Rights and government control towards sustainable living

By Penelope A. Domogo, MD

Human rights have recently beco

“Furthermore, in our Igorot tradition, nobody owns water sources and everybody has to take care by not bringing soap to these springs.

me a byword in our society- well, at least in the last 50 years or so in the Philippines (according to my experience as a health advocate). In 1978, the Alma Ata declaration was adopted at the International Conference on Primary Health Care to promote primary health care as the key to attain health for all and which was premised on health as a human right. The bywords then were “ health for all by the year 2000” and “health in the hands of the people.” Self-reliance was the goal. This spurred us, in government, to train volunteer health workers, one per 20 households. Today, these volunteers still are the frontliners in all our barangays but their wings have been clipped. Sadly, this primary health care approach was ignored in succeeding administrations and now it’s “health in the hands of your doctor.” In 1981, the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) came into force upholding the rights of women. In 1990, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child was ratified. There was the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade which was, in essence, free trade, in the sense that it relaxed tariffs and quotas. Now there are rights of LGBTs.
Everybody is saying they have rights. Of course, we all have rights. However, in a society where there is inequality, whose right do you think will prevail? If my right to use my land as I please conflicts with your right to health, whose right is to be upheld? For example, I will mine the gold in my land and the wastewater flows into your land. We know that mine wastewater is toxic so your health will be jeopardized if my plan materializes. Whose right will prevail? We know whose right has prevailed in such situations. We know how difficult it is for poor people to battle the rich. In case of supposedly “free trade”, do you think this is advantageous to both rich and poor people or countries? I felt the effect of GATT in the mid 1980s with imported chocolates being sold in the regular store in Baguio City! Before, I could only taste those favorites when a US Navy officer treated us to Camp John Hay. To see how unequal the trade is, my sisters in the US didn’t find Sagada arabica coffee in Walmart. But of course, our coffee production is not even enough to go around Luzon! Now, whose right and whose benefit is upheld?
There’s no Igorot term for “rights”. When we, in Mountain Province, were translating the UNICEF’s booklet on Children’s Rights, we used the word “karebbengan” which is Ilokano and it has a nuance of responsibility. BTW, our group then wasn’t comfortable with this declaration on children’s rights because it didn’t jibe with Igorot culture and present situation. Children are not in the same category as adults and should not be treated as such. In fact, a lot of elders and teachers blamed this “rights” thing for the misbehavior of children as they were not to be disciplined as we know it. This would be a good area of an in-depth study.
In Igorot culture, people behaved according to norms which are known to promote peace and harmony and life. These were passed on orally and by modeling through generations. No mass media then. Life meant health. Through keen observation and deep reflection, our Igorot ancestors developed wonderful systems to nurture and promote practices (including long prayers), skills knowledge and values that were “gawis” (good). These included restrictions on physical mobility, planting rice, doing harm to people and environment. For example, after childbirth, the mother should not be doing any work except carrying and nursing the baby, until two months. This is to protect the mother’s health. During critical times of the agricultural calendar and during pestilence, the village elders declared “tengao” or “ubaya” and nobody goes in or out the village. At this time, we realize the value of this practice. During rice planting season, people waited for the signal from the “bangan” (a woman chosen to start the planting season). You were not allowed to plant anytime you wish. This was to protect the rice plants from the “tilin” (rice bird) and “otot” (rats). If everybody planted at the same time, then these rice lovers would have a wider spread to eat from so this saves everybody from total loss. Imagine if you planted early, then the tilin and otot would feast on your paddy alone as the rest of the paddies are not ready yet. That would be disaster!
Furthermore, in our Igorot tradition, nobody owns water sources and everybody has to take care by not bringing soap to these springs. Of course, bringing soap means washing or bathing so that would pollute the water source. It’s scientific. Burning the forest is fined dearly- one pig. In traditional communities, the pig needs about 3 years to mature. And the rules go on for every facet of life. All these practices ultimately had one goal. It was not money or fame. The goal was well-being, not only of the individual but of the community. Meaning if you broke the norm or “law”, then your well-being and that of the community is jeopardized. That is indigenous governance- emanating from the “ato” or “dap-ay” the socio-political-cultural center of the Igorot community. We didn’t speak of rights, we spoke of what is “gawis” (good) or “sumya” (proper) thing to do, not only for yourself but for your family and community.
