Loren Legarda – champion of the Filipino identity

August 29, 2021

Who is Lorna Regina “Loren” Bautista Legarda? It’s a simple question but a complex one to answer.


With a storied career in both media and public service, Deputy Speaker and Antique Representative Loren Legarda has gained multiple labels to her name through the years, given her achievements and awards in fulfilling her sworn duty to the Filipino people and her advocacies for the country as a whole. If The Sunday Times Magazine were to enumerate all these, the space in this issue would definitely not suffice to print even half of her accolades.

Legarda, you see, found and carved her niche in the world at quite an early age. She landed her first job at 15 years old as an “accidental model” and immediately took a liking for the camera. Three years later, she officially debuted on TV as former Senator Orly Mercado’s co-host on GMA 7’s quiz bee program “What’s Up.” Then from there, she just went full throttle, taking up Broadcast Communications and graduating cum laude at the University of the Philippines, and going straight to anchor RPN 9’s late-night “Newswatch” telecast by age 21.

As a full-fledged journalist, she went wherever the winds of the job took her, be it moving to the US for a year in 1985 to host and produce “Manila Envelope” (a pioneering magazine show for the overseas Filipino community), or bringing home her improved skills to continue her career in the Philippines.
Legarda’s grit and passion for telling stories started her off in amassing recognitions from within and beyond her industry. For her work in the field and studios, Legarda made it to the Catholic Mass Media Hall of Fame and received the prestigious TOYM (Ten Outstanding Young Men) and TOWNS (The Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service) awards, including the Benigno Aquino Award for Journalism to name a few. Her most noted and groundbreaking programs topped television ratings in the 1980s, namely “PEP (People Events Places) Talk,” “The World Tonight,” “Inside Story,” and “Earth Link” from 1986 to 1998.


From broadcast to Senate
And then came a turning point in her career.

As Legarda revealed in her recent interview with Toni Gonzaga for the latter’s YouTube channel, her fateful 1997 interview with former President Fidel Ramos awakened a different yet more challenging call to public service. She, therefore, ran for Senate in 1998 elections and, despite being a political greenhorn, won the greatest number of votes at 15 million, making her the youngest woman to earn a seat in the Philippine Senate.

But even as a three-term senator, it is still too simplistic to box Legarda as an elected public official alone – one who has authored and passed many significant bills into law over 18 years in the upper chamber of Congress, and now as Antique’s representative in the House.

Generations of Filipinos will always have Legarda to thank for the Expanded Senior Citizens Act of 2010 (RA 9994); Magna Carta for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (RA 9501); Magna Carta of Women (RA 9710); the Anti-Child Labor Law (RA 9231); Early Childhood Care and Development (RA 9890); Clean Air Act (RA 8749); the Environmental Awareness Education Act (RA 9512); Solid Waste Management Act (RA 9003); and the Climate Change Act (RA 9729) and its amendatory law (RA 10174). All in all, legislator Legarda has authored and co-authored 115 laws, excluding 950 bills and 440 resolutions filed.

Lifetime causes

For a person who has always known what she wanted to do and what she wills would happen, Legarda’s legacy in the legislative branch of the Philippine government clearly shows where her heart and compassion lie. Now 61 years old and still as impassioned as ever, she has pledged her life as a champion of women and children, the environment and the indigenous peoples.


Given these, should Legarda then be called a women and children’s rights proponent? An environmentalist? Or a champion of Filipino culture?

She is all these and more, and yet no matter how diverse her advocacies seem on the surface, Legarda will always say they are all interconnected. They all stem from her pride in being Filipino and her love for the Filipino. For in championing the rights of the next generation, the women who nurture them, and in preserving the land, sea and air where they live and give them life, she can ultimately hope for a future where the Filipino will always remain proud and true to their identity.

This is why in reintroducing Loren Legarda to this highly digital age, The Sunday Times Magazine deems it most fitting to zero in on the center of all her work. That is, her tireless and endless devotion to protect and sustain what is inherently Filipino – this country’s rich culture and traditions, which, if not for genuine servants of the people like her, can easily fade amid the reality of globalization.

So be it as a professional journalist, elected official and private individual, Loren Legarda will always champion the indigenous peoples, for it is in their survival and when they continue to thrive that the core of the Filipino will forever burn bright.

In this exclusive interview, find out how this multi-faceted Filipina tirelessly works for the betterment of indigenous peoples and this country’s collective identity.

The Sunday Times Magazine (STM): Can you share with us the inspiration for championing the rights of indigenous people?

Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda: Throughout my life and my career, I have visited many indigenous peoples’ communities, and these visits made me realize that we need to protect our culture, traditions, and beliefs, whether tangible or intangible. Their values, their customs and their livelihoods are palpable representations of what and who we are as a people.

Meeting our IPs and their communities and seeing their way of life at the grassroots have led me to work hard towards empowering them.

