‘Tribes still tagged as bad, filthy’
SANTIAGO CITY–Tribal leaders from all of Luzon on Thursday expressed lament over the supposed discrimination and oppression that their people continue to experience, 11 years after the enactment of the Indigenous People’s Rights Act.
Representatives from the country’s 18 tribes in six Luzon regions called for stronger recognition of their rights as indigenous peoples and protection of their environment amid threats of modernization.
The groups made the call during a forum in Balintocatoc village here Thursday, as part of “Timpuyog” (unity), a six-day nationwide celebration of this year’s indigenous peoples’ month.
The event, organized by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and the government of Santiago City, was meant to involve the tribes of Luzon in a “cultural exchange highlighting significant aspects of their way of life, both material and non-material culture and tradition”.
It also marked the unveiling of a 3.5-hectare tribal village here, about 8 km from the city proper, featuring the 18 ethnic groups’ traditional houses. Each hut housed members of the tribe, dressed in native attires, who gave impromptu lectures on their practices, rituals.
Thursday’s IP forum was intended to generate public awareness on the “preservation, promotion and development of traditional culture”, according to NCCA executive director Cecile Guidote-Alvarez.
“We have to further intensify the campaign for the recognition of our tribes and the preservation of their beautiful language, songs and dances, not only through lip-service, but through honest-to-goodness efforts,” she said.
Participants to the “Timpuyog” noted that even after the enactment of the IPRA in 1997, they felt that much has yet to be accomplished especially on social justice and human rights, and the IP’s right to cultural integrity.
Tribal leaders heaped much of the blame on the negative portrayal by the media of indigenous groups, especially television, which, they said, often showed tribal members as “ugly, uneducated, filthy, and barbaric”.
“Some of our younger generations are ashamed to be called Igorots because our tribe has been shown on television with dirty nails, large legs and violent behavior. Our children cry when they are called igorots,” said Evelyn Taclobao of the Bontoc tribe.
Kalinga leaders decried the supposed negative portrayal of their people as killers and headhunters, causing people to shun their province.
“I dare those who have this belief to visit Kalinga and we will prove to you that all these perceptions are not true. Kalinga is the place where you can feel the most genuine sense of hospitality which you can never experience anywhere else,” said Vicente Gumowang of Tanodan town in Kalinga.
Napoleon Baltazar, representing the Itawes of Cagayan, lamented that even government agencies have refused to accept that the Itawes is an indigenous group.
“We are happy that finally, our tribe has been recognized by becoming a part of this event,” he said.
The group also called on the wealthy sector of society to show more respect to indigenous peoples, citing the still-prevailing forms of discrimination in their communities.
“There have been instances when food is served at public gatherings, the IPs are fed separate from the non-IPs, their food is different from that of the rest,” said Mario Resureccion, who represented the Aytas of Bicol region.
Vilma Labrador, NCCA chair, appealed to the public, especially the rich, to be sensitive about the plight of the tribal minority groups.
“Let us all trace our roots because there is a great possibility that in our veins runs the blood of any of these tribes, and unknown to us, that we are IPs ourselves,” she said in Filipino.