Saturday, July 10, 2010

Ako Bicol Chair Zaldy S. Co Vows to Uplift the Lives of Bicolanos in the Countryside

Agta children of the Oyango tribe in Sta. Teresita, Iriga City proudly display their school bags handed over by members of Ako Bicol party list who also doled out food stuff and school supplies.

IRIGA CITY --- While the Bayan Muna and other leftist groups in Bicol region strongly contested before the Commission on Elections the proclamation of three nominees of Bicolano’s homegrown regional political party, Ako Bicol chairman of the board, Elizaldy “Zaldy” S. Co vowed to continue implementing programs that would uplift the lives of the Bicolanos in the countryside. 

Co along with the nominees of Ako Bicol, lawyers Rodel Batocabe, Pido Garbin and Christopher Co visited the cultural minorities in a remote village of Iriga City to personally hand over school supplies for children and food assistance to the Oyango tribe here.

The Oyango tribal group in Sta. Teresita village in Iriga City originally dwelled on top of Mt. Asog in this city but they now reside within the 1.5 hectares land purchased by the provincial government. The Oyangos welcomed happily the assistance to them by Ako Bicol, the children especially gleeful over the goodies. 

The tribe epitomizes the whole of the Agta population in Bicol region, a fact that interested journalist and photographer Ricardo Perez, director of the Instructional Media Center of the University of Nueva Caceres based in Naga City, and made him pursue and document the tribe's story in his series in this newspaper titled “The Oyango Odyssey.” 

Co, when asked by Bicol Mail why he opted to visit the tribal community said that he wanted to see and reach out to the poorest of the poor communities personally to come up with holistic approach programs to address the pressing issues affecting among the cultural minorities. 

“They (Oyango tribe) represent the poorest of the poor Bicolanos. They’re the symbol of our roots. Since I graduated from the seminary in 1992 during my secondary education, I promised to extend assistance whatever I could as part of my advocacy,” Co told Bicol Mail.

Co, 40, chief executive of the Sunwest Group of Companies, like his late father Delfin Co, who established the Delfin Co Foundation to support the education of the poorest of the poor specifically poor but deserving students in Bicol said that holistic programs should be done to truly uplift the lives of the poorest of the poor communities in Bicol. 

After handing over food assistance and school materials to children, Co and his group inspected the site of Oyango tribe where he vowed to put up a solid multi-purpose hall, water facilities and livelihood programs for parents for them to generate income and support the needs of their children. 

“We will assist the educational needs of Oyango tribe and other cultural minorities in the Bicol Region, particularly from the communities at the foot of Mt. Asog in Iriga City but we should address first primary concerns like their daily subsistence. We, in Ako Bicol, have decided to assist in the educational needs of children of our cultural minorities after I’ve personally observed their needs. It is unfortunate that these children could not even finish primary schooling due to extreme poverty,” Co lamented.

He also directed party workers to visit these communities and evaluate the needs of the children to ensure that no child of school age would be deprived of basic primary education. 

Likewise, he directed them to study possible livelihood opportunities for the community and look for ways to improve the delivery of basic social services here. 

Co stressed that it has been his personal advocacy to help out the educational needs of poor but deserving Bicolano youths as an effective way of combatting poverty. 

Currently, Ako Bicol has thousands of scholars enrolled in the different colleges and universities across the region including vocational and training schools.

However, it has only two Aeta scholars, Divina Nagrampa and Bernard Ballesteros, who are taking up midwifery and criminology courses, respectively. The two were given immediate scholarships by Ako Bicol after their tribal chief Perdo Sentillas, interceded on their behalf.

Sentillas admitted to Bicol Mail that majority of children among the cultural minorities do not go to school due to poverty.

In the 2007 population survey conducted by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples in Bicol, the Agta population reached to 46,841 people consisting of 8,968 households with 23, 579 males and 23,262 females scattered in 183 tribal communities across the region. 

According to the study of NCIP office, the Agta population are in Camarines Norte with 24 registered tribal groups in seven municipalities while the province of Sorsogon account for 44 tribal communities scattered in six towns. The province of Camarines Sur has the largest concentration of Indigenous Peoples with 85 tribal communities located in 12 municipalities and one city while Albay has 28 tribal communities found in five towns and one city.

Ricardo E. Perez, 58, alias “Kastilang Kasag” (crab) who serves as a big brother to the Agta community and devoted his life to assist the tribal people of Mt. Asog, in Iriga City said that the assistance given by the Ako Bicol and Zaldy Co would help to intensify and awaken public awareness particularly the plight of the tribal people as they go about their day to day lives.

Ako Bicol is a regional political party which topped the elections for party list representatives with more than 1.5 million votes. Bayan Muna is contesting before the Commission on Elections Ako Bicol's three nominees.

Due to this the Bicol bloc led by Senator Francis Escudero unified to ask the poll body to immediately proclaim the AKB to uphold the rule of law and the voice of the Bicolano electorate. 

Article by: Rhydz Barcia

Source: Bicol Mail

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