Poor Indonesians endure in Mindanao through fishing and farming
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Poor Indonesians endure in Mindanao through fishing and farming

HADIR came home that afternoon from an overnight fishing expedition in the Celebes Sea (known in Indonesia as the Sulawesi Sea) without any catch.

He’s a descendant of Indonesian parents who sailed those waters separating the Philippines and Indonesia in the 1940s to look for greener pasture.

Now 53, Hadir lives with his family of three in a remote and poor fishing and farming community in Sarangani Island, almost in the same poverty and isolate condition that his parents sought to escape.

Sarangani Island is part of Sarangani township in Davao Occidental province, some four hours away from the nearest Marore Island in Indonesia’s North Sulawesi province.


People have migrated between Indonesia and the Philippines for centuries. Source: Shutterstock


Despite a life of scarcity since he was born here, Hadir, who married a Filipina, has no plans of returning to his roots in Indonesia. He is much like the thousands of Indonesian descendants who decided to live mostly on the southern, Muslim-majority Philippine island of Mindanao.

“I’m staying here because of my family. I don’t want to leave them,” Hadir told Asian Correspondent, adding their family has been a beneficiary of a cash grant from the Philippine government for the poorest of the poor.

“If I return to Indonesia, I would have to start again and that’s difficult,” said Hadir, the president of their small community where most of the neighbourhood has Indonesian ancestry.

Hadir, fondly called “Cesar” in their community, is known as a “Person of Indonesian Descent” (PID).

Jakarta has set up a consulate office in Davao City, one of the key urban centres in Mindanao, to serve the needs of PIDS in the southern Philippines.

In 2011, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) launched a campaign to end statelessness among PIDs in Mindanao in cooperation with the governments of the Philippines and Indonesia.

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The Philippines’ Department of Justice – Refugees and Stateless Persons Unit (DOJ-RSPPU) leads the project together with the Bureau of Immigration, Public Attorney’s Office, Indonesian Consulate and UNHCR Philippines.

“Persons of Indonesian Descent are those staying here in Mindanao with mixed parentage usually, the mother is Indonesian, the father is Filipino, or vice versa, or both parents are Indonesian but they were already born and raised here in the Philippines,” DOJ-RSPPU’s Fiel Castro said in a statement from UNCHR Philippines.

In May, the parties held a month-long solutions feedback mission with protection officers, lawyers, and immigration officers going around places in Mindanao with known Indonesian residents.

Before the solutions feedback mission, there were various phases in the project, which included the mapping and registration of PIDs in Mindanao. During the registration phase, around 9,000 PIDs were registered.

People have traditionally migrated between Indonesia and the Philippines for centuries.

“The problem persists when Indonesia and the Philippines then become their own states, with their own citizens,” Agus Abdul Majid, Consul for Immigration of the Indonesian Consulate in Davao, said in the same statement.

“The migration or the mobility of the border people keeps happening even after the independence. And probably because of the lack of understanding of law and regulation they don’t understand about the migration policy of both countries,” he added.


Rosalinda Andaria Bastian shows some documents relating to the family’s Indonesian ancestry. Source: Bong S. Sarmiento

Groups of people become at risk of statelessness due to their unclear nationality status passed on across generations. Some individuals also lack documents such as a birth certificate as proof of identity.

Without a clear county to where they belong, persons at risk of statelessness, like the PIDs, are marginalised without to basic rights such as healthcare, education and employment.

“When we registered them, there were a lot of PIDs that did not have valid documents, did not have birth certificate, or if they have birth certificate, there’s some erroneous entries,” Agus said.

“So on the solution feedback mission, we start[ed] to discuss what solution we can give to them in order for us to decide their nationality status,” he said. Agus said they have confirmed 2,399 Indonesians living across Mindanao thus far.

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In Indonesia, there are an estimated 10,000 persons of Filipino descent awaiting similar process.

For PIDs who have been determined as clearly Indonesian, the Indonesian Consulate will help facilitate them to attain proper documents, whether they wish to stay in the Philippines or Indonesia.

For those who wish to return to Indonesia, Jakarta is also preparing to assist their citizens.

“For those who want to go back to Indonesia, we ask them: To which part of Indonesia are you going to be repatriated? How many of you want to be repatriated? So after knowing all this information, we will communicate with our capital and also the local government to facilitate in the repatriation process and also in the livelihood process while they are being resettled in that area,” Agus said.

Cesar Hadir, the Indonesian descendant from Sarangani Island, said he wants to go back to Indonesia only to visit his relatives there. He said he continues to renew his Alien Certificate of Registration (ACR) to legally remain in Mindanao.

Since he was born and grew up in Mindanao, Hadir noted that he had voted in Philippine and Indonesian elections.

Rosalinda Andaria Bastian is a coconut farmer and traditional healer in her 60s also living on Sarangani Island – a person of Indonesian descent married to another Indonesian descendant.

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“I have been a recipient of the 4Ps (the Philippines’ conditional cash grants for the poorest of the poor). I also vote during Philippine and Indonesian elections,” she told Asian Correspondent separately. But unlike Hadir, Bastian is open to returning to Indonesia.

“We heard that land there for farming is cheap. My husband would like to go back there and I support it,” Bastian said. A lack of money is preventing them from starting fresh in Indonesia, however.

“Also, Mindanao already feels home. Our parents died here,” she said.