Loren Legarda says lawmakers can make a statement on the SONA red carpet by wearing only native garments

August 31, 2014

MANILA, Philippines – If Senator Loren Legarda had her way, legislators and their spouses attending the State of the Nation Address (SONA) would wear  native garments.

Last July 28, she wore the traditional garments of the Mandaya; her outfit was made of a bado (blouse) with embroidered geometric designs of colorful threads and beads, and a dagmay (handwoven skirt) made of abaca strips dyed using organic colorants from plants and herbs.  She thinks the red carpet entrance during the Sona is a good  venue for legislators to make a statement though their outfits.

“Some have worn garments expressing their political sentiments. I have been wearing garments to promote our indigenous communities and culture. I think there is nothing wrong with that because at the end of the day, the red carpet is only the side event, and the highlight will always be what the President will say to the Filipinos,”Loren enthused.

Asked if she thinks senators should have a uniform for Sona, she said it’s okay as long as the senators comply with the Tropical Fabric Law which Loren authored in 2003. The law mandates that uniforms of government officials and employees are to be made of indigenous fabrics. Until now, many government agencies are not complying with the law.

Loren has been collecting, promoting and supporting the works of cultural communities for more than 30 years now. Her passion for aboriginal artistry began when she was 18.

“I got it from my grandmother and mother, and I’ve been collecting these pieces since I was a student. My dress collection is different from my textile collection, I have filled up cabinets so that my children will tell me, joking me Ma, eto lang ba ang pamana mo sa amin,” she said.

When Loren received a green Kinamalayan fabric from Abra Vice-Governor Chari Bersamin a few days ago, the lawmaker was filled with the same giddy feeling she gets every time she receives an indigenous material from friends.

Whenever Loren runs her fingers through the fabric, she thinks about the artistry that went into it, the deft hands that wove it and the design that came from a dream of the aboriginal who made it.

When it comes to wearing native wear, Loren thinks more about functionality. She already made plans to wear the Kinamalayan gift on a Monday, a day she reserves for wearing ethnic dresses.

“For example, the fabric from Chari, it’s so beautiful and I noticed it’s quite long, so  I asked her is it a table runner? And I said pwede ko putulin yan at gawin na dress. Kapag gabi yan ang stress buster ko. In front of the mirror, I will wrap the cloth around my body and model and see what’s beautiful at ipapartnerko sa t-shirt or tutup and then I’ll accesorize it with the beautiful silver necklace that Chari gave me. Wala naman ako kosturera or stylist. Kapag nagsawa na ako, I will hang the fabric from my window. At pag nagsawa na rin ako, puputol-putulin ko at gagawin ko yan  shawl, at pag nagsawa na rin ako sa shawl,gagawin ko naman syang table runner,” said Loren, eliciting chuckles from reporters whom she invited for the launching of  “Hibla ng Lahing Pilipino: The Artistry of Philippine Textiles” catalogue  last Thursday at the Reception Hall of the Museum of the Filipino People in Kalaw.

Loren said she’s also one to experiment with her ethnic wear. She said she would like to change fashion perceptions that native wear can only be used during formal events. In fact she said,these pieces can be styled and worn with denim jeans.

“Most people think native garments can only be worn during events that require  a dress code, but what I do is I mix my traditional garments with contemporary pieces as my daily outfit. I have worn a Bagobo blouse paired with jeans, a T’boli upper garment matched with black slacks, and a Bagobo skirt paired with plain long-sleeved shirt. We only need to be creative so we can wear them in office, during meetings, parties and other personal events,” she said.

“Whatever we do with the indigenous fabrics, the bottom line here is art appreciation, our culture appreciation. We appreciate our rootedness,” Loren said.

Loren said the textile exhibit is one of her most important and special projects this year. With the help of curator  Ana Maria Theresa Labrador, who is also the assistant director of the National Museum, they were able to mount the exhibit that aims to further raise awareness on the culture of indigenous people. The catalogue contains photos of all traditional garments, looms, accessories and weaving materials displayed in the Hibla gallery, complete with provenance.

