Apology-A A +A
By Ramon Dacawi
Saturday, January 15, 2011
ON OCCASIONS, only the famous and powerful can afford to be different or to be themselves. So when Moshe Dacmeg wore his tribal g-string in William Clinton’s forum on “Embracing Our Common Humanity”, a security aide threatened to drag him out of the Manila Hotel for trying to “act differently”.
Clinton, of course, served as the 42nd President of the United States of America, preceding George W. Bush and Barack Obama as the most powerful leader in the world. Dacmeg is a staff member of the National Institute of Information Technology here in Baguio. He perhaps saw his name in the papers for the first time after that incident initiated by Clinton’s security aide.
Tasked to lay and clear the carpet, the security aide acted as himself, either personally or professionally, if not in both capacities. He didn’t find Moshe’s outlandish attire amusing. He apparently didn’t see the relevance of the costume to the theme of President Clinton’s speech. Unless, perhaps, President Bill himself saw fit to don a wrap-around to symbolize humanity’s common loincloth heritage. He must have deemed Moshe’s attire demeaning to the stature of the speaker and the occasion for coats and ties, barongs and what mainstream society deems formal and appropriate.
That’s a more credible explanation than to think the security aide, well trained for the job, suspected Moshe’s “look-at-me” outfit to be a security threat. One with a design to harm would be naïve to wear something immediately striking. A loin cloth may be outlandish, but it can hardly conceal a gun or a knife or a stick of dynamite. In it, Moshe was plainly and clearly far more harmless than Pancho, the bandit boy of song who “wore his gun outside his pants for all the honest world to see”.
Unfortunate as the incident was, it led us to a glimpse into the humility, the sense of propriety and cultural sensitivity of Harry Thomas, Jr. the U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines. His Excellency succeeded Ambassador Kristie Kenney, she who left us in tears for being more Filipino than many of us, she who personally campaigned for pushcart teacher Efren Penaflorida to become CNN’s Hero of the Year.
When informed of the confrontation over tribal regalia, Ambassador Thomas wrote an apology coursed through Roque Agton, the chair of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples.
“I am writing to express my sincere apology for the incident detailed in your November 25 letter,” Ambassador Thomas wrote Agton. “I deeply regret any offense to the distinguished Indigenous Peoples present at President Clinton’s forum on “Embracing Our Common Humanity”.
“Unfortunately, in situations such as this, those unaware of the richness of Filipino culture and tradition often fail to appreciate its historical significance and value in the treasured partnership of our two nations.
“Please do convey my apologies to Messrs. Cayabas and Dacmeg, as well as Ms. Aparri, along with my best regards.”
He was referring to Vladimir Cayabas, NIIT’s administrator, and Joneelyn Aparri, who were with Moshe Dacmeg in the Clinton forum. Dacmeg and Aparri changed into their Igorot attire after they asked security if it was all right to listen to President Clinton in their traditional costume.
Personally, I was witness to Ambassador Thomas’ human side last July, when he called at the Baguio city hall. I recall part of my coverage story on such meeting-- about g-string and golf diplomacy. About the human virtue and gift of humor:
After the pleasantries during the call of United States Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr. at city hall last July 15, city officials and media exited to give His Excellency and Mayor Mauricio Domogan time to discuss things.
Left with them were Rep. Bernardo Vergara, his wife Gloria, the mayor’s wife Rebecca, city administrator Carlos Canilao and members of the ambassador’s party.
The mayor opened up with a recollection of how Baguio was built by the American founding fathers as the country’s "Summer Capital" at the turn of the last century. The facilities they put up include the two golf courses at the Baguio Country Club and Camp John hay.
Discussions took a swing when the ambassador was taking a closer look at the photos on the wall - of the mayor swinging a club and studying his putt --- in his tribal g-string.
"When I play golf, I’ll bring my own outfit," Thomas Jr. said, apparently amused by what he saw.
Taking the drift, the mayor explained he donned his ethnic regalia on the course so "they could see the Cordillera size". He then offered to gift the ambassador with a set so "they can also see the American size".
Later, at a reception marking American Independence at the Ambassador’s residence inside John Hay, His Excellency took his turn toasting Philippine-American friendship.
With the mayor within hearing distance, the ambassador noted he would look like Domogan if only he were slimmer.
Domogan didn’t come in his native attire, given the advisory on the invitation card: red, white and jeans Years back, he felt it was appropriate to be in his g-string while addressing a ceremony in a hotel in Metro-Manila. .
Seeing him in his tribal elegance, the hotel guards wouldn’t let him in, saying his attire was prohibited within the premises. The mayor tried to explain the relevance of his outfit to his speech about indigenous leadership, but the guards stood their ground. .
"Kung bawal ito, di alisin ko na lang (If this isn’t allowed, then I’ll just have to remove it)," he conceded. “Ta makita da koma ti Cordillera size (So they would see the Cordillera size),” he later recalled with a chuckle.
Alarmed, the security let him be and in to the function room for his message about enriching local governance with tribal wisdom. (e-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org for comments).
Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on January 16, 2011.