It has been a year but Bebelonia Andata from an indigenous people’s community in Zamboanga del Sur in southern Philippines, will never forget the joy she felt when she finally received her birth certificate at age 49.
For Bebelonia, having a birth certificate is like proving her existence. Finally, she won’t have to grapple to prove her identity when applying for social services to enjoy her rights as a Filipino.
“I am old but having a birth certificate remains important to me. I will soon be a senior citizen and I have to make sure that I will continue to have access to health services and enjoy other entitlements for old people,” Bebelonia said with a laugh.
Her birth certificate is so important to Bebelonia that she brings it with her anywhere she goes. “Just making sure that I have it when I am asked for it because we live in a remote village and it is difficult to go back home to retrieve it when needed,” she explained.
Bebelonia belongs to the Subanen tribe in the municipality of Dumingag in Zamboanga del Sur. It takes her up to two hours commuting by motorcycle to reach the town proper. She and more than 9,000 other people from indigenous communities are among those who have so far benefited from the late birth registration component of the Indigenous Peoples Maternal, Newborn and Child Health and Nutrition (IPMNCHN) Project of the European Union and United Nations Population Fund.
Joan Sulit, 27, from the same Subanen tribe, said access to health care became easier after she obtained her birth certificate and registered for health services. In fact, she was able to deliver her second child in a health center with PhilHealth accreditation.
Other mothers also speak of improved access to education for their children who were given birth certificates, as well as enrolling their family to the government’s conditional cash transfer program.
“The birth registration is very important not just for us but for each member of our families and we are very thankful that the UNFPA project gave this opportunity to indigenous peoples,” said Vilma Arat, 44.
Implemented together with the Department of Health (DOH) and National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), the IPMNCHN Project covers Sitio Gawasan in Carmen, North Cotabato; Dumingag in Zamboanga del Sur; Barangay Binicalan in San Luis, Agusan del Sur; Montevista in Compostela Valley; and Kitaotao in Sinuda, Bukidnon.