By PIO VERZOLA JR.
Tribal Filipino Sunday is observed yearly on the second Sunday of October. This year it’s next Sunday, Oct. 8.
But I can’t wait that long to say something about indigenous groups in the country that are rapidly fading away, becoming almost fully absorbed into the mainstream society and losing much of their indigenous identity, and yet remain as oppressed as decades ago.
If we browse through the websites of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) and the National Commission for the Culture and Arts (NCCA), to name a few, we will get the impression that so many local indigenous groups are vibrantly alive.
But the reality is not that rosy.
In fact, government and private agencies cannot even pin down and agree on the exact number of IP groups in the country, much less keep track of the total IP population. Estimates range from 40-plus to 110 groups, with populations of 6.5 million (says the NCCA), or 7.5 million (says the Kalipunan ng mga Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas), or 12 million-plus (says the NCIP).
This counting problem is the result of a combination of several related problems.
First, the various agencies involved in IP work don’t have a common theoretical or legal framework for identifying which ethnic groups are IP, which ones are not. One agency would insist, for example, that the Kagayanen of Palawan are no longer IP, while another would continue counting it as one.
Second, and related to the first, these agencies also can’t agree on how to count those groups that they do consider IP’s until now. For example, one agency would count the Tinguian as one large IP group, while another would break it down to a number of local groups that would include Adasen, Binongan, Gubang, Banao, Masadiit, Maeng, Ilaud, and Muyadan.
Third, this lack of agreement on concepts and categories has led the National Statistics Office (NSO) to use an eclectic set of census terms for ethnic and language identities. For example, there are separate NSO counts for Aplay and Kankanaey (whereas Aplay is just a subset of the Kankanaey), and separate counts for Ifugao and Kallahan (where it isn’t clear whether some Kallahan counted themselves as a subset of Ifugao).
And fourth, much of the ethnographic data used by NCIP, NCCA, NSO and others have not been updated. Thus, we find not a few websites presenting the data of 30, 50 years ago as if these are still valid today. In such websites, we often read the most obsolete things such as, “Ilongots are fierce headhunters…” and “Gaddangs live in treehouses.”
The result is a very confusing, patchwork presentation of the current IP situation. This is bad for policy-making and planning.
One danger is that the public is led to assume a lot of generalities about the current Philippine IP situation, lulling us into a false sense of complacency that their identities are being recognized, their rights respected, their welfare given priority attention.
Just because we see them in websites, coffee table books, travel magazines, even ads, pictured in their colorful indigenous finery, smiling and dancing at the audience, or thanking this or that official for this or that doled-out benefit – doesn’t mean they are no longer as oppressed as 30, 50 years ago. #
Continued next week