A question raised by one of my professors stroke my mind: What/who would you recommend or nominate as the Philippines’ national treasure?
I began thinking for a moment. And surprisingly, I didn’t reach to a point of wherein I must decide one among my list because apparently I didn’t have any choices written on my list. The only thing that came to my mind were the Indigenous Cultural Communities (ICCs) or the Indigenous Peoples (IPs).
The IPs (for a more politically correct term) compose ten percent of the total Filipino population or equivalent to fifteen million people of the ninety million Filipinos today. For a clearer picture, the IPs are our cultural tribes. Some of them are more commonly known by their ethnic groups: Ifugao, Ibaloi, Kankanaey, Kalinga, Isneg, Tingguian, Bugkalot, Dumagat, Aeta, Ati, Mangyan, Manobo, Tagbanua, Teduray, Subanen, T’boli, Bagobo, and Higaonon and about a hundred other tribes.
Personally, I consider the IPs the Philippines’ national treasure because they are the only group that were never shaken and influenced by the colonizers despite the spirited attempt by the conquerors. These IPs are the descendants of the original inhabitants of this archipelago who have somehow managed to resist centuries of colonization and in the process have retained their own customs, traditions and life ways.” This utmost concept of keeping the culture intact is for me a clear manifestation of bravery and nobility. They indeed are worth all our hails.
Our ancestors were once upon a time the only inhabitants on these islands, and as such even during those early times, already exhibited the attributes of independent states, namely: people, territory, government (through their customs and traditions and indigenous socio-political institutions), and sovereignty (for they were free and independent communities). In other words, they were already established way, way back before. Later, when they resisted Spanish colonization and refused to be subdued, they were called infidels, pagans, savages.
Under American rule, our predecessors had been called non-Christian tribes. In modern times, these IPs became known as cultural minorities, or tribal Filipinos. Only lately have they been lumped up in the generic term “indigenous cultural communities” of the Philippines.
Today, when one speaks of indigenous peoples, it is not so much about their beautiful story as peace-loving communities bound to Mother Nature and Father Spirit of the Universe; nor their talents and skills and accomplishments. For the term indigenous peoples has been made synonymous to oppression, exploitation, discrimination and poverty. They, whose ancestors were once the proud rulers of this land, are now the scum of the earth, the so-called poorest of the poor in the Philippines.
The IPs manifest the nobility of the Filipinos. It is therefore not right that we take these people for granted. Instead, let us value them, protect them and preserve them – their culture, their beliefs that were once all ours but are now only shared among a few. Let us not therefore allow the modern influences consume us and captivate our very identity as Filipinos.