RECENTLY, I granted a request by Indigenous Peoples Mandatory Representative (IPMR) of the Province of Benguet to attend a consultation meeting with former Board Member Sario Copas who is now the IP representative.
I have known IPMR Copas since 1998 because of his involvement in the return of the legendary Benguet mummy of Apo Anno. In my notes, Copas was a municipal councilor in 1995 when he passed a resolution in the municipal council of Buguias to recover Apo Anno from the laboratory of the National Museum however, his plea was only heard in 1998 during a conservation seminar-workshop on Benguet mummies that he reasserted the return of Apo Anno to Buguias supported by then Governor Raul Molintas.
The meeting at the Benguet Capitol was like a reunion from the 1998 recovery of Apo Anno with former SLU museum curator and archivist Isikias Picpican who then provided us with museum guidelines and cultural protocols when we covered the 1998 return of the mummy. We were briefed on how to help the IPMR identify possible programs and project that can be undertaken within the province that conforms to the cultural preservation and IP related matters. Also present at said meeting is Prof. Jimmy Fong of the University of the Philippines-Baguio whose expertise in research methods is seen as a big help in codifying the different cultural centers in Benguet. Some of the things discussed include baseline of genealogy or DNA, plans and activities and the possible title of the funded work program that identify, codify, and verify major ethno-linguistic groups of the Province of Benguet. The planned work program intends to also develop a data base for Benguet Cultural Heritage.
It has been twenty years already since we witnessed the rituals that ensued after the recovery Apo Anno in 1998 when it was brought back to his original resting place in Sitio Nabalikong of Buguias. I actually chanced upon Apo Anno much earlier in 1985 when I visited a friend and former schoolmate working at the National Museum and they informed me “Arthur, yung ninuno mo nasa ibaba sa laboratory".
That prompted my newsman’s instinct and it led me to devise a scheme to photograph the mummy unnoticed and I was able to take a single snapshot without distracting the guard on duty who let me in as a student visitor. I then narrated the presence of an Igorot mummy to my Kumpare Michael A. Bengwayan who was then a correspondent of DepthNews and he used my photograph as a basis for an expose of the presence of a Benguet mummy at the National Museum with statements of former Kabayan Mayor Florentino Merino. Clippings of the article bearing my photograph of the mummy with a hole in left chest is likewise archived at my media Newseum along with my printed images of my 1998 Nabalikong coverage.
I also learned that it was actually through the intercession of former Central Bank Governor Jaime Laya with the approval of Museum Curator Fr. Gabriel Casal that Apo Anno was released from the custody of the National Museum. We were at the turn-over ceremonies with all the appropriate ceremonies and we brought home Apo Anno in a convoy to his original resting place in Sitio Nabalikong, Buguias following traditional rites and rituals.
With IPMRs now in place in local government units that recognizes, respects and protects the rights of Indigenous Peoples group to preserve and develop local cultures, we are hopeful that relevant customary practices and traditions will continue to be respected by both national and local government with obligations to protect the rights of the Indigenous Cultural Communities/Indigenous Peoples.
As enacted in Republic Act 8371 or better known as the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997 that guarantees respect for cultural integrity, it is prayed that Indigenous Cultural Communities and indigenous peoples are assured that they benefit on an equal footing from the rights and opportunities which national laws and regulations grant to other members of the population.