By: Emme Rose Santiagudo
BADJAOS or “Sea Gypsies,” a group of indigenous people from Sulu and Celebes Seas, who loiter the streets of Iloilo City are a perennial problem of the city government.
Reports have been circulating that a syndicate is exploiting the Badjaos by forcing them to beg for alms on the streets and even public utility vehicles.
The city government has already tapped the help of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to verify the reports.
According to Executive Assistant Gary Alejano, the NBI is still investigating and they cannot confirm that a syndicate is controlling the Badjaos.
Alejano said what they know so far is that Badjaos remit their collections to the head of their family or tribe.
“Sa investigation sang NBI, indi pa nila maconfirm kon may sindikato pa nga involved so ang nabal-an lang sang NBI nga gina-remit ila collection within sa ila family, head sang ila family. Amo lang na ang gin-confirm sang NBI, so far sa syndicate wala pa,” he said in a phone interview on Friday.
The Badjaos send money collected from begging through remittance centers to their point of origin which is usually in Sulu.
Last Tuesday, the city government rounded up over 20 Badjaos in a joint rescue operation and were sheltered in a gym at Barangay Sambag in Jaro, Iloilo City.
But according to Alejano, there are a maximum of 120 Badjaos in the metro.
Under Iloilo City Regulation Ordinance 2002-400, the city government penalizes persons caught begging with a P500 fine, imprisonment of not more than a year, or both.
The ordinance also penalizes persons who give alms in any form.
Alejano said the perennial problem with Badjaos cannot be totally eradicated despite plans of sending them back to their point of origin in Sulu.
He said that the Badjaos will be transported through the help of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) by October.
“Padala gid sila sa ila point of origin kay kung ipakarga lang sila barko, ang trip sang barko Cagayan de Oro lang, layo pa na ang Cagayan to Jolo, Sulu. Subong pa lang ni nga ibalik gid sila sa ila origin. May ara naman kita communication didto sa governor sang Sulu nga sugaton sila sa airport,” Alejano added.
While there is ongoing communication with the local government of Sulu, Alejano said this is no assurance that the Badjaos will not return to the metro as their own LGU cannot even control them.
“Indi man nila macontrol 100 percent kay may kwarta man sila, makaplete man, wala man ta visa dira, passport, indi kita maka-pressure nga mapunggan sang ila gobyerno, gasakay man sila sa ila small boat,” he said.
The best thing that the Iloilo City government can possibly do is to round up the Badjaos and send them back to their origin, Alejano said.
“Okay man guro after a year, same procedure lang ubrahon kay waay ta sang mahimo, sa Manila may Badjao, sa Bacolod may Badjao, wala gid kita may mahimo so far amo lang gid na mahimo i-transport sila sa ila origin,” he noted.