Small actions create great ripples of change, and we have to always start at the grassroots. One small community that comes to mind is the family enterprise managed by Librada Donato in Namarabar, a remote town in Penarrubia, Abra. They make blankets, shawls, scarves, beautifully woven textiles. I recall how they have even visited me at the Senate thanking me for the assistance that was given to them, through the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) – under their Assistance to Artisans program – and how these threads and looms have greatly helped them develop their small enterprise. They have been consistently participating in the Department of Trade and Industry‘s National Arts and Crafts Fair, where they were provided with a venue to showcase and sell their products.

I have also assisted Angelina and Sammy Buhle, who run a home-based weaving center in Ifugao specializing in ikat weaving. I made sure to help them so that the equipment issued to them then by the Philippine Textile Research Institute (PTRI) would not be forfeited. Sammy now has achieved greater heights, having been chosen as one of the winning collaborators for the Philippine Pavilion at the 59th Venice Art Biennale, with the exhibition titled “All of us present, This is our gathering (Andi taku e sana, Amung taku di sana).”

In my province of Antique, I have also supported several communities. The Bagtason Loomweavers Association in Bugasong now has its own weaving center which I funded through the Philippine Fiber and Development Authority(PhilFida) while the NCCA provided assistance to help them establish their own natural dye center.

Piña weaving in Tibiao, Antique started around 2005 and had been operating on a small scale for almost seven years. However, the industry stopped due to lack of demand while young weavers opted to leave their community to look for jobs in the city. Through my support, the industry was revived since I was able to provide them with assistance that they needed to start over again and sustain their operations. Apart from participating in the DTI’s National Arts and Crafts Fair, the weavers from Tibiao were able to showcase their talent in Geneva, Switzerland and Prague, Czech Republic for the Hibla ng Lahing Filipino Travelling Exhibition.

I also supported the establishment of weaving and processing centers in other areas in the country, namely in Kiangan, Ifugao; Tibiao, Pandan and Bugasong, An-tique; Lake Sebu, South Cotabato; Dumingag, Zamboanga del Sur; Miag-ao, Iloi-lo and Laguindingan, Misamis Oriental. Pineapple farm and extraction facilities in Balete, Aklan and in San Vicente, Camarines Norte, have also been established.

Apart from the establishment of weaving centers, during my stint as the Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Finance, I have also supported the production of cotton in Pinili, Ilocos Norte, San Fabian Pangasinan, Iloilo (Miag-ao, Tigbauan, Alimodian), Patnongon, Antique, Bayawan, Negros Occidental, Dumingag, Zamboanga del Sur, and Alabel, South Cotabato.

The way of life of our IPs may be considered ancient and different, but I believe that everything that we have right now is the brainchild of the creativity, artistry, resourcefulness, and passion of the people and communities who have lived long ago. These traits have shaped our identity, our communities have built their lives around these traditions, and have generously shared it with others, from generation to generation. We must protect our indigenous peoples and their traditional cultural heritage at all costs.


STM: Prior to travel restrictions, how often would you visit IP communities around the country?

I have visited numerous IP communities all over the country for many decades and have seen the richness and beauty of what each of these communities have to showcase. I have helped them in my personal capacity by promoting their products, wearing them with pride, and supporting their small businesses. I have gone up the mountains of Bicol and to the remote towns in Iloilo. I have gone everywhere and anywhere just so I could visit a community or even just one weaving center that is nestled amongst the mountains.


STM: What’s the most memorable visit you’ve had in this capacity and what made it memorable?

The IP Regional Summits I conducted when I was Chairperson of the Senate Committees on Cultural Communities. These regional summits were held in Baguio, Iloilo City and Tagum City, and the culminating activity was the National Summit that was held at the National Museum of the Philippines.

Gathering all the representatives of the different IP communities in one venue, witnessing their different customs and traditions, listening to their conversations, chants, songs and music, and seeing their colorful traditional wear were highlights of these summits that showed how bright and vibrant our culture is as Filipinos. These gatherings inspired me to spearhead and initiate various programs and projects that are aimed at preserving and promoting our culture and heritage.

In these visits and immersions, what have you identified to be the most common issue among IPs and how much has government or even the private sector done to address them?

What they need most is support to continue their way of life and, at the same time, provide them with more sustainable means to improve their livelihood.

Our indigenous peoples’ communities face challenges of protecting their traditional knowledge from those who would choose to exploit or take advantage of them. They face challenges from theft, imitation, and misappropriation of their culture and knowledge. These are detrimental to them being able to sustain their culture as they are being stolen by local and foreign entities, which further marginalize them and deprive them of their cultural property and identity. Early this year, we have had reports on the influx of counterfeit goods, which pose a great risk to their livelihood in terms of market competition.

Our indigenous communities are also at risk of the detrimental effects brought about by climate change. They thrive in their ecosystem, which, unfortunately, are seriously affected by environmental degradation and the impact of climate change.

The government had long passed Republic Act No. 8371, otherwise known as the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) in 1997. However, despite concerted efforts exerted by the government, in partnership with various private organizations and adequate financial support from international communities, our ICCs still remain the poorest and among the marginalized sectors of our society.

