As if a grenade had been hurled from the Southern mountains to Metro Manila, the war between the Philippine government and the New People’s Army in Mindanao left an explosion last week in the halls of Congress.
The explosion was the resignation of Mocha Uson.
My home province of North Cotabato, the second most linguistically diverse province in the country and perhaps the most ethnically diverse, is starting to mature in terms of culture and arts. The shiny new Museyo Kutawato, one of the best museums in the country, is a striking testament to this.
The province has a rich reservoir of human experience and creativity to tap, a resource which surface it has barely even scratched.
As North Cotabato celebrates its 104th anniversary, I found myself reflecting on what can be done to help it address its shortcomings and move forward in actuating its cultural and artistic potential.
Here are some of my thoughts. Some of them are very idealistic, but it is always better to hope for the difficult best rather than settle for the easy but mediocre:
On Cultural Communities
- Create an official list of recognized tribes, both Lumad and Moro, in the province (in the manner of Davao). It is surprisingly difficult to find a comprehensive list of NorthCot’s indigenous ethnic groups. Perhaps the Provincial government can start the process of celebrating the cultures of different tribes by listing them down.
- Have a round-table dialogue with representatives of the municipal LGUs, the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples, the National Commission for Muslim Affairs, and the DILG to discuss full institutional representation of the cultural communities. The province ought to adapt a long term plan to achieve any or all of the following:
- All of the province’s’ towns should have Mandatory representation in the baranggay and municipal councils (the province must enforce this, there is a DILG directive and it is in the Local Government Code)
- Inclusivity in the selection of IPMRs (if possible there should be one IPMR for EACH of the indigenous ethnicities in the town)
- Presence of Moro and Muslim representation in the local government, whether be it Mandatory Representation in the legislative bodies, or the presence of such offices as Deputy Mayors or Ulama Offices. As a province with a large Muslim population, it is unacceptable that the Moros are underrepresented.
- Recreate on a province-wide level the policy in schools in Kidapawan of encouraging children of tribal ethnicity to go to school wearing their traditional attire
- Promote Interfaith Understanding and Appreciation by requiring all elementary schools in the province to give tours to their students to all their towns’ religious centers. Students of whatever faith must be required to enter a Catholic church, a Mosque, a Jehovah’s Witness Assembly Hall, an Iglesia ni Cristo church, etc. and be introduced to these communities (not as indoctrination, merely as introduction to foster understanding). It is outrageous that the average North Cotabateno has never entered a Mosque. Tribal communities with Precolonial and pre-Islamic faiths must also be allowed to assert their religious freedom and share in the dialogue, with government funding and assistance if necessary. This is the practice in Singapore, and it’s part of why today the city-state has a generally harmonious multi-faith society.
- Initiate long-term projects to document the culture of the cultural communities in partnership with private entities like universities and research institutes, an undertaking which should include:
- transcription of the province’s oral narratives (North Cotabato may be the area with the highest concentration of epics in Asia, but very few of them have been transcribed)
- Reconnecting tribes with their extant academic literature. A tribal resource center, where all extant studies conducted about the tribes in the province (published or unpublished), should be set up for all the tribal peoples to access. Such a center should of course be actively brought to the tribal communities.
- More halal-food legislation is needed, and halal benchmarks should be set throughout the province. This is not only for the local Muslim population, this has serious Tourism implications.
- Commission a comprehensive study of the historical atrocities perpetrated on the Moro peoples in the province, essentially adding to the list of massacres in Salah Jubair’s 1999 book Bangsamoro: A Nation Under Endless Tyranny. I discovered five previously undocumented slaughters of Moro civilians in Kidapawan alone. It is outrageous that we still have not done anything to at least remember these crimes against humanity.
- This documentation isn’t simply for the sake of the relatives of those killed (although that should be enough reason to do this). Documentation and memorialization could be a basis for a province-wide effort to initiate what I imagine would be ‘Tourism to Rectify Historical Injustice.’ It is frankly an embarrassment for the province that the five massacres on Jubair’s list which happened in North Cot are not even memorialized (even Manili, which caused international outrage). Develop the locations of these massacres as shrines, and make them tourist attractions for the growing number of culturally and historically sensitive tourists who come from around the world to understand our misunderstood land. This can be developed alongside other forms of cultural tourism (like exhibiting the cuisine and crafts of the Maguindanaon, etc.).
- Adapt a Provincial Resolution recognizing the province’s languages and dialects. The resolution, preferably passed by the province in consultation with the LGUs (through their offices responsible for conducting socioeconomic profiling), should be detailed in what languages have a population of speakers where. It must also emphasize the need to assert the integrity of North Cotabato’s dialects, specially of settler languages like Cebuano and Hiligaynon (there is such a thing as Kidapawan Tagalog). Most importantly, it must urge DepEd and CHED to use these languages (multilingually) as media of instruction for MTB-MLE. NorthCot is a global linguistic diversity hotspot, the provincial government must work to make the most out of that.
- In conjunction with the commitment to documentation of cultures, the province ought to play an active role (including funding) in the documentation of local languages, specially endemic ones. Many local languages don’t even have a dictionary yet. Like the documentation of cultures, this effort needs to be done with a private partner, such as a research institute or a university.
On Heritage and Historiography
- The provincial government should seek to facilitate training facilitators per LGU of Cultural Mapping by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. Cultural Mapping allows each town to inventory all its cultural properties, so that the local governments can plan how to utilize and manage these properties (part of why the Museyo Kutawato found it challenging to find artefacts to exhibit is because none of the towns have inventories their cultural properties yet). NCCA has an extant mechanism for allowing this training, the local governments are just not taking advantage of it.
