2023 National Geographical Indications Forum

May 25, 2023

Speech of Senate President Pro-Tempore Loren Legarda

2023 National Geographical Indications Forum

I would like to commend the good men and women of our Intellectual Property Office for finally coming out with rules and regulations for Geographical Indications, which are protected under the Trademarks section of the Intellectual Property Code of 1997. It was honor to be invited as the Keynote Speaker at the 2023 National Forum on Geographical Indications on May 22, 2023.

I have also had to work with the Department of Trade and Industry, specifically Assistant Secretary Allan Gepty, for the approval of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) in the Philippines. The RCEP is a pact that is described as a “game-changing move” that will help spur economic prosperity in our country.

Relevant to this, I am proud to note that the DTI is waving the flag for Philippine products in many ways and through multiple avenues.

Today I consider this forum to be timely and propitious for many reasons.

First, our country celebrates National Heritage Month in May. Many of our geographical indications spring forth from products that are part of our tradition and heritage.

Second, the Senate recently passed the One Town One Product Bill, which supports the efforts of each town to take pride in their very best.

And third, the Senate has likewise ratified the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which is the first-ever trade agreement that has provisions on complying with the Convention on Biodiversity.

Timely as this discussion may seem to be, I must assert that our exertions come a tad late. We have known and loved these products all these years, yet we did too little for too long to protect and safeguard our geographical indications.

It must have been two years ago when the Cordillera people complained about cheap knock-offs of their indigenous weaves flooding the markets. These bore the same designs but were machine-made on conventional textiles. Virginia Doligas of Easter Weaving Room decried the fraudulent practice and called for protection.

Many other controversies in recent years caused the term “cultural appropriation” to gain viral news status. There was a huge furor over Apo Whang-od, the oldest practitioner of Kalinga tattoo art, and a famous vlogger’s ‘appropriation’ of her designs. It was later disclosed that Apo Whang-od was not authorized to transact for those designs because these were owned by the Kalinga community.

Then there was a local brand of outdoor gear that named its sandals after ethnic tribes, much to their consternation. Since those groups were not engaged in footwear production at that time, the outdoor gear maker did not exactly violate regulations for geographical indications. Nevertheless, the members of the community were outraged.

The outcries plainly showed that while there were no clear legal protections then, honoring their art was regarded as a moral imperative.

These new regulations issued by the IPO are therefore a welcome development. While it cannot be expected to resolve past controversies or halt attempts at cultural appropriation, it is a very good step toward this end.

Branding that relies on place or location has many advantages, not the least of which are recall, loyalty, and nostalgia. Brands that identify with places evoke memories, sensory impressions, and even poetry and literature. Some individuals purchase who purchase products that they associate with places, events, and memories of their travel.

But an indication of origin does a great deal more than increase market awareness and ensure sales. It has back-end and front-end implications that go beyond marketing.

Let us first consider the front end.

During the lockdowns in 2020 and 2021, I hosted a weekly webinar called Stories for a Better Normal where we spoke with people stuck in their hometowns. Along with the Climate Change Commission, I invited guests who are at the forefront of a quiet revolution that is changing the way we all live, one community at a time. These people do not wring their hands and clamor for better policies. Rather, they start on their own, work with their families and communities, and get many others on board.

These are prime examples of “locally led adaptation,” which demonstrate that we do have shining examples of walking the talk. Small armies of Facebook denizens including teacher Lee Ann Silayan and architect Rey Solero encountered others online who now lead the charge in promoting native trees and plants.

Personalities such as Andi Eigenman, Jerly Rabaca, Mayor Alfredo Coro, and Kara Rosas have been changing the face of tourist towns in Siargao.

Young people are coming out of the woodwork: Ranielle Navarro won the Nat Geo 2021 award for his environmental work at Albay Central School.

Former PENRO Moises Butic is making sure the Muyong system of protecting a wild area in Ifugao terraces for water and wildlife is being perpetuated. Karen Hizola, Jabez Flores, and others are turning all of us into seed savers again. I have no doubt that these efforts will eventually lead to opportunities for a geographical indication for tree varieties, excellently designed surfboards for toddlers, or Muyong design.

