COMMENT: A ‘friend’ of indigenous people goes beyond dress-ups

·Contributor
·5 min read
QUEZON CITY, PHILIPPINES - AUGUST 9: Indigenous people and advocates hold a protest to commemorate the International Day of the Worlds Indigenous People's at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Quezon City, Philippines on August 09, 2022. The protest is to draw the attention for the death, imprisonment or torture, and disinformation. (Photo by Dante Diosina Jr/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
QUEZON CITY, PHILIPPINES - AUGUST 9: Indigenous people and advocates hold a protest to commemorate the International Day of the Worlds Indigenous People's at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Quezon City, Philippines on August 09, 2022. The protest is to draw the attention for the death, imprisonment or torture, and disinformation. (Photo by Dante Diosina Jr/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

It was August 12, and you switched to Sonshine Media Network International’s (SMNI) propaganda broadcast. The text bar read “Dr. Badoy: I love tribal stuff.” The camera focuses on red-tagger Lorraine Badoy, dressed in traditional attire of the indigenous Ata-Manobo people in Mindanao (hinted to be so in one of her Facebook posts).

Here’s the thing: Badoy has a history with the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC). Contrary to what the agency claims as “truth-tagging,” they falsely accuse critics and progressives, including IPs in the Philippines, as having communist or terrorist ties. For people like Badoy, their wanton disregard for the burden of proof had innocent people unjustly arrested or brutally murdered.

You don’t believe us? Then, ask brothers Puroy and Randy “Pulong” dela Cruz what happened to them on March 7, 2021. Like many of the Dumagat community (of whom they are a part of), they were also critics of the controversial Kaliwa Dam project that threatened their homes and the nearby environment. They were killed by state forces alongside seven other activists on that day, and were at one point invited by NTF-ELCAC for a “local peace engagement.”

A year before this, on December 30, nine Tumandok leaders were slain and 16 members of the said community were arrested in raids spearheaded by the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) in Panay. Most of them were branded as members of the armed revolutionary group New People’s Army (NPA), with one leader being red-tagged by NTF-ELCAC themselves.

Like the dela Cruz brothers, the Tumandok people were protesting dam projects. This time, on the rivers of Jalaur and Panay.

So, is that hypocrisy you’re smelling from Badoy and friends? Right you are, and the currently nine complaints filed against her only put the red-tagger in an even worse light.

But this problem is not exclusive to Badoy nor the state as we find out later. Earlier this August, Vice President Sara Duterte thought it was best to dress in Bagobo Tagabawa traditional clothing for Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr.’s State of the Nation Address (SONA).

As the “education secretary,” she sure didn’t seem to mind being involved in closing down schools for the Lumads (a collective term for IPs in Mindanao) before. For someone wanting to show “solidarity” to the Lumads, she sure didn’t seem to flinch when her father, ex-Pres. Rodrigo Duterte, threatened to bomb their schools or let authorities terrorize Lumad children and kill their teachers for the state’s failed counter-insurgency program.

In fact, did we hear any yapping from dear ‘ol Inday when Lumad brothers Mawing and Ismael Pangadas were arrested during a SONA protest in Davao on that same day? The irony is definitely not lost on netizens, mind you.

Indeed, the national government had failed IPs and the Lumad countless times, but one must be reminded how even good intentions can add insult to injury. For instance, the fourth Man of the World pageant’s swimwear competition last June involved the use of Bahag: a traditional garment worn by Cordilleran males.

As much as the organizers (one of whom said to be a Cordilleran) wanted to promote the community’s culture, ex-senate candidate Teddy Baguilat felt that the G-string was treated like a “sex toy.” This also did not sit well with Tignayan ti Agtutubo ti Kordilyera para iti Demokrasya ken Rang-ay (“Cordillera Youth Movement for Democracy and Prosperity” in English) or TAKDER for short.

They said it best that Cordillerans (and, in this case, all IPs by extension) are “not commodities but human beings, and that Bahags are “worn with pride during wars, weddings, harvests, and other important milestones in our communities. The designs are symbols of our struggles and have weaved our way of life.”

Of course, who could forget arguably Nuseir Yassin’s (more popularly known as Nas Daily) biggest among his long list of controversies: the Whang-Od Academy? Here, Yassin attempted to feature the Kalinga tattoo artist on his online learning service without properly consulting with Whang-Od herself.

I myself am not a part of an IP community nor am I well-versed in their respective cultures, but one doesn’t have to be a member to practice respect and integrity. Standing in solidarity with IPs goes beyond commodifying their cultural attires and practices. Instead, it requires allowing IPs to represent themselves to the public in ways that they feel are appropriate and to address the root causes of their problems without the fear of bloodshed.

After all, there is nothing more insulting than “supporters” resorting to performative means or state loyalists playing dress-up like Barbie dolls. (Ironically, Barbie herself is less plastic than Badoy's or Duterte's appropriationl)

Three days before Badoy’s latest broadcast with the propaganda network, it was the International Day of the World's Indigenous People. The commemoration already came and went, but the reality is that IPs are still red-tagged and terrorized by the people that swore to uphold the welfare of Filipinos, driven out of their ancestral lands by private corporations looking to transform them, and blocked from quality education and healthcare services among others.

If you want to be a genuine ally of IPs, then do more than just playing dress-up.

Reuben Pio Martinez is a news writer who covers stories on various communities and scientific matters. He regularly tunes in to local happenings. The views expressed are his own.

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