Impromptu – Autonomy IEC speaker Gary Pekas conducting the IEC among high school students of Belwang.

A grassroots Information, Education, and Communication (IEC) drive on regional autonomy was conducted for the residents of barangay Belwang in Sadanga, Mountain Province last February 26. The IEC was scheduled on a Monday when most of the adults were busy working on the rice fields.

Brgy. Captain, Vicente Tik-Chap and the faculty of Belwang High School, proposed the conduct of two separate discussions instead. One was conducted in the morning with the students. The faculty saw this as an opportunity to instill in them the pride and culture of the Cordillera.  Another IEC was conducted in the evening with the adults and elderly after their work.

Autonomy IEC speaker Gary Pekas discussed the basics of Cordillera Autonomy to the high school students of Belwang. Pekas emphasized the historical differentiation between the Cordillera people and other Filipinos in the low-lands. While near-by provinces like Ilocos and Pangasinan adopted colonial practices, the Cordillera people retained a lot of their ancestors’ ways. This led to differentiation and discrimination against the Igorots, Pekas said.

He demonstrated this when he presented two photographs of Filipinos dancing. The first showed the Ilocano Sakuting, a traditional Filipino dance taught in most public schools. “Naka bado da, uniporme pay (they’re in full, uniformed attire)”, Pekas added.

The second showed a Colonial America-era photo of Igorots dancing. Pekas emphasized the difference in clothing, “makitkita ubet da, adda pay kalyo na (you see their butts and their calloused feet)”. The students laughed.

Pekas responded to the laughter, “Agkatawa kayo. Ngem uray dayta panagkatawa yo, ket diskriminasyon iti bagi yo (You laugh but even your laughter is discrimination against yourselves)”.

He continued, “Iti kinabayag na ti educational system ti Pilipinas ket isursuruda ngarud katkatawa dayta. Uray dakayo nga haan kuma nga agkatawa, katawaan yo ti bagi yo (For the longest time the Philippine educational system has taught you that this [traditional Igorot garb] is a subject of laughter. Even you who shouldn’t be laughing, you still laugh at your own people)”.

Pekas added, we have been trained to discriminate against ourselves. However, he continued, we are slowly rectifying this with the introduction of IP education and the use of the mother tongue in classrooms.

The IECs in Sadanga were initiated by the Sadanga Environmental and Cultural Care Association Inc. (SECCAI) in partnership with the National Economic and Development Authority Cordillera (NEDA-CAR). These were conducted between February 25 to 28, 2018. (Marlo T. Lubguban, NEDA- SPCAR)