Our indigenous communities are also facing the challenge of having their culture and traditions die out as there are not many of the younger generations who wish to take up and learn their community’s traditions and livelihood.

As such, archiving and documentation have paramount importance also in ensuring that we know who we were and what we are. We cannot let these beliefs, rituals and traditional knowledge be forgotten.

In Antique, we have done several documentation projects, in partnership with the NCCA, such as the book titled Everyday Culture: Our Schools of Living Traditions, which features the Pantad Ati Community in Sitio Pantad, Igcalawagan, Tobias Fornier. This SLT teaches the Ati language, nito and buri weaving, and the Meroy Kareñosa dance to the youth of the community. This book made its soft launch in October 2018 at the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany.

The municipal government of Valderrama inmy home province has also come up with a booklet on the Iraynon Bukidnon showcasing their practices and beliefs, a project that I have fully supported. Our partnership with the UP Visayas and other Panay SUCs [State universities and colleges], namely, Guimaras State University, Aklan State University, Capiz State University, West Visayas University and the University of Antique, has also led to the launch of a publication – From the Seas to the Mountain – which documents the traditional knowledge systems in the region.

We have also partnered with the SUCs in the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) for the book titled Guardians of the Forest, Stewards of the Land, and just recently, we have also launched the books Inabol: Traditional and Contemporary Ifugao Textiles and another book on Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Practices.

We also have the documentary series, “Dayaw” (see sidebar), which is now on its eleventh season; and “Buhay na Buhay,” another documentary series that takes a look at the multicultural dynamics of Filipinos and is based on the study of then NCCA Chairman Felipe De Leon, Jr.


STM: Even before Filipiniana Fridays became all the rage, you were one of the first and very few personalities to advocate indigenous textiles and jewelry in everyday fashion. Only worn back then for strictly Filipiniana occasions, how did you start and style yourself to wear them to the Senate and the House to work, or even on casual weekends?

It has always been my lifelong passion to explore the indigenous artistry of Filipinos told through traditional textiles. Our vibrant traditional textiles are revelations of the Filipino’s indigenous life, reflections of our cultural rootedness, and symbols of our identity.

This also pushed me to co-author the Philippine Tropical Fabric Law during my first term as Senator. It was not only meant to contribute in the country’s improved agricultural activity, but also to help promote our traditional textiles industry.

I have personally seen these beautiful fabrics painstakingly made by hand, embellished with elaborate designs, and lovingly showcasing the story of the weaver and the culture of their community.

These visits have given me a profound appreciation of these because it’s a culture-based livelihood that has been passed on from generation to generation. We can all support it by reading about it, learning more of its provenance, their culture, their values and traditions. It is only when we are aware of it that we are able to appreciate and protect it.


STM: Earlier this year, there have been reports on the influx of machine-woven blankets and garments with Cordillera weave patterns from abroad into the local market. And just last month, there was this controversy involving an international vlogger and Whang-Od. Can you comment on these incidents?

The traditional cultural heritage of our Indigenous Peoples and communities must be given the protection it deserves. Aside from the vulnerability of these rural livelihoods, we must also look into the protection of our IPs values and knowledge.

Following reports also on counterfeit textiles that have misappropriated the patterns of our weaves from the Cordillera early this year, I filed House Resolution 1549, urging the Special Committee on Creative Industry and Performing Arts to conduct an inquiry with the goal of strengthening protection of the intellectual property rights and cultural heritage of our indigenous peoples and communities.

And out of respect for the art and culture of the Butbut community and the indigenous Filipinos as a whole, I believe that any individual or group who would want to learn or disseminate information about the traditions of our indigenous people should go through the proper process and engage with the community and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) in compliance with the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA).

In this age of the internet and social media we see, hear, and talk about insensitive cultural appropriation or commodification of culture. But it must not stop there, we must ensure that legal protections and remedies are available and supported by the government through a clear system of registration easily accessible to indigenous peoples and communities.

The incident with Whang-Od and Nas Daily serves as a reminder for all to always vet, be mindful, and be respectful of the culture and community we wish to present in our materials.


STM: Are you confident that House Bill 7811 or “An Act Safeguarding the Traditional Property Rights of Indigenous Peoples” – which could prevent the aforementioned issues – will move forward in the current Congress? Otherwise, how do you plan to pursue this bill beyond this term?

I shared with my fellow lawmakers in the House of Representatives the passion and urgency with regard to the immediate passage of this bill. The Arts, Culture and Creative Industries (ACCIB) bloc, headed by Cong. de Venecia and comprised of representatives who share the same passion for our arts and culture, indigenous people, and the creative industries, has been very supportive of this bill and many of them have expressed their intention to co-author this measure.

I will continue to push for the passage of this bill so as to ensure that our Indigenous Peoples and their communities are protected. We must ensure that there are accessible legal protections and remedies in place by the government for our indigenous peoples and local communities.

There has to be stronger convergence and collaboration with the necessary agencies in providing a comprehensive and systematic framework on how we can further protect the welfare of IPs and the preservation of their heritage.

Source: Manila Times: The Sunday Times Magazine


by: Christina Alpad