National Indigenous Peoples Month 2013

October 23, 2013

Senator Loren Legarda

Privilege Speech on the National Indigenous Peoples Month

23 October 2013 – Senate Session Hall


The month of October is celebrated in the Philippines as the National Indigenous Peoples Month and this year, we are invited by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) for a Collective Celebration of the Culture of Indigenous Cultural Communities.


We are a historically plural and multi-ethnic society with 110 IP groups, each community possessing its own traditional knowledge and practices, which have shaped our story as a Filipino people.


We should take pride in our cultural rootedness and recognize the people whose lives take us through many centuries of struggle to protect the land we live in, preserve the virtues we uphold and bring us back to who we are.


Chairperson Felipe de Leon, Jr. of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), in his speech during the inauguration of the expanded permanent textile gallery at the National Museum, said that the excellence of our indigenous peoples is incomparable because their works are of the highest standards as they do it for their families and communities—labors of love as we may aptly call them.[1]


For the T’bolis of Lake Sebu, South Cotabato, weaving, embroidery, beadwork and belt-making are important skills in keeping the T’boli tradition alive because every item they make is an important part of their life.[2]


The t’nalak is a cloth made of abaca that is usually used by the T’bolis during significant occasions like birth, marriage and death; the hilets, or belts with brass small bells, are believed to drive away bad spirits; while the embroidery they use to accentuate their traditional blouses narrate the story of their relationship with nature and the spirits.


In Paracelis, Mountain Province, the Ga’dang community practices weaving that involves an intricate beadwork, which makes their garments unique from the others. [3]


The process of both the actual weaving and incorporating beadwork is too tedious and takes a lot of time. A belt alone is made in more than a week’s time.


Ga’dang elders strive to pass on this traditional Ga’dang cloth weaving to their children to unleash the creativity of the youth while incorporating in them the values of hard work, patience and love of culture.


Meanwhile, the Panay Bukidnon community in Calinog, Iloilo employs intricate handiwork and a unique dyeing system in the creation of their traditional wear. Embroiderers intricately work on their craft to emphasize the elaborate symbol pictography of the Panay Bukidnon, which is usually inspired by their natural surroundings.[4]


The Hanunuo Mangyan community in Bulalacao, Oriental Mindoro continues to practice burungan to produce thread from cotton, which they use to weave ramit that they wear as skirt. [5]


The process of making cotton thread starts with the harvest of cotton and removing of seeds, which is already a tedious process. Using birikan, a bowl acting as a plinth, and the binuyo, a spool formed from the betel nut tree, cotton thread is spun as it is pulled from the wool of wild cotton. The dye extracted from the tagum leaf is used to infuse color into the thread. The Hanunuo Mangyans weave ramit, which have various designs, using backstrap loom.


These traditional practices are but a few of the many weaving traditions around the country and weaving is just one part of a very rich culture.


In an effort to preserve and promote these weaving traditions as well as our tropical fabrics, we have recently inaugurated the expanded Hibla ng Lahing Filipino: The Artistry of Philippine Textiles. The gallery, which is the first permanent textile gallery in the country, has become bigger, better and with more items in display.


We also inaugurated the Baybayin Gallery, which showcases the ancient and traditional scripts of the Philippines. It features and promotes awareness of the writing systems used by ancient Filipinos.


On display in the gallery are famous artifacts such as the Calatagan Pot, the Intramuros Potsherd, the Monreal Stones, and the 10th century Laguna Copperplate, one of the earliest written documents found in the Philippines.


But one museum cannot hold a nation’s overflowing cultural richness. In fact, when I visited the Ethnological Museum in Berlin, I discovered that Dr. Jose Rizal was also fond of Philippine tropical fabrics. The museum in Berlin has kept Rizal’s textile collection and we hope that we can have this on loan for display at the National Museum.


In a related matter, the Quai Branly Museum in Paris, France featured Philippine pre-colonial artwork and artifacts through the exhibition “Philippines: An Archipelago of Exchange” from April 9 to July 14, 2013. Among the items that were displayed in the museum are the Maitum burial jars from Sarangani, wooden images of rice gods from Northern Luzon, gold ornaments, and costumes and weapons of ancient warriors.


A similar exhibition here in the Philippines would be beautiful. It would be good for our people if we can replicate these kinds of projects in our communities to ensure that future generations would still be able to witness these cultural treasures and traditions.


It is in this light that I filed Senate Bill No. 105, which seeks to preserve the country’s traditional folk arts through the regional museums of the National Museum.


These regional museums will display traditional folk arts collection, archeological finds, objects of art, and other local cultural treasures as part of efforts on conservation, preservation and promotion of the cultural heritage of the schools of living traditions (SLTs) found within their localities.


With these regional museums showcasing traditional folk arts, we hope to start a cultural revolution through an immersion in the Philippine art from the ordinary folks of old.


I have also proposed the creation of a Department of Culture and the Arts under Senate Bill No. 1391 to reorganize the existing NCCA and ensure its place in the priorities of the government.


Proposed measures for the benefit of our IPs have been filed as well:


  • Senate Bill No. 669 seeks to safeguard the traditional property rights of IPs;
  • Senate Bill No. 515 will ensure equal employment opportunities to IPs;
  • Senate Bill No. 534 will include ethnic origin in the National Survey conducted by the National Statistics Office (NSO); and,
  • Senate Bill No. 1357 seeks to prohibit profiling, violence and all forms of intolerance against persons based on ethnicity, race, religion or belief, language, disability or other status.


Mr. President,


The ways and means of our indigenous peoples 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 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. Let our common vision and values weave us together as we seek to empower those who have given meaning to our being Filipino.


Thank you, Mr. President.***

[1] Speech of NCCA Chairperson Felipe de Leon, Jr., Inauguration of the Hibla and Baybayin Galleries, 20 September 2013, Museum of the Filipino People

[2] OSL documentation on weavers at the Hibla Pavilion of Textiles and Weaves

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.