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Loren Legarda weaves her tapestry of culture
From the time that she was a broadcast journalist, a three-term senator, and now as a representative of the Lone District of Antique, Loren Legarda has been in touch with our indigenous communities and their concerns. She explains, “The ways and means of our indigenous people may be ancient compared to the standards of modern society, but everything that we have now is not only 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. We must protect our indigenous peoples and their traditional cultural heritage at all costs.”

Loren Legarda weaves her tapestry of culture

ARTMAGEDDON - Igan D’Bayan (The Philippine Star) - March 1, 2021 - 12:00am

We ask Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives Loren Legarda how she is coping with the pandemic and her answer is, “Sustainably.”

“Even though I’m always busy with work at the House of Representatives and with district concerns, I always make sure to set standards for myself in terms of living sustainably. I recycle and upcycle my old, unused things and turn them into something useful.” She considers herself a “plantita” even decades ago before the term was even coined. The pandemic is one of the worst experiences of our lifetime, but Legarda sees it as a way of opening our eyes to the sanctity, essentiality and beauty of life and what it has to offer. “It has made us appreciate our relationships, our family, our children, our friends, nature, environment, culture, and those little things that we may have taken for granted.”

And in our mad race for wealth and stature, what we have taken for granted is the very cultural soul of our nation.

She explains how the Philippines is endowed with many indigenous peoples (IPs) or groups, with each community possessing its own traditional knowledge that has been passed from one generation to the next. Given the bulk of this traditional knowledge covering almost all aspects of life, our indigenous communities should ideally be rich economically — that is, if the benefits of bringing to the mainstream these practices and intellectual properties, which they have generously shared with the world, actually flowed back to them.

Essentially, we need to safeguard the traditional property rights of our IPs, protecting them from theft, imitation and misappropriation. Recognizing these traditional art forms and processes enables our IPs and local communities to have a say in how they would want their traditional knowledge to be used by others. A sense of ownership will enable them to share and at the same time protect their culture from any form of control or exploitation.”

A Yakan weaver from Zamboanga shows off her creation as part of a two-day demonstration and lecture series at the National Museum. The weekly weaving demos at the Hibla gallery were part of Legarda’s project initiated in 2012 to perpetuate weaving and indigenous knowledge.

As a senator in 2012, Legarda first raised the issue on the protection of our indigenous peoples’ cultural properties (both tangible and intangible) when she filed Senate Bill No. 2831 or the Traditional Property Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act. When she was elected as Representative of the Lone District of Antique, she filed the measure again as House Bill 7811 and its passage is much more critical today following news reports on counterfeit textile makers appropriating weaves from the Cordillera. This fakery is also being done with fabrics from Mindanao.

She explains, “This measure aims to protect our indigenous knowledge and cultural heritage, and put a stop to incidences wherein indigenous knowledge, dances and designs are being stolen by local and foreign entities, further marginalizing our IPs and depriving them of their cultural property and identity.”

It also provides for the creation of a comprehensive cultural archive that will organize an inventory of all cultural properties of the different ethno-linguistic groups of the Philippines. Additionally, the bill mandates the payment of royalties for the use of cultural property of our IPs. The bill aims to fill in the gaps and apply conventional forms of intellectual property, such as copyright, royalty and ownership. It has a broader coverage for royalties that will compensate communities for their collective and individual creative expression and extends intellectual property rights past 50 years.

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

Legarda has visited numerous weaving communities all over the country for over 40 years now and has seen precious fabrics woven by hand, embroidered with intricate designs, each thread, each fabric telling a story. She recalls going up the mountains of Bicol and even to the remote towns in Iloilo just so that she could visit a weaving center, or even just one weaver, as well as communities nestled amongst the mountains. This gave her a vision of creating the country’s first gallery for indigenous Philippine textiles that is housed in the National Museum of the Philippines, the Hibla ng Lahing Filipino.

