1st Ceremony for the Commemoration of the Asian Living Human Treasures

May 20, 2014

Keynote Speech of Senator Loren Legarda
1st Ceremony for the Commemoration of the Asian Living Human Treasures
May 20, 2014 – Manila Hotel

It is often said that historical and cultural sites, stories and traditions convey our values, beliefs and aspirations that lay the foundation of a nation’s identity. Here in the Philippines, the Historic Town of Vigan in Ilocos Sur brings Filipinos back in time and gives a bittersweet feeling as it reminds us of the challenges our ancestors had to overcome during the colonial rule, but the magnificent structures carefully preserved bring awe to visitors; while the Rice Terraces of the Cordilleras magnifies the Filipinos’ industriousness and highlights the harmonious relationship between humankind and the environment.

Oftentimes, these kinds of tangible heritage are better appreciated because their beauty and value are apparent and the preservation of these treasures are more manageable.

In contrast, intangible heritage such as traditional knowledge and practices would cease to exist if not passed on.

This is why I am in high spirits today, because we are shining the spotlight on intangible culture. Sometimes, we tend to give more substance to things that we can see or touch; the bigger the structure, the easier it is to remember. We hear uproar about saving crumbling monuments and edifices, but less noise about the need to preserve our vanishing traditional crafts.

The true value of our intangible culture and arts is not as easily recognized because it lacks the durability of construction. How do you measure the significance of Federico Caballero’s epic chants, the exuberance of Alonzo Saclag’s music and dance? How can Lang Dulay’s deft hands and intricate weaving be as priceless as the San Agustin Church? It should be. We must look at our traditional music, dance, crafts, drama, and cuisine with the same awe as we accord old churches because more than anything, our intangible cultural heritage holds the continuity of our nation and serves as the authentic embodiment of our identity as a country.

As a lawmaker, it is easier to craft laws that deal with tangible culture than to create policies for the intangible. How do we protect these traditions that depend on solitary guardians who often live in remote places? How do we ensure that in this age of globalization, we will find young, talented and committed individuals willing to apprentice and dedicate their lives to saving our dying traditional arts? Do we continue preserving the original forms of our intangible cultural heritage or should we permit certain degrees of changes for them to stay relevant and appealing to the younger generation?

These are questions I think about all the time. I am glad for this gathering, which was made possible because of the efforts of Asian Cooperation Dialogue (ACD) and our own National Commission for Culture and the Arts, in cooperation with the Department of Foreign Affairs, because we will listen to distinguished guests from our neighboring countries give insights on preserving our tradition. I look forward to this exchange of ideas among brilliant minds and I wish to welcome representatives from all ACD member states.

An overwhelming effort is required to protect our intangible cultural heritage. This responsibility is shared by all sectors of the government, national institutions and groups. The Senate has not been remiss in protecting our intangible cultural treasures. Today, we celebrate the works of our living human treasures through the Philippine Tropical Fabrics Law, passed in 2004, which seeks to promote the country’s natural fabrics through the use of such materials for the official uniforms of government officials and employees, with the end goal of strengthening the local fiber industry. In 2009, we also legislated the National Heritage Act, which aims to protect, preserve, conserve and promote the nation’s cultural heritage, its property and histories, and the ethnicity of local communities. There are initiatives by the government to protect intangible culture, but they are never enough.

Many consider my passion for arts and culture a frivolous endeavour, particularly for a nation that needs to focus on its economy and other political exigencies that demand its attention. On the contrary, I believe that safeguarding our cultural identity, whether tangible or intangible, is just as urgent a matter as the volatile capital market or the muddled political arena. Traditional arts and crafts can bring a sense of solidarity among our countrymen while having a positive impact on the economy. We only need to focus and figure out how to best facilitate this. Through this event, we are taking another crucial step towards safeguarding our culture.

I congratulate everyone here today. I especially celebrate and would like to reiterate my gratitude for our Living Human Treasures—Uwang Ahadas, Lang Dulay, Alonzo Saclag, Federico Caballero, Eduardo Mutuc, Teofila Garcia and Magdalena Gamayo; as well as those who have gone ahead—Masino Intaray, Samaon Sulaiman, Salinta Monon, Darhata Sawabi, Haja Amina Appi and Ginaw Bilog. You can be assured of my utmost support, that I am always thinking of ways on how the government can reward the lifelong dedication these individuals have demonstrated to keep our intangible culture alive. With these models for us to emulate, it is my hope that we can all exert similar efforts to preserve culture in our own right.

Thank you.***