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Daily dose

Lumads speak out against ABS-CBN’s “Bagani”

The moment I saw the preview on TV a few weeks back, my interest was piqued which was a first considering that I’ve never really liked or followed any of the local TV series’ based on Filipino folklore/history/culture/mythology from both ABS-CBN and rival network GMA 7. I am of course referring to the newest offering by ABS-CBN the now controversial ‘Bagani’ – billed to be ‘drama fantasy series’ conceptualized from elements of Philippine history.

The first criticism thrown at ‘Bagani’ was the casting of actors and actresses that had Caucasian blood to play characters that were supposedly from the pre-colonial times. It is inappropriate and awkward to see fair-skinned actors playing characters that were supposedly dark-skinned. Using make up to darken their skin just made the whole thing worse.

The second and more profound criticism against ‘Bagani’ is the misappropriation of the word used as it’s title. It turns out that the word ‘Bagani’ is of Manobo origins and has a deep meaning for the Indigenous Peoples. To explain further, I borrow the words of several individuals who are from the IP community.

First up, is Melchor Umpan Bayawan, a staff at the House of Representatives, hails from Mindanao and is himself a Manobo:

TO MARK ANGOS, THE WRITER OF THE ABS-CBN, BAGANI TELESERYE TO BE LAUNCHED ON MARCH 4, 2018 LET ME SHARE A SHORT BACKGROUND ABOUT THE BAGANI FROM A MANOBO PERSPECTIVE IN MINDANAO Bagani are tribal defenders of their territory or ancestral land. They are not selected by anybody to become a Bagani, but they are anointed by a spirit called “Mondaangan.” A group of Bagani is composed of seven (7) men; always ready for a fight to defend their community. They devote themselves to Mondaangan who watches-over them, but they submit to the authority of their chief Datu as the head of the community. Most of the time they fought against individuals with bad intentions and group of people that creates trouble to the community – the “Mongayow.” Each Bagani brings with him a weapon, iether a sword (polihuma), bow and arrow (pana), spear (pongassu) coupled with a wooden shield (kaasag). Before they go to face an enemy, it is their practise to do a ritual to pay respect to Mondaangan and request to bless their weapons. It is said that Baganis with the blessing from the Mondaangan posseses fierce looking face with blood-red eyes. It is a blatant disrespect committed by this writer; taking advantage of our culture and traditions for thier selfish interest. May a devine retribution befalls on you!

Next is Melissa Claire, a Lumad from Davao City:

AN OPEN LETTER TO ABS-CBN AND THE PRODUCTION TEAM OF BAGANI: As a Lumad, I take offense in the use of the term ‘Bagani’ as the title for your upcoming teleserye that doesn’t even pay proper homage to our real Baganis. It is an outright disrespect to our history and culture when the use of this term contradicts the very essence of what it means to be a Bagani. Being a Bagani does not only mean ‘to have exemplary fighting skills’, but to be able to defend the people from colonizers and entities who are robbing us off from our identity. An identity that is attached to our lands, culture, and heritage. So when you use the term Bagani for a teleserye that is devoid of historical and cultural context, you are actually lambasting the memoirs and integrity of our warriors. The writers of the said teleserye (headed by Mr. Mark Angos) cannot hide under artistic license, or the claim of fictionality, because they are using a part of our culture for different agenda. This is a classic example of cherry-picking cultures for the sake of profiteering at the expense of revising our narratives. This does not mean that one cannot take inspiration from diversity. But I deem that there is a proper way to do it. Big corporations such as ABS-CBN are capable enough to do extensive research for productions that are inspired from indigenous stories or as how Mr. Angos puts it, ‘Philippine mythologies’. For others, this may seem to be a minor error. But it’s already 2018 and Lumads are still victims of cultural misappropriations. Shows like this—especially those that are broadcasted nationwide—perpetuates the continuous trivialization of our history and narratives. It furthers the haze that prevents Filipinos from knowing and relating to the different ethnolinguitic groups of this country. I stand that if ABS-CBN continues to air the said teleserye on March 4, THEY MUST REFRAIN FROM USING THE TERM BAGANI AS ITS TITLE. However, it would do more justice to all Filipinos that THEY HALT THE AIRING OF THE SAID TELESERYE AND OVERHAUL ALL ITS ELEMENTS INCLUDING THE CASTING , THE PLOT, THE PHILOSOPHY/IES AND LENS/ES USED FOR THE STORY.

