BY APA FELICIANO
We Filipinos consider ourselves a curious lot—quite a number of us have been Christianised and baptised with Spanish-sounding names, with a heritage rooted in Malay and Chinese and a culture so Westernised that our most prevalent language is a mix of English and Filipino, known as Taglish. The debate surrounding the Filipino national identity has most likely subsided in acceptance of this diversity in our roots, regardless if our country’s name, the Philippines, originated from a 16th century Spanish monarch.
Interestingly, we have 80 identified ethno-linguistic language groups with 500 sub-dialects to further compound this complexity. I took pride knowing this cultural bit because prior to working in the country’s Ministry of Culture, I fell into the category of the uninformed and the fact that the threads that bind this country are technically different but essentially the same contributed to a curiosity that up until today persists. On another end of this spectrum was the revelation that our very own indigenous peoples (IP) took so little pride on being called indigenous—or tribal, as the officialdom would call them. To them, this meant being regarded “differently” and at times “backward”, perhaps made worse by the fact that the poorest communities in the Philippines include indigenous settlements.
This was the kind of information that drove some four individuals of the 20 participating Mindanaoans in the British Council’s Active Citizens programme, localised into Leaders for Social Impact, to make use of existing traditions and cultural elements of the Mindanao IPs as their social enterprise machinery. Love, who was ever so animated and passionate in telling the story of Balay-Balay 3D, presented a woodwork puzzle piece of the torogan, a Maranao traditional dwelling for the royalty, declared as a national cultural treasure in 2008. The build-your-own torogan of the Balay-Balay 3D aims to educate the Filipinos of these traditional dwellings and SwitoDesigns, the parent company, is out to “educate architects, designers, and the public on building with a heart, people-centred, sustainable and eco-conscious designs and methods.”
We Filipinos consider ourselves a curious lot—Christianised and baptised with Spanish sounding names, with a heritage rooted in Malay and Chinese and a culture so Westernised that our most prevalent language is a mix of English and Filipino, known as Taglish.
While social enterprise as a concept has yet to take roots in our legislative body, I think a good number of us have recognised the need for SE to educate the public on our heritage and to aid in the preservation of our culture. This was made especially clear to me on our first night in Cagayan de Oro, when the leaders of the six Northern Mindanao indigenous groups raised their concerns during what we would otherwise and usually call as a cultural night. While delivered in a language I couldn’t understand (Bisaya, a fundamentally different language from the Manila-spoken Tagalog), I think I recognised a few issues relayed by our social entrepreneurs on the second day which included stories on how they’re now the default contingent for cultural showcase and that they’d rather be one and the same with the cohesive national brand of “The Filipinos” instead of being singled out as a member of a particular ethno-linguistic group and sub-tribes.
Melo, one of our more outspoken participants, voiced the collective IP concern in a language so universally understood: “why do we have to be called tribes, and why can’t we be just called Filipinos?” Melo had a point and over time this cultural diversity had increasingly put the IPs at a disadvantage and despite the laws supposed to protect them, they have no access to their ancestral domains, with limited economic opportunities and subject to discrimination. Marginalised, our participants say, and I couldn’t agree more. However, there is a singular argument I’d like to raise: I strongly believe that the IPs are the key to our national identity, the missing link to the highly contested Filipino portrait and this is not because they are unique—but rather because they are our living memories: a memory of a pre-colonial Philippines that has persisted and survived, albeit barely, through centuries of colonial power struggle and modernisation.
My heart has always been with the arts and culture, with very strong feelings on heritage preservation and indigenous identity. My friends in Manila are fighting their own battles on the heritage front and the farmers and anthropologists I’ve volunteered for in the North are fighting their separate socio-economic wars.
Chad Arellano, a volunteer abaca weaver of the Cooperative Handicraft of Nabunturan in Compostela Valley, laments the dwindling number of local residents involved with abaca weaving in their province. In Manila, the abaca-woven products are considered truly Filipino, and are sources of pride for the textile aficionados. But as of this writing, the cooperative is struggling with six members, one of them too old to work for too long. Chad said that at this point, “the only thing I really want happen is that I hope I can really achieve doubling the weavers of C.H.A.I.N and I hope I can launch the shoes soon” which was why he considered the Active Citizens social enterprise training programme as an experience so expansive that it helped him identify areas he should improve and work on, presented him an opportunity to network with like-minded individuals and gave him an idea on how to sell his products.
My heart has always been with the arts and culture, with very strong feelings on heritage preservation and indigenous identity. My friends in Manila are fighting their own battles on the heritage front and the farmers and anthropologists I’ve volunteered for in the North are fighting their separate socio-economic wars. Elsewhere there are the continuing endeavours in breathing life to a dying art, promoting responsible tourism and encouraging the younger generations to be involved in the cultural landscape of the country. All these have always made me painfully aware of the issues that plague the sector. While on the outset, some movements may seem a bit hopeless, the revelations during the Active Citizens training programme raised my happiness meter. I was ecstatic, for one because the growth of the local social enterprises is very much rooted on these areas, and perhaps most importantly, there is hope.