WE NEED to know and understand our own culture better than anyone else.

I believe that each of us belong to a family cluster or community that are distinct and unique from other groups, races and nationalities that compose the inhabitants of the global village. With our diverse cultures, different orientations and individual upbringings, I would like to think that there is no superior and inferior people and that we are all equal as human beings despite our colors, cultural beliefs, religion or family background. When I say equal, I am not referring to social status, educational background or way of life as these to me are superficial, acquired and not inherent to the individual. An uneducated person may not be able to cope well with life in the big city but he or she can be a kingpin or village master in the boondocks.

I have been exposed to many discrimination and cultural prejudices here and abroad and such stereotyping or derogatory branding has found social media as one popular portal to further cause disinformation, malevolent and unfair statements especially to indigenous peoples and some religious groups. As a fine arts student participating in an on-the-spot painting contest back in the late 70s, I actually saw how students from the Visayas painted themselves black in preparation to the Ati-Atihan program at the Folk Arts Theatre when former First Lady Imelda Marcos was the Governor of Metropolitan Manila. Cultural performers who represent the various tribes of the Cordillera often draw fake tattoos on their bodies to impersonate the fierce warriors and tribal folks of the uplands who were never subjugated by Spanish colonizers.

Because of some customary practices, festivities and performance of traditional dances such as the Ati-Atihan in the Vasayas and Igorot war dance in the Cordilleras, many are led to believe that Filipino ethnic groups are primitive dark skinned barbarians who still practices head hunters. Many pseudo journalists, bloggers, observers and social media netizens have written journals and shared articles that contributed to some inaccurate and unfair facts about certain ethnic groups.

There was a study made on “Getting the facts right: reporting ethnicity and religion” and it explores how journalists covering people’s various cultures made a critical impact in international and national codes of ethics. Accordingly, the study is based on critical analysis of 199 news reports and interviews with 117 journalists and editors in nine European countries where news makers were made aware of the danger of discrimination based on, ethnicity, religion, and national or social origins. It was observed that journalists were partly responsible for stirring up tensions that stimulated confrontations thus, the study came up with questions such as; what professional norms guide editors and journalists when reporting on ethnicity and religion and what type of journalistic work fuels intolerance instead of providing information that supports intercultural understanding?

There is much to learn about our country’s ethnic groups or indigenous peoples as we have a lot of common and uncommon customary practices, beliefs and even taboos. When we had a relief distribution program called Operation Sayote in 1991 in parts of Zambales and Bataan during the Mt. Pinatubo eruption, I observed few Aetas who refused to be photographed and I was told that they fear that my camera might also capture their soul or something to that effect. Seeing us for the first time in our safari get-ups and long lenses could be fearsome especially when we poke or aim our gears at them as if we are targeting to capture their whole being. While doing stories on ethnicity gives journalists a chance to bring out fragments of social reality to the world, it is but proper to understand, evaluate, and frame stories or issues that respects the rights of the subjects. The International Federation of Journalists’ Declaration of Principles on the Conduct of Journalists held in 1954 obliged media in general to do their utmost to avoid facilitating such discrimination when covering religion and ethnicity.

In the Cordilleras, there are certain customary practices like taboos that must be observed and respected by whoever be it local or visitors and it is the subject of research being undertaken by the Cordillera News Agency for the National Commission on Culture and the Arts.