Lastly, Ferdausi Saniel Cerna, a Lumad living in Butuan City reminds us all of a provision from Republic Act 8371 or the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act:

Just a reminder: SECTION 32. Community Intellectual Rights. — ICCs/IPs have the right to practice and revitalize their own cultural traditions and customs. The State shall preserve, protect and develop the past, present and future manifestations of their cultures as well as the right to the restitution of cultural, intellectual, religious, and spiritual property taken without their free and prior informed consent or in violation of their laws, traditions and customs.- IPRA

For its side, ABS-CBN has claimed that it’s not trivializing any tribal groups and that ‘Bagani’ “takes place in an alternate fantasy universe unrelated to pre-colonial Philippines.

‘Bagani’ has premiered today, March 5, 2018. Should ABS-CBN heed the call of IPs and make changes to the show? How this controversy will play out remains to be seen.

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Daily dose

Open APIs – A proposal to monitor fake news

Around the world, ‘fake news’ or disinformation is of the newest phenomena that has causing problems. Russian propaganda has messed up with the US elections which most likely have given Donald Trump the Presidency while here in the Philippines, die-hard supporters of President Rodrigo Duterte has succeeded in hijacking the public discourse with its army of online trolls. Congress has already conducted hearings, debates continue to rage on in academic circles, the public space and on social media sites. What can we do?

Tom Wheeler, a former Chairman of the US Federal Communications Commission has a proposal:

The government should require social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to use a similar open application programming interface. This would make it possible for third parties to build software to monitor and report on the effects of social media algorithms. (This idea has been proposed by Wael Ghonim, the Egyptian Google employee who helped organize the Tahrir Square uprising in 2011.) To be clear, the proposal is not to force companies to open up their algorithms — just the results of the algorithms. The goal is to make it possible to understand what content is fed into the algorithms and how the algorithms distribute that content. Who created the information or advertisement? And to what groups of users was it directed? An open application programming interface would therefore threaten neither a social media platform’s intellectual property nor the privacy of its individual users.

The question is, would Facebook, Twitter and other social-media entities open up?

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Opinion

Politics & Religion – INC Leader’s Appointment as OFW Special Envoy

Without doubt, the appointment of Iglesia ni Cristo’s Executive Minister Eduardo Manalo as a Special Envoy for OFW concerns has stirred debate and controversy. Immediately, the topic of ‘separation of church and state’ is raised by both critics and neutral commentators. So it’s important to know what ‘separation of church and state’ really means and if indeed it has been violated by the INC leader’s appointment to a considerable position.

To answer this question I refer to my favorite expert on the Constitution, Fr Joaquin Bernas, SJ. He discussed what “separation of church and state” meant in a column that appeared on the Philippine Daily Inquirer in March 2010:

It is sometimes thought by some that separation of church and state means that church people should not get involved in the hurly burly of public and political life. In other words, they should confine themselves to the sacristy. But to understand the subject properly one must begin with what the Constitution says. The constitutional command says: “No law shall be passed respecting an establishment of religion . . .” Immediately it can be seen that the command is addressed not to the Church but to the State. It is the State, after all, which passes laws. The fundamental meaning of the clause is the prohibition imposed on the state not to establish any religion as the official state religion. We are familiar with the background of this prohibition. Under the Spanish Constitution of 1876, Catholicism was the state religion and Catholics alone enjoyed the right of engaging in public ceremonies of worship. While the Spanish Constitution itself was not extended to the Philippines, Catholicism too was the established church in the Islands under the Spanish rule. As the established church, or the official church, Catholicism was protected by the Spanish Penal Code of 1884, which was in effect in the Philippines. Thus, of the offenses enumerated in the chapter of the Penal Code entitled “Crimes Against Religion and Worship,” six specifically and solely referred to crimes against the Catholic church. We know that one of the immediate effects of the advent of the American constitutional system in the Philippines was the denial to the Catholic church of the privileged position it occupied under Spanish sovereignty. The Philippine Bill of 1902 “caused the complete separation of church and state, and the abolition of all special privileges and all restrictions theretofor conferred or imposed upon any particular religious sect.” The separation, in fact, came earlier than the Philippine Bill, which merely repeated the provision relative to religion in President McKinley’s Instruction, which, in turn, merely implemented Article X of the Treaty of Paris. The constitutional command, however, is more than just the prohibition of a state religion. That is the minimal meaning. Jurisprudence has expanded it to mean that the state may not pass “laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another.”

