Sitio Sandugo, a place rich in cultures, stories of struggles, plus, tattoo anyone?

Tattooing a symbol of a weaponized unity compass on a Sandugo ally.

Jasmin Adaol is mentored by no less than Whang-od, the oldest living original tattoo artist of the Kaigorotan.


MANILA — Colorful indigenous peoples’ beaded accessories, check. Native woven clothes, check. Brooms from Abra, yes. Bracelets and wallets made by IPs (indigenous peoples) from the north to south, check. Shirts with great-sounding messages and calls. Check. There may be more.

They’re all on sale near the entrance to “Sitio Sandugo,” the village of delegates of national minorities from at least 12 regions of the Philippines, plus the delegates of the bangsamoro.

Located at the University of the Philippines Diliman’s Stud Farm along C.P. Garcia, it used to be just grasses, mud after rain and dust under the sun and decades-old acacia trees. It used to be just a dark, lonely patch of idle UP land at night. But since the arrival last August 31 of some 2,600 Lakbayan delegates from Sandugo alliance of Moro and indigenous peoples, the place has been transformed into a colorful gathering of people buzzing with talk, laughter, music, chants, and their stories of fighting for their right to self-determination amid land-grabbing, deforestation, mining plunder, and furious construction of dams and power plants which, to push through or remain in business, systematically evict the indigenous communities and spit on their culture.

The Sandugo village is the home of Lakbayan ng Pambansang Minorya until Sept. 21 when the country commemorates martial law as imposed by former strongman Ferdinand Marcos.

Past the security, registration booth and the Secretariat’s tent, before the main square (or circle) facing a stage and the central gathering of the sitio, there’s the Sandugo Museo to the left. At the door are mini-tiangges of indigenous peoples’ products. In the museum are items and historical mementos from the life and struggle of Moro and indigenous peoples.

Behind the Museo is a living example of an indigenous group’s widely known rite of passage – the tattoo of the Kaigorotan.

With the Cordillera peoples’ delegation is indigenous tattoo artist Ms. Jasmin Adaol, 20. She hails from the Butbut tribe, the same tribe led by Macliing Dulag, the Kaigorotan’s inspiring leader in asserting their right to Chico River vis-à-vis a World Bank-funded dam project.

Ms. Adaol is mentored by no less than Whang-od, the oldest living original tattoo artist of the Kaigorotan.

Although for the Kaigorotan the tattoos have particular symbols marking their rites of passage and status in the community, the Cordillera People’s Alliance is sharing their tattoos with fellow national minorities and supporters.

Adaol tells Bulatlat she designs her tattoos and she also interprets the design wishes of those lining up to get a tattoo. Her tattoos are collaborative markings of symbols on the skin.

Last I saw her behind Sitio Sandugo’s Museo, she never seems to run out of brave activists and allies lining up to get a tattoo. No crybaby among them, as yet. Most patiently sit for the tattoo without revealing in their faces if they hurt from the needle or not. Unlike the relative silence in the tattoo process in modern commercial tattoo parlors which they break with rock music, the Kaigorotan has a rhythmic sound while Adaol pounds the needles into the skin. Whoever I saw her tattooing sits stoically. Many more would eagerly take his or her place.

The designs are tribal, modern and deeply symbolic. She has tattooed the tribal lizard for longevity on someone’s nape. Markings of tribal spears and weapons on another.

And here as pictured, a circle enclosing four arrows coming from the core. They’re not just arrows going to four directions. Together in the circle, they form a compass, Adaol says. It directs a coming together from a point of unity and from there guides the gathering which by uniting can be seen also as turned into a weapon. Adaol says it also symbolizes protection. And so, in one tattoo, she has drawn a symbol of unity, of coming together as in like being in a Lakbayan, embodying and forming a united front, and being protected by such unity.

Sitio Sandugo, where the indigenous peoples who joined Lakbayan 2017 are encamped, has a lot to offer: not only stories of struggles but exposure to various cultures and histories as well. Plus, it is an instant gift shop and a place where one could get a tattoo from the “origs.” (

Share This Post