THE Philippines as a multi-cultural nation prides itself with its diverse indigenous communities that are spread throughout the archipelago. An estimate of fourteen to seventeen Million Indigenous Peoples belonging to over a hundred ethno-linguistic groups are found in these islands and a fraction of that particularly those in Luzon are the focus of a study that we undertook on cultural sensitivity.
With the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and its mandate to preserve, develop and promote the varied arts and integrate traditional culture to create expressions that further promote the country’s national heritage, our proposed research on cultural sensitivity focusing on six major ethno-linguistic groups in Luzon was approved.
My media organization composed of media practitioners, entrepreneurs, community leaders and members of the academe immersed in seven IP groups namely; the Bagos of the Ilocos Region, the Ibanags of Cagayan Valley, the Aetas of Zambales, the Ilongots of Aurora Province, the Mangyans of Mindoro and the Tagbanuas of Palawan. Members of our group also included the sub-tribes from the Cordillera Administrative Region like the Ibaloi, Itneg, Applai, Bontoc, Kalinga and Ifugao in the research that sought to get opinions and insights on culturally sensitive matters in the uplands. I chose to research on the Bago cultural community being one and I also brought along my mother in our weekend travel to the Ilocos coast.
Former university executive and dean Sonia Daoas practically pulled strings with the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) that helped us establish contacts with the various tribes. After our field work, we also conducted a forum in Baguio City that was meant to validate our findings and research where both media and IP leaders were able to formulate doable guidelines on coverage.
During the said forum attended by over a hundred journalists, bloggers, members of the academe and IP representatives from as far as Palawan and Quezon Province, there were expressive sharing of experiences that are substantive enough to formulate a cultural sensitivity manual for reporters, social media and educators.
At the end of the forum, we agreed and arrived at a consensus that the matter of cultural sensitivity boils down to general awareness of the indigenous people’s rights, understanding and respecting the customary practices of each tribe. Anybody including that of the media, those in the academe and even bloggers must recognize that these indigenous people are like anybody else in a civil society that deserves to be on an equal footing under the sun.
Among the general protocols in media coverage and reporting includes seeking permission from the tribal council, respected elders or even coordinating with the Barangay or local government units prior to the conduct of any interviews or film shooting in IP areas. In the case of the Bagos, media should consider their uniqueness and not associate them much with the Ibalois, Ifugaos, Ikalingas, Ifontocs, Tinguians and Itnegs or isnags of Apayao because the Bagos are more likened with the Kankanays and can undesratnd and speak the later’s dialect but with distinct intonation and modification.
For the Aytas of Zambales, it is alright to cover their occasions like traditional marriage but media should first ask permission and explain the purpose of taking videos. They also prefer being called or referred to as “Kapatid, Ate, Kuya or Apo” for elder males and females as a sign of respect.
On the giving of gifts such as second hand clothes, the Mangyans of Mindoro believe that hand-me-down items bring sickness with them. If ever such item is accepted by the Mangyans, it will undergo a ritual of cleansing and handed over fire, a cultural belief that is also applied among their death rituals.
In the case of the Tagbanwa or Tagbanuwa of Palawan, media or bloggers are advised not to cover their rituals because the elders believe that the unseen or spirits might harm them especially in sacred places like wells, burial grounds or rivers. The Tagbanuwas believe that wells is where they get herbal medicines and is protected by spirits. A common cultural protocol among the IPs including that of the Cordillera is a simple dress code of not wearing short and sleeveless clothes. These and more dos and don’ts are included in the manual that was launched earlier this September putting into perspective how indigenous groups should be reported as well as the manner of reporting which practitioners must adhere to.