Oct 17, 2018

Even up to this day, in a fast-paced society where information is available everywhere, many are still ignorant and insensitive when it comes to indigenous peoples. The decades-long social discrimination, marginalization, and political disempowerment these Filipinos face are still ongoing. While we know October is the National Indigenous Peoples’ Month, we’re still far from the very point this celebration aims to achieve, which is proper recognition.

And we’re not even talking about recognition in the national level here yet (despite the fact that our Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997 needs some serious update). We’re not even diving into how the government turns a blind eye into these peoples’ needs. We’re looking into the possible root of this discrimination, and advocates say it’s in the way indigenous peoples are portrayed in the entertainment industry: ignorant and comical.

“Every time there’s a Filipino TV show and their characters [include] a Negrito or an Aeta, they become a comic character. And there’s also always this black girl who is not considered beautiful until her ‘blackness’ disappears,” said Maria Teresa Padilla, executive director of organization Anthropology Watch.

Jeannie Javelosa of GREAT Women Philippines, Erwin Caliba of NCIP, Maria Teresa Padilla of Anthropology Watch, and Imelda Canuel of ArteFino raise awareness on the current state of indigenous Filipinos at the conference Asia Society Conversations: Know Your Roots last Oct. 10.

Several Filipino television stations are guilty of this.

In 2010, leaders of Mindanao tribes were appalled by the “non-human and monkey-like” representations of indigenous peoples in the primetime telenovela Noah. This series is about a family whose son was swept into another island and was eventually raised by Ungtas, tribesmen who had features similar to monkeys.

Although this is only a fictional tribe, it had “strong cultural references” to the indigenous peoples according to indigenous groups. “For all intents and purposes, the way the Ungtas are being portrayed in the show Noah, they are human beings. Take away the mysteriousness of the island Noah and the monkey-like physical appearance of the Ungtas, what the viewers see are the Indigenous Cultural communities/Indigenous Peoples (ICC’s/IP’s),” Mindanao Peoples Caucus wrote to Movie and Television Review and Classification Board Chairman Ma. Consoliza Languardia.

If this isn’t bad enough, a drama series titled “Nita Negrita” was launched in 2011. Not only is the title blatantly offensive, the show also peddled discrimination against dark-skinned persons. An actress with fair white skin was given a blackface, a theatrical makeup used to portray black people.

Just earlier this year, another character was given a blackface. To make it worse, it was a biographical drama anthology and the character was directly portraying Aeta Norman King, who was the first Aeta to graduate from the University of the Philippines.

The use of blackface is offensive, especially if you’re representing a marginalized sector. In this time and age, we can’t be too ignorant to not know that racism is happening, and that part of racism’s history is how fair-skinned people, which dominated the entertainment industry all over the world, used to paint their faces black with an intention to exaggerate and make fun of the features of members of indigenous tribes.

This is why Padilla, and the rest of the indigenous peoples advocates, are urging the public, especially members of the entertainment industry to recognize and respect the traits of our indigenous peoples. Their traits make them unique. “Every time you laugh at this portrayal of a black character, you are already stepping on indigenous peoples,” Padilla said.

Portrayal in textbooks also a problem

Another reason why indigenous tribes are portrayed negatively is because there is also a problem of how they’re introduced to the public, most especially students.

“Some indigenous peoples still feel discrimination. I think there is much cause to what we have been taught, maybe in school. Maybe our textbooks still have to be checked,” said Erwin Caliba, a lawyer and executive assistant of the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples.

Just last December, history professor Jamail Kamlian pointed out in a research that Philippine History books used by high school and college students contain “inaccurate depiction” of the images of Mindanao’s indigenous peoples such as the Lumads and the Bangsamoro. This is the kind of misinformation that is streaming into the Filipino consciousness.

A member the Ibaloy Tribe from Nueva Vizcaya himself, Caliba said Igorots and other indigeous tribes are still portrayed as indigent, poor, and ignorant. “Is it not a form of injustice to be framing them into that kind of box?”

Indeed it is, Caliba. As what we have mentioned earlier, we still have a long way to go. But maybe if we start in these not-so-micro details such as the entertainment and education sector, more people will be enlightened to support, raise more awareness, and put a stop to this plight of our fellow Filipinos. They deserve all the respect and recognition they could get.


Header image courtesy of EV Espiritu/Inquirer.net

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TAGS: Equal Rights indigenous peoples Indigenous Peoples Month media misrepresentation MMK Nita Negrita Noah October