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Forum on Intellectual Property and Traditional Knowledge

March 21, 2012

Allow me to thank the organizers of this event, led by the World Intellectual Property Organization and the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines, together with the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, and the National Museum, for inviting me to take part in this forum on intellectual property and traditional knowledge.
There are 110 IP groups in the Philippines, with each community possessing its own traditional knowledge that had been passed on from one generation to the other.
Given the bulk of this traditional knowledge covering almost all aspects of life, our indigenous communities should now be rich in economic terms, if the benefits of bringing to the mainstream these practices and intellectual properties, which they have generously shared with the world, actually flowed back to them.
Documents from the NCIP that were submitted to the World Intellectual Property Organization during the 1999 Roundtable on Intellectual Property and Traditional Knowledge held in Geneva, showed that traditional knowledge covers vast subjects including arts and crafts, music and literature, health care, agriculture, forestry and fishing, mining, and architecture. Many of us do not realize that various aspects of our modern lifestyle originated from traditional practices.
Filipinos still trust herbal medicines such as lagundi, guava leaves, and ampalaya leaves, to name a few, as cure for various ailments. The gumamela has been used to treat sores and lesions, while sambong is known to help cure coughs and colds. Today, these herbal medicines have been turned into capsules and syrups and are made commercially available by pharmaceutical companies who have done further research on these plants. We hope that our IPs will be accorded with proper recognition being the source of this knowledge and gain themselves access to these better medications.
This holds true in other areas of their tradition. We see mainstream arts, music, handicrafts, and weaves similar to indigenous practices but we have yet to trace if permission was sought in the use of such knowledge and if proper credit was given.
The commercialization of cultural products and practices has opened new opportunities to our indigenous peoples, but has created a new challenge in the preservation of our indigenous knowledge.
Two clusters of the Ifugao Rice Terraces are found in the municipality of Banaue. This place has become a well-known tourist spot, thereby benefitting those involved in the product- and service-oriented businesses such as handicrafts, hotels and restaurants. This has resulted to a shift in the career path of younger generations of Ifugaos. While older folks pursue traditional Ifugao farming, which involves greater work to preserve the rice terraces not only for tourism purposes but more importantly for sustenance and sustainable development, young Ifugaos are drawn to the modern tourism-related occupation.
About two weeks ago, I personally went to see the Ifugao Rice Terraces to conduct a consultation with government officials and community stakeholders on the issue of the worsening state of this national landmark.
I had the chance to interact with the community in the Bangaan Rice Terrace cluster in the municipality of Banaue. While families strive to preserve their culture, Ifugao children welcomed me wearing the traditional Ifugao garments, weaving and wood carving are still being practiced, and the Hudhud Chants of the Ifugao are being passed on, significant changes have become evident in the village.
I had hoped to see an Ifugao village filled with the traditional Ifugao huts, with stones and logs as foundation, bamboos and cogon grass as roof, and built without the need for nails or bolts – a sturdy structure able to withstand strong typhoons and earthquakes. These houses were still present, but houses of modern structure – cemented walls with galvanized iron sheets for roof – had also been constructed in the area, thereby losing the cultural and aesthetic value that the village ought to have as a background of the rice terraces.
Hope is not lost in these instances. We have to empower our IPs for them to assert their right and role in the preservation of their rich heritage.
As we seek ways in effectively protecting the intellectual property and traditional knowledge of our IPs, I take note of an initiative by our State Universities and Colleges in the Cordillera Administrative Region to document the indigenous knowledge systems and practices in agriculture and environmental protection in the Cordilleras, a project which we hope to replicate in all regions.
We have actually begun to make significant strides in protecting the rights of our IPs over the past twenty years highlighted by the passage of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) of 1997, which restored the rights of indigenous people over their ancestral domains, upheld their rights for self-governance, and recognized the need to preserve the cultural integrity of their communities. We also have supported a historic United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which articulated their individual and collective rights.
However, we realize that the IPRA does not provide for specific provisions for the protection of our IPs’ cultural properties, both intangible and tangible. Moreover, the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines does not have the legal mandate nor the expertise or capability to undertake such protection of our indigenous cultural treasures.
It is in this light that I filed a proposed legislation under Senate Bill No. 2831 or the Traditional Property Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, which seeks to make an inventory of all cultural properties and mandate the payment of royalties to our IPs for the use of these cultural properties.
Through this measure, we aim to protect our indigenous knowledge and cultural heritage, and put a stop to incidences wherein indigenous knowledge, dances and designs are being stolen by local and foreign entities, further marginalizing our indigenous communities and depriving them of their cultural property and identity that have survived hundreds of years.
Beyond legislation, I seek avenues to promote cultural protection and economic empowerment of our indigenous women. I have visited numerous weaving communities all over the country and have seen precious fabrics woven by hand, stitched with intricate designs, each thread, each fabric telling a story. This has led me to a vision of creating the nation’s first gallery for indigenous Philippine textiles. Through the National Museum, this dream has finally come to fruition. I am very proud that today, we will launch the textile galleries that unravel the artistry of our IPs, tell the story of the ties that connect Filipinos and reveal visions of our national identity.
Individually and collectively, we have to save what has been left for our IPs. We have to fight for the recognition of their worthwhile contributions.
The ways and means of our IPs may be ancient as to the standards of modern society, but everything that we have now is not a product borne out of the minds of people from this generation alone, but a mere reflection of the creativity, resourcefulness and passion of those people who have lived long ago creating their own identity, building a sustainable community, forming unique practices, surviving with their own rich culture, passing it on to their children, and generously sharing it with others.
To all of us who have gained so much from this ingenuity, perhaps, it would not be too much to give the fitting recognition long overdue to our IPs and to allow them to benefit from the very knowledge that had rooted from their communities.
I hope that this forum leads us to a clearer path on how we can confront the challenges and effectively build policies to protect the knowledge systems and practices of our indigenous peoples.
Thank you.