I can spend all day talking about these revolutionaries, but some of the webinars’ episodes with the largest impacts were those about food. Once kitchens around the world transform, as Chef Jam Melchor, Datu Shariff Pendatun, and Chef Waya Wijangco show us with their kitchens, we will finally see a shift in local agriculture. Some of these chefs are advocates of ‘slow food’, which highlights what is local, seasonal, and important to biodiversity.

I also had the opportunity recently to interact with slow food advocates as they did food maps for localities. I was inspired by the work and travels of Cavite-based food historian Ige Ramos and his painstaking documentation of the foods each region should be proud of. The idea of slow food is not new to me as I have been planting my food in my farm in Tagaytay for some time now. My household and those of my staff hardly need to buy anything in the wet market anymore, and when we engage our best efforts in making these plants grow, we enhance their characteristics as well. Through seed selection, we can expect the best varieties and cultivars and add value to what would otherwise be just another product.

We are only starting with Lake Sebu T’nalak, Guimaras Mangoes, Batangas Barako, Lake Taal Tawilis, Bikol Pili, and Davao Pomelo but I foresee communities jumping in and putting their best foot forward.

I am elated to see that the Bagtason handwoven textile from my home province of Antique is also considered a potential GI. Patadyong weaving is part of Antique’s age-old tradition, and I have made it my mission to continuously support its development and provide the necessary assistance to our weavers.

Pioneers in bamboo, regenerative agriculture, pottery, weaving, expanding green job opportunities, transforming the food supply chain, and democratizing urban mobility—these changes are happening as we speak! It is only a matter of time before we see them take center stage.

And here is the back end. People developing GIs are demonstrating nature-based solutions and we must pay attention as they do. When people enhance their local products, like the native plants and animals grown there, they enhance the capacity of their communities to address problems within their specific context.

Nature-based solutions offer great potential to reduce risks from multiple hazards and yield jobs and improve livelihoods while protecting biodiversity. Locally produced goods virtually evolved with the people who nurtured them. They are adapted to the environments in which they grew and flourished. As such, they are likely to be native and more resilient to potential threats caused by climate change and biodiversity loss. The rate of biodiversity loss, in fact, must be reduced. We need to recognize the implications of GI on biodiversity, or we will not be able to see the big picture.

When people rely on a crop, when they take pride in it, they also watch it very closely and are more likely to find ways to ensure its resilience. The main driver of biodiversity loss is still primarily agriculture. Over 70 percent of land not under ice or water has already been altered by humans.

Those upholding heritage crops can still harken back to their ancestors and ascendants to figure out how those before them saved those crops in times of disaster. They are multi-crop farmers who, without labeling their practices, enhance agricultural diversity. And there is a horrific feedback loop between biodiversity loss and higher temperatures. We do not want to spiral down that path. Taking pride in our produce—the ones handed down from the generations and cared for by those who know—can deter this degeneration.

We just need to ensure the integration of these efforts with those of government and other communities, and the opportunities offered by trade agreements like RCEP will only inspire further developments and an upswing of collective and community pride.

In the midst of all these opportunities, let us also remind ourselves that there is only so much that legal recognition can do, especially when something takes off exponentially. It would, for example, severely strain our enforcement efforts if the Kapampangans were to register sisig. There will also be the issue as to what sisig variant is authentic or what has already been adapted to individual tastes or available ingredients. Nevertheless, the phenomenal success should not preclude a geographic indicator for the specific style and ingredients that they use.

The last thing I would like to mention is the Innovation Act, which I authored and finally passed into law in 2019. This first of the many policies under Section 2 of RA 11293 states that “The State shall place innovation at the center of its development policies, guided by a clear and long-term set of goals that will take into consideration the key advantages of the country and the opportunities in the regional and global economic arena. As such, it shall harness innovation efforts to help the poor and the marginalized and to enable micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) to be a part of the domestic and global supply chain.”

Think about it—the entire government considering the competitive advantages of each area, harnessing the small businessmen, and procuring the products they support! Government procurement alone will guarantee the vibrancy of the products coming out of these programs.

Opportunity is a great motivator. And I have no doubt that taken together—RCEP, OTOP, Innovation Act, DTI’s Shared Services Facilities, and many other government programs, along with the ingenuity of the Filipino, will usher in a new era of production that takes into consideration our awesome natural gifts and biodiversity. We will surely prevail over the climate crisis with these measures.

Isang luntiang Pilipinas sa ating lahat!