During the 2012 Indigenous People’s Month celebration, then-Senator Legarda presented the Hibla Pavilion of Textiles and Weaves of the Philippines at Manila FAME. She stressed the importance of initiatives in opening doors of opportunities for weaving communities and Schools of Living Traditions (SLTs) through the Hibla Pavilion, and generating greater patronage for cultural enterprises and creative industries of indigenous people.

The representative gets her inspiration from individuals who are fighting bravely against the dying of the light of their cultural souls, namely:

Alonzo Saclag from Lubuagan, Kalinga — a Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan awardee (GAMABA) — is a master of Kalinga dance and chant, and has committed his life to documenting and preserving as many of the traditional cultural practices of his people as possible.

Teofilo Garcia from San Quintin, Abra — another GAMABA recipient — recognized not only the tabungaw or gourd hat that he has devoted his life to creating but equally important was his work as a farmer and agriculturist. The hat is just the end of an entire agricultural process. Teofilo is determined to pass on his knowledge to his students in San Quintin National High School in its entirety.

Another example is the late Fu Yabing Masalon Dulo, a Blaan from Amgu-o Landan, Polomolok, South Cotabato, a National Living Treasure, and a master weaver and dyer of the Blaan community. Legarda says, “(Dulo’s) passion to teach the younger generation has inspired me to continuously pursue my lifelong advocacy and passion for the preservation of our traditional cultural heritage.” At the young age of 14, Dulo learned Mabal Tabih, the art of dyeing and weaving. Two Tabih masterpieces are currently on view at the National Museum of the Philippines. She also served as the cultural master for the Blaan School of Living Traditions at Sitio Lamlifew, Datal Tampal, Malungon, Sarangani where she taught the youth traditional weaving and dyeing techniques.

Federico Caballero — from the mountains of Central Panay — documents their oral literature, particularly the epics, of his people. Diverse stories about common concerns such as family, community, nature and the environment have been immortalized through their epics and chants.

Master weaver Magdalena Gamayo has been relying on her innate skills for years, starting at the age of 16 when she learned the art of weaving from her aunt. She taught herself the traditional patterns of binakol, inuritan (geometric design), kusikos (spiral forms similar to oranges), and sinan-sabong (flowers), which are considered to be the most challenging patterns. The beauty of Magdalena Gamayo’s designs teaches us that machines can never equal the beauty and grace only human art can convey.

Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan (GAMABA) awardees Ambalang Ausalin, Fu Yabing Masalon Dulo, Estelita Bantilan and Magdalena Gamayo.

Legarda explains, “Our GAMABAs are prime examples of Filipinos who dedicated most of their lives in creating their traditional arts and crafts, and keeping their community alive for the younger generation. They embody the values of persistence, perfectionism, passion, commitment and respect for their traditional arts and culture.”

Many of us Filipinos either have a pedantic mastery or a passing familiarity with the cultural heritage and artistic accomplishments of Western nations, but are bereft of knowledge of the artistry and body of work of people from our indigenous communities.

The Deputy Speaker says, “My visits (to the communities) have also made me realize that safeguarding our identity, our beliefs, tangible or intangible, is as important as the economic and political affairs of nations. We empower these small communities, individuals and groups that have their own sets of traditional systems and ways, and yet, define us as to who we are. The arts create a sense of solidarity and unity, and it takes a collective effort to share and protect.”

Small actions create great ripples of change and we have to always start at the grassroots, according to Legarda. But the body of work she is undertaking (with the assistance from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts [NCCA] and other concerned institutions) in terms of filing congressional bills, holding cultural mapping workshops, presenting the Dayaw documentary series, establishing Habol Panay, forming regional textile galleries and weaving centers, and championing projects such as the Schools of Living Traditions — where a living master or cultural bearer imparts their knowledge on traditional arts and craft, including folklore, mythology, and other oral traditions — creates not just ripples but waves.

A wave of threads and patterns being sewn into the fabric of our being Filipino.

LOREN LEGARDA
Philstar
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