- Enact a Provincial Heritage Code for the protection and sustainable utilization of heritage buildings and other tangible and intangible cultural properties, enacted to complement the National Heritage Law. I have previously discussed here the shortcomings of the NHL, the province can work to address them.
- Initiate a province-wide drive to write the history of the towns to produce a comprehensive body of reference material. Kidapawan is already starting it with me, the province should encourage other LGUs to do the same, so that a province-wide history can be written.
- Adopt a Provincial Archival Code, which would require all LGUs to create centralized town archives, all forming a network with the province for easier retrieval of documents. This is not only for researchers and historians, this will be helpful for government offices too. In the 1950s the Kidapawan Municipal Council had to adopt a resolution to be furnished copies of its creating law, EO 82 of 1947, from the National Government because the town did not have its own copy of the document. LGUs have not done anything to remedy that at all (I still have to go to Manila to find archival documents important to Kidapawan).
- Agree to a long term plan for sustainable Heritage Tourism Development. North Cot is rich in potential for this because not only are there heritage settler buildings in the province, it is also full of legendary and semi-legendary locations. Like the Tourism for Rectifying Historical Injustice, this could be developed along with cultural tourism in general (a cultural village where traditional food and products are sold can be built near a space of historical relevance to a tribe).
On the Arts
- The province should work to help the DILG enforce its directive for all LGUs to set up Culture and Arts Councils. All towns in NorthCot should have CACs. Kidapawan’s is the only one I know in the province, and its model can be replicated: a multi-sectoral council which sets policy and long term strategies for culture and the arts and includes representatives from the local Executive, the local council, the Education sector, the tourism sector, the business sector, and the tribal communities.
- Encourage LGUs to develop their community libraries. Appropriate if necessary, but better adopt legislation which would incentivize private enterprises and individuals who would fund libraries. Encourage schools in particular to work with LGUs to develop the municipal library as a relevant repository of information.
- Set up long term planning, including appropriation, for the fostering of viable local creative industries. Art should be developed because it is taxable! The following fields are particularly rich in potential:
- Graphic Design: from web content developers to designers of publicity materials and print, the province has a budding population of young, tech-savy graphic designers who are increasingly tempted to move to Davao. They need support in training, capital, equipment, and marketing if we want them to continue paying their taxes in NorthCot.
- Visual arts: a walk into the Museyo Kutawato’s Rema Rema Gallery is enough to show everyone that NorthCot has great local painters and sculptors. The province ought to work to foster a healthy market for visual artwork. In the long run, this will contribute to catalyzing the cultural dynamism of indigenous traditional cultures, as local art can become an economically viable industry.
- Music: NorthCot is abundant with musicians! The province should engage in a dialogue with local artists to see what they need (I’m guessing a studio and distribution are some of the most basic needs). Like the above, this too will ultimately give incentive for indigenous musicians to strengthen the integrity of their musical traditions. Not to mention the premium it would give for tourism.
- Dance: NorthCot has even more dancers than it has musicians! From traditional Moro performers to hiphop and street dance groups, the province can capitalize on what has to date only been treated as hobby and entertainment. Funding for training and trips, as well as promotions, can serve to help foster our local dancers into good sources of income tax.
- Cuisine: If you had just one restaurant for each of the culinary traditions in the province (Lumad, Moro, and Settler alike), North Cotabato would be more exciting than Penang as a food destination. From Bul-anon recipes brought by settlers to Makilala in the 1920s to dishes like the Maguindanaon Tinapayan and the Monuvu Natok, North Cot is a culinary paradise of global proportions that is only hampered by lack of local appreciation and government support. The province should adopt a province-wide culinary tourism plan, encourage each town to have community restaurants where the different ethnic groups can take turns showcasing their cuisine, as well as fund and help promote private enterprises which capitalize on authentic local food.
I am privileged to have been invited to sit in the meetings of Kidapawan’s Culture and Arts Promotion Council.
Set up in 2017 by mayor Joseph Evangelista, the CAPC predates the recent DILG directive to all LGUs to set up culture and arts councils, and in spite of that directive today seems to be the only municipal-level culture and arts council in North Cotabato (like the mandatory representation of Indigenous Peoples, the DILG memorandum needs to be enforced more rigidly). The CAPC is trailblazing in a province that has largely neglected its culture and arts, and other towns in NorthCot can learn from it.
The CAPC’s membership is sectoral, with representatives from the private sector, the education sector, the tourism sector, the tribal communities, and the city council, among others. The City Tourism Office, ably headed by Joey Recimilla, is currently functioning as secretariat.
Among the CAPC’s many efforts right now is the cultural mapping of the city. The cultural mapping, a project done under the guidance of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, is a comprehensive inventory of the city’s cultural properties, from buildings and artifacts of historical significance to intangible properties like skills and oral traditions. It will let the city and its local government know what cultural assets it has, so that it can begin planning how to use these.
Kidapawan’s cultural mapping will be led by Ms Shiela Madrinan, who is one of two proactive private individuals helping the LGU with its culture and arts projects (the other is me). If I am excited about the endeavour, she is doubly so, and she and the CAPC already have a battle plan to make it successful: tapping the youth of each baranggay, not only to make the job easier, but to make sure the youth are taught to care about their baranggay’s heritage. It’s hitting two birds with one stone.
But before the cultural mapping can be conducted, extant criteria for recognizing cultural properties needs to be reviewed, and as I did so several problems in the law already came to my attention.
I had recently started a column on Tingug.com, a new online news site with content exclusively focusing on Mindanao.
My column, which comes out irregularly, is a mixture of discussions on local history, politics, language, and culture. It also features my Writers for Sovereignty Series, which I started on this blog.
I will be posting previews of the articles, with links to the rest of the piece, on this blog.
For the time being, you can read past articles here.
It is time to listen to Mindanao’s voices!