our survival.
STOP HARASSING COMMUNITY HEALTH WORKERS IN THE COUNTRYSIDE!