“The exhibit is called ‘Hibla’ because it speaks of the thread, the basic element of fabric that connects Filipinos. It is our commonality. Textiles itself is art, it speaks about the indigenous people’s life and death. Our native textiles are used from birth to death, for marriage, to war. Our textiles says a lot about our people, it is our legacy. They should not be forgotten. They should be studied, exposed and understood,” Loren said.

Sadly, the weavers are dwindling in numbers. Loren reiterated that it is her mission to give the indigenous people a sustainable livelihood so they can continue their tradition.

“In every weaving town, if we just gift one family a loom, they can work from home and that will help save the craft,” she said.

Loren said a lot of government agencies are already helping out to preserve weaving communities all over the country such as the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the National Commission for Culture and Arts (NCCA) which gives grants to communities.

She’s happy to note that weaving is thriving in Ilocos regions, in La Union and in Baguio.

Loren shared that one time she discovered a little town in Bangar where every home has a loom, a device that binds threads through weaving to make cloth. Clients from as far as other provinces flock to the town to purchase their goods.

Another project that Loren is really excited about is  national hero Jose Rizal’s indigenous collection, which she plans to exhibit next year.

Loren stumbled upon Rizal’s collection when she was in Germany attending an economic conference hosted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in July 2013.

The ambassador told her that Rizal’s collection was kept in the Berlin Ethnological Center. Loren felt so amazed and lost no time in arranging for a meeting with the curator, a certain Dr. Platz.

At first, they didn’t want to show the collection to Loren but she was able to convince them and there she saw Rizal’s collection from the 1880s: a salakot made from carabao horns, a pina barong, an Ycat cloth, a barot’ saya and a brass belt.

Loren learned that Rizal gave the collection to his good friend Mr. Adolf Pastian, the founder of the Berlin Ethnological Center in 1887.

“Imagine, in the 1880s, Rizal saw the value of textiles in our culture  and to be able to give that to Mr. Pastian. How thoughtful, he had a vision,” Loren said.

She immediately thought of bringing the collection to the Philippines so that Pinoys can appreciate it too. But that proved to be a difficult task.

“I’ve written to the ambassador here and I even wrote to President P-Noy about my plans. I’ve been rejected by the museum’s officials a couple of times. But you know, I don’t take no for an answer so I continued to push for it. Then I wrote to the new ambassador and I said  that it will be nice to bring the collection in celebration of Philippines and Germany’s 60 years of bilateral ties. Finally, after one year, I got a positive response not from Dr.Platz but from the ministry,” she said.

So in February 2015, the National Museum will exhibit Dr. Rizal’s indigenous collection.

Loren said she will send Labrador to talk to Dr. Platz and bring the pieces here.

Meanwhile, the senator said she’s pleased that a lot of our designers who have been making a splash abroad are promoting indigenous materials through their work.

Loren said the government’s support to the fashion industry should go beyond fashion.

“Garments are not just about fashion. The thrust is ‘fashionalism’—fashion and nationalism. You wear an outfit not only to be fashionable but also to be proud of your heritage. My advocacy is to promote our indigenous fabrics and to ensure that our weaving culture stays alive and will provide livelihood to many people especially those in the countryside,” Loren said.

Right now, the government, through the Philippine Textile Research Institute (PTRI) and Philippine Fiber Industry Development Authority (PhilFIDA), has various programs to promote local textiles, Loren said.

Still, Loren thinks the government should do more in terms of  increasing the awareness of our people.

“That is what the National Museum of the Philippines and my office are doing through various projects such as the Hibla gallery, the Hibla catalogue, the Lecture Series on Philippine Textiles and Indigenous Knowledge, and many other initiatives. I am also collaborating with other agencies like the NCCA and the Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions (CITEM), local government units, and state universities and colleges to promote our culture and heritage. During my first term as senator, I supported the development of cultural villages of the Ata Manobo, Mandaya, Blaan, and Bagobo Tagabawa in various activities of their Schools of Living Tradition (SLTs), which teach the young generation the traditional arts, crafts, music and practices of the village,” she said.

Source: Philstar