Also known as the ‘non-establishment clause’ it simply means that the government cannot pass a law that establishes an official religion or laws that favor any and all religions. Does the appointment of INC Executive Minister Eduardo Manalo as Special Envoy for OFW concerns establish Iglesia ni Cristo as the official religion? No.
Does the appointment favor Iglesia ni Cristo over all other religions? Not necessarily. There are other religious leaders appointed to various government positions and functions which are perfectly legal. Unless of course Manalo was appointed with the specific mandate of serving only OFWs that belong to Iglesia ni Cristo or he starts to behave and carry out his position catering exclusively to his INC brethren. In other words, the appointment is not unconstitutional. Technically speaking.

The controversies dwell on the politics aspect of the appointmen which was made in the aftermath of Duterte’s ordering of a deployment ban to Kuwait which in turn was made in response to the latest case of abuse suffered by Filipina maid Joanna Daniela Demafelis. Her dead body was found in a freezer a year over from when her family last heard from her in 2017.

Some would agree with Malacanan’s argument that Manalo was appointed because of the international network established by Iglesia ni Cristo’s global expansion program establishing congregations throughout the world wherever Filipino expatriates are found. INC is now celebrating its 50th year of global presence. Knowing that timing is everything in politics, it’s easy to say Malacanan has impeccable timing.

INC has welcomed the appointment, painting it as a recognition of its tireless efforts in helping Filipinos abroad. However, it cannot be denied that this assistance effort goes hand-in-hand with its global evangelical mission. That in giving assistance to Filipino abroad, it offers the opportunity of winning them over to join their congregation. In this endeavor, the INC is relentless. It is also in this vein, where concerns about giving the INC an advantage over other religions comes up as raised by Randy David:

Mr. Manalo’s new role will no doubt involve frequent travels abroad, something he has been doing as INC head. While the position carries no compensation, it is hard to imagine that the job will not entail expenditure of public funds. The law prohibiting this seems clear. “No public money or property shall be appropriated, applied, paid, or employed, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, sectarian institutions, or system of religion, or of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher, or dignitary as such, except when such priest, preacher, or minister, or dignitary is assigned to the armed forces, or to any penal institution, or government orphanage or leprosarium.” (Art VI, Sec. 29 [2], 1987 Constitution) Even if the government refrains from allocating public funds for Mr. Manalo as he goes about performing his work as special envoy for overseas Filipinos—precisely to avoid violating this legal restriction—one can still argue that his official diplomatic appointment gives undue preference to his church. While other churches are not explicitly excluded from reaching out to Filipinos abroad, the official appointment certainly lends to the Iglesia Ni Cristo a special cloak of authority that belongs to officials of the state alone. And, this is so not just in relation to foreign governments, but, more particularly, when dealing with offices in the Philippine bureaucracy that have anything to do with the concerns of overseas Filipinos. We may have no reason to doubt Mr. Manalo’s readiness to serve the interests of all overseas Filipinos, irrespective of their religious affiliation. But, surely, there is something fundamentally wrong, and perhaps unconstitutional, when one church is placed in a privileged position to promote itself by virtue of the special access to the civilian bureaucracy that is conferred upon it.

Another important question: is Mr Manalo properly equipped for the role that is essentially diplomatic in nature? Being the head of a religious group with a global reach is one thing, dealing with foreign governments in an official capacity is a completely different proposition. With the intricacies of diplomacy and international relations, with all of its protocols, customs and even traditions, one cannot help but wonder what’s the reaction of the Diplomatic corps be like? How many other career diplomats have been by-passed by the appointment? These questions I leave to the experts.

Lastly, the appointment cannot be isolated from the open secret that politicians regularly seek the support of the INC because of its block-voting practice and in return, individuals it endorses gets appointed to various government posts. We go back to Randy David who has pointed it out clearly:

The Duterte administration seems to take this game a notch higher. It has dropped all pretenses concerning the link between religion and politics. Short of actually establishing the INC as its official church, this administration makes no attempt to hide the fact that the Iglesia, which supported the President in the last elections, is its favored church. Both seem determined to keep this partnership strong and enduring.

