THE Indigenous People’s Rights Act (IPRA) as enshrined in RA No. 8371 or the IPRA law recognizes cultural diversity and endeavors to dignify the diversity of the cultures, traditions, histories and aspirations of the indigenous communities.

Furthermore, the government shall take effective measures to ensure that the State-owned media duly reflect indigenous cultural diversity. The State shall likewise ensure the participation of appropriate indigenous leaders in schools, communities and international cooperative undertakings like festivals, conferences, seminars and workshops to promote and enhance their distinctive heritage and values.

On Community Intellectual Rights, the IPRA honors the indigenous cultural communities or IPs the right to practice and revitalize their own cultural traditions and customs. The State shall preserve, protect and develop the past, present and future manifestations of their cultures as well as the right to the restitution of cultural, intellectual, religious, and spiritual property taken without their free and prior informed consent or in violation of their laws, traditions and customs.

It shall also be unlawful to explore, excavate or make diggings on archeological sites of the ICCs/IPs for the purpose of obtaining materials of cultural values without the free and prior informed consent (FPIC) of the community concerned; and It shall be unlawful to deface, remove or otherwise destroy artifacts which are of great importance to the ICCs/IPs for the preservation of their cultural heritage.

One area that I am very much particular with on this particular subject matter are things that relate to the documenting, chronicling and taking of pictures, movie footages of IPs, ICCs and their customary practices as these are often regarded with plurality as that of other cultures. It has been discussed and suggested in several forums that customary law practices must be observed and prevail over other laws once these affects, malign and cause anxiety to conservative and culturally attached locals.

Red Haircrow, author of “American Indians: The Challenges of Indigenous Studies” quoted a member of the Navajo Nation, Megan Noel Singer who said that “Insensitivity even by some Native Studies professors or instructors can also be problematic or the using of other cultures for one’s own prestige, showing one’s expertise with a sense of ownership. This can be a direct result of obtaining a degree in some area of indigenous study but still having not been educated about cultural appropriation or the behavioral effects of white privilege”.

A graduate student and instructor at Montana State University Bozeman, Singer also said that “Too many non-natives think all big issues or situations are in the past, so when they are presented with clear evidence and examples of current events and issues, they don’t know how to engage with natives. Most haven’t had a real life conversation with someone native before.”

The Filipino practice of observing and commemorating feasts, town fiestas and founding anniversaries in the country often reflects tribal or pre-colonization practices that reflects the country’s pagan period and often these makes some people believe that many of us are still living primitively. We have the Ati-Atihan of Kalibo, Aklan; Sinulog of Cebu and the Dinagyang of Iloilo including Moriones of Marinduque and the Panagbenga Flower Festival of Baguio City that blossomed when the Grand Canao ceased to be revived as a cultural showcase of the upland folks of Northern Philippines.

Having worn my “wanes” or “ba-ag” during our recent art and cultural encounter in Davao City last month with over a dozen visual artists that represented the Cordillera in full regalia, we performed traditional Cordillera songs and dances to the delight of the crowd at the big mall in Northern Philippines.

As a member of the Bago tribe who was elevated to a council of elder status by the Igorot Global Organization many years back, I felt that, we did the right thing and not misrepresent a culturally sensitive region during our event. We have members from the provinces of the Cordillera and Baguio was also represented by non-Igorots.

In like manner, the students and cultural performers who represented the Lumads and Bagobos did their part with their kulintangs and agungs and it was truly a cultural experience to behold. Lito Mallagay of Abra and one of our artist delegates led a Tinguian invocation following a Lumad prayer said by a tribal representative of Mindanao.

On my part as the most senior and head of the delegation, I asked permission from Apo Kabunian that he will guide us all the way till our return. I also dripped few drops of brandy discreetly from my concealed hip flask for the traditional “pitik” offering to the unseen spirits who may be “just around” joining us for the said event. We often do the same whenever we open a spirited bottle and share its contents with both the living and the dead.