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.