By ACE ALEGRE
LAGAWE, Ifugao – An apology not only to Cordillerans but to all indigenous peoples of the world is being demanded by three Igorots (Cordillera natives) who experienced discrimination for wearing a native Igorot “wanes” (g-string) at former US president Bill Clinton’s forum in Manila, Nov. 10.
“We went there to participate and learn, and not to be labeled as terrorists or suspects,” Dr. Vladimir Cayabas, administrator and Board of Director of the Baguio-based National Institute for Information Technology (NIIT) said still fuming mad about the unfortunate incident.
Cayabas, a native Cordilleran from Mountain Province was with two other students of the NIIT- Moshe Dacneg, an Igorot from Taccong, Sagada town and Joneelyn Aparri. They were already inside the hall when a US Secret Service agent approached Dacneg who was wearing a g-string in authentic no-shirt bare chest and ordered him to “follow me”.
Sensing discrimination, Cayabas said he insisted to the American agent that there was no guideline regarding what to wear during the forum. “In fact, we were already allowed to go inside after security checks on our things at the entrance.” Apparently, the American agent fumed and started to point fingers at Cayabas and even warned,: “We don’t mind dragging you in a drastic way if you act differently”.
Standing their ground, Cayabas said, they never left the hall if only to prove that they were there without any malice but “to learn”. Then a Filipina usher came after the American agent and also said in Filipino: “Can we ask your companion to come out?”
The woman also apparently insisted that the young Igorot student wear a t-shirt. But Cayabas kept explaining to the usher, “It is taboo for us to use a shirt over a g-string.”
Cayabas reportedly insisted, “You are discriminating against us,” while reminding the usher that they too paid P2,000 ($45) each to attend the forum. Cayabas then demanded, “Show me a guideline that disallows such attire.”
The Igorots prevailed but not without another Filipino secret agent tailing them around until the end of the forum.
Though they would no longer file a case against such ill treatment, Cayabas said, the organizers must offer an apology to Cordillerans and all indigenous peoples of the world.
“We went there using our tribal gear to represent our region,” Cayabas said while citing the theme of former US president Bill Clinton’s forum, “Embracing Our Common Humanity”.
Cayabas said it was not only them who were personally discriminated against in the unfortunate incident, but the whole Cordillera people and all the indigenous peoples of the world.
“The United States secret service should be educated when in other countries,” said Ifugao Rep. Teodoro Baguilat in an overseas call from China. “Why? Does wearing g-string constitute a threat to Clinton?” the irked House Committee chairman on Cultural Communities said.
Baguilat said, “Then let us bar Yankees in coat and tie.”
In a statement, Katribu president Beverly Longid said the incident at the Manila Hotel only shows that indigenous peoples continue to experience discrimination due to their distinct identity and culture.
“For indigenous peoples, our traditional costumes are appropriate dresses. In fact, today, most of us wear our traditional clothes only for special and important occasions…We wear them with much pride and respect. It shows our distinct identity as indigenous peoples – peoples who practice sustainable and environmental development because for us ‘land is life.’ Our valiant history against colonization and continuing defense of our lands, livelihood, life and culture are living testimonies,” Longid explained.
“Such treatment from foreigners is humiliating and doubly insulting as it occurred in our country. If done for security reasons – does wearing a ‘wanes’ or ‘bahag’ and being barefoot threatening? Definitely not!” Longid said.
Lawyer Jose Molintas, an Ibaloi native from Benguet in the Cordillera and appointed United Nations Expert on Indigenous Peoples Mechanisms who just flew in from a meeting in the United States and Mexico Wednesday denounced the incident as “a very harrowing and continuing discrimination against IPs in the country and the whole world.”
Earlier this first quarter of the year, young Cordillera students clad in authentic mountain region attire invited by the tourism department to show dances of the Cordillera were disallowed from entering SM-Pampanga because of such “indecent attires”. Receiving a nationwide howl for the discrimination, SM officials apologized for the incident. (With reports from Bulatlat)