The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)—through its Indigenous People’s Desk—extended assistance to the indigenous peoples (IPs) of Pampanga province to give them hope amid the ongoing pandemic.

Dubbed as “Sa Gitna ng Pandemya, Buhay at Kapaligiran ay Mahalaga,” the DENR held a gift-giving activity for some 150 Aeta families from Barangay Camias in Porac town. The activity was held at the Hacienda Gracia Resort and Hotel in Lubao, Pampanga, last December 10.

“As President Rodrigo Roa Duterte said, no one should be left behind. We heal as one,” said DENR Undersecretary for Solid Waste Management and Local Government Units Concerns Benny D. Antiporda.

He told the Aetas: “You deserve these gifts. We are simply giving them back to you.”

The IPs received groceries, vitamins, face masks, face shields, and alcohol. These were received on their behalf by the barangay leaders and elders in compliance with social distancing protocols and mass gathering limitations.

“The DENR counts IPs among its valued stakeholders because they are considered stewards of environmental protection,” said Antiporda.

For his part, Edwin Abuque of the Indigenous Peoples Mandatory Representatives (IPMR) said: “It is important that we protect the forest and trees because these are our first line of defense against floods. They help protect those who reside at the foot of the mountains.”

Abuque also said that plants and trees have healing properties, which “spared IPs from COVID-19.”

Antiporda urged the Aetas to plant rice and cacao in the land they are occupying for them to have a source of income.

The DENR official said he was ready to provide them with agricultural machineries to help them in farming.

“Nurture your land. We will not give you fish to eat but we will teach you how to fish,” Antiporda said.

The Aetas said they were grateful for being chosen as beneficiaries and that help came in time for Christmas.

They committed to continue protecting the mountains which they consider their home. ###