Mr Manalo’s appointment is unprecedented, while there have been other INC members, some with rank within the congregation, that have been in various government posts, he is the first Executive Minister to hold one. The implications on the inter-play between politics and religion would be profound. Note that a year from now, we will be electing 12 Senators that will shape the fate of the Duterte administration.

Disclosure: The blogger is a convert to the INC. His views and opinions are entirely his own.

Categories
Daily dose

Bloggers for Freedom

It grabbed headlines last January 15, the SEC has come out with a ruling revoking Rapper’s Certificate of Incorporation for allegedly violating the Constitutional restrictions on foreign ownership and control of mass media entities in the Philippines. The alleged violation is its issuance of PDR or Philippine Depository Receipts to Omidyar Network, a fund created by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.

While other media entities in the Philippines have also used PDRs to receive investments from foreign entities, what makes Rappler’s case stand out is the following:

In the run up to the SEC decision, Rappler has already been at the receiving end of attacks from the Duterte administration for its critical reporting, with no less than President Duterte himself calling the news outfit a source of fake news while the President’s closest allies have repeatedly labeled Rappler as a propaganda machine for the Liberal Party. The Duterte Administration, just like the President himself, has not taken criticisms all too well. Threatening the imposition of martial law, filing of cases and even downright violence against media personalities critical of the government.

And so while the SEC’s decision does raise the legitimate issue that Rappler’s PDR arrangements with Omidyar Network may have run afoul of Constitutional limits – which also means other media entities using the same financial instrument for foreign funding might also be needed to be scrutinized, the SEC’s decision to revoke Rappler’s Certificate of Incorporation outright, effectively shutting it down, is a textbook case of government attack on press freedom and free speech for both are fundamental Constitutional rights.

And whenever our fundamental Constitutional rights are under threat from the government, one must not simply sit idle and watch from the sidelines.

So I join my fellow bloggers and citizens in responding to this threat, initially with the collective statement below:

Bloggers for Freedom

We concerned Filipino bloggers stand for the rights to free expression and to free speech. And our first responsibility is to protect these rights.

We thus stand with Rappler, its right to exist, the rights of its working journalists and contributors, and the rights of its community of readers.

We stand against moves to silence and scare journalists, bloggers and media practitioners just because the President and his ardent supporters dislike their news and views.

Now is a time for making choices amid battles between truth and lies, debate and dissonance, democracy and dictatorship.

We sign our names here to tell everyone we have made a choice. We are bloggers for freedom.

Noemi Lardizabal-Dado
Tonyo Cruz
Dale Bacar
Marcelle Fabie
Myk Mykapalaran Cruz
Rod Magaru
Ely Valendez
Jeman Bunyi Villanueva
Alex Lapa
Tess Termulo
Zena Bernardo
Jover Laurio
James Romer V. Velina
Ramon Nocon
Flow Galindez
Helga Weber
Mc Richard Viana Paglicawan
Raymond Palatino
Loi Landicho
Saul de Jesus
Karlo Mongaya
Ricky Rivera
Mark Will Mayo Magallanes
Eyriche Cortez
Julius Mariveles
Yusuf Ledesma
RJ Barrete
Dino Manrique
Peachy Tan
Rhadem Camlian Morados
Julius Rocas
Jon Limjap
Markku Suguerra
Jam Ancheta
Estan Cabigas
Enrico Dee
Acee Vitangcol
Stefan Punongbayan
Jesus Falcis
Hancel Reyes
Czarina Maye Noche
JM Mariano
Reginald Agsalon
John Clifford Sibayan
Jane Uymatiao
Johnn Mendoza
Carlos Celdran
Christian Melanie
Jann Medina
Carlo Arvisu
Inday Espina Varona
Eugene Alvin Villar
Melo Villareal
Brian Ong
Fritz Tentativa
Fitz Villafuerte
Tina Antonio
Mykel Andrada
Reynaldo Pagsolingan Jr.
Renz Daniel de Vera

Published on January 19, 2018, Black Friday

You can join us, sign the statement here then post it on your blog or social media channel. Include the hashtags below. Better yet, join us at Boys’ Scout Circle, Timog/Morato Quezon City at 6PM and together let us stand for and defend press freedom.