As we got exposed to foreign cultures, we changed- we learned “freedom” from these “superstitious” controls – we started belittling the “dap-ay” and the wisdom of the elders, scoffing at traditions, burning forests, polluting land and water, adopting western lifestyle. Forward to lockdown 2020. Suddenly, we were deprived of many liberties we have been enjoying – freedom to get out of the house and earn a living, freedom to go to my friend’s house, freedom to go to church, freedom to walk in the park, freedom to travel, freedom to choose whatever I like from the market or store (the choice now is limited to how much I can carry). Wait, are these rights or privileges? Whatever, these are liberties that we need to sacrifice momentarily in exchange for our right to health or for our freedom from disease. My right or freedom to roam ends where the right of the community (including myself) to be healthy begins. So just like our indigenous communities, the well-being of everybody (not just a few) is today’s goal. And because our population has grown so big and our world had grown so wide, the “dap-ay” alone cannot handle us. We need today’s bureaucratic government to control our behavior. We need government to tell us to stay home, do social distancing and have a healthy lifestyle (thank you, Mountain Province, for including healthy lifestyle in your guidelines during this lockdown). I hope by now, we realize that we don’t really have the freedom to do as we please. But still we can be tempted by greed, by power and money and fame or plain selfish “good time” and will do as we please.
And will controls end with covid? I mean, are we thinking only of covid and once it goes away, it’s life as usual? I hope covid has taught our officials to think of health as the end goal of all policies and programs. I hope we, including our officials, recognize the Universal Power that crafted the laws of the universe. One such law is the law of the harvest- we reap what we sow. So let us think beyond covid. Covid is just a product of what we planted. We are reaping what we sowed as a society. What about the pandemic of high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer and all these lifestyle diseases? These diseases are also killing millions but on a staggered basis so they don’t scare us. These are also products of the same problem. We need government to control our behavior and stop us from planting more diseases. Therefore, I pray that:
1. government takes this opportunity to permanently lockdown factories of toxic substances – cigarettes, artificial agricultural inputs, fake food (read: junk food of all kinds and sugar sweetened beverages), toxic personal products like synthetic soaps and shampoos. We can’t allow “free trade” or free market forces to control our lives because our regulating bodies are weak.
2. government regulates land use to decongest cities and for environmental protection. Balik-probinsiya. Let forests be and reforest gardened areas. Create self-reliant communities.
3. government makes sidewalks and bike lanes to promote active physical activity.
3. local governments regulate tourism so tourists are partners in development not irresponsible customers.
4. government heavily subsidize organic or natural farming so farmers won’t depend on rich financers of chemicalized farming. On their own, people cannot control food production so we need tough government intervention. Regulating food production will automatically regulate food consumption. Go beyond excise taxes on cigarettes and sugar-sweetened beverages. Offer attractive packages for tobacco-growers to shift to organic peanuts or tomatoes. Organic ketchup from Ilocos – wow! Why should ketchup come from Mindanao or overseas? Our goal should be local food sufficiency and reducing food mileage, not export.
5. government gets tough on waste generation and management. Minimize packaging and ban plastic packaging. Actually its packaging that has created a monstrous garbage problem. Each household to manage their own waste and pay government per kilo of residual waste generated. Hazardous wastes should be redeemed by the factory.
6. government impose curfew hours. Of course, night shift workers are exempted.
7. government permanenty lockdown gambling.
Profits will be sacrificed and as an effect, “luxuries” will be sacrificed, too, but then only for a few. In return, the wider population, including those whose profits are sacrificed, will be well. It’s a win-win situation. What is wealth when health is gone? What is wealth when the health of your customers is jeopardized?
What about our homes? Is well-being of the family members our prime consideration in our own homes? As with government, we also have policies at home that govern our everyday lives– regarding who does what, how to earn, growing our own food, the plants or the animals that we grow, the food we cook, our manner of cooking, items we buy, the activities we engage in, the people we make friends with, curfew, managing waste, etc. What governs our home policies? Likes? Well-being? Both?***
“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.” Roman

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