IP leaders write MTRCB re TV show Noah's depiction of IPs

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/15 October) – Lumad leaders of a peace advocacy group have written the chair of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB), complaining that the representation of the Lumads (indigenous peoples) in the primetime telenovela Noah as “non-humans and monkey-like creatures” merely “reinforces the majority of the people’s colonial misconceptions and prejudices toward the IP’s as savages and uncivilized people.”‘

In a letter dated October 8 and addressed to Ma. Consoliza Perez-Laguardia, MTRCB chair, Bae Lisa Nanapnay Saway, chair of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus and council members Bae Magdalena Suha and Timuay Melanio Ulama, said the show’s portrayal of “monkey-like creatures” is a “blatant violation of the mandate of RA No. 8371 to respect, recognize and protect the right of the ICC’s/IP’s to preserve and protect their culture, traditions and institutions.”

The leaders said they are writing on behalf of at least (30) tribes of indigenous peoples in Mindanao.

The TV series, aired Monday to Friday over ABS-CBN stars Piolo Pascual as Gabriel, a policeman and child actor Zaijan Jaranilla as Jacob, his son.

In the series, Gabriel’s family meets an accident; their car crashes into the sea; the boy is separated from his parents and swept into another island – what would be Noah – where he is raised by the childless leader of the Ungta, a tribe whose individual features are akin to monkeys, complete with tails.

“For all intents and purposes,” the IP leaders said, “the way the Ungtas are being portrayed in the show Noah, they are human beings. Take away the mysteriousness of the island Noah and the monkey-like physical appearance of the Ungtas, what the viewers see are the Indigenous Cultural communities/Indigenous Peoples (ICC’s/IP’s).”

The letter noted that Noah’s strong cultural references to the IPs in its depiction of the Ungtas are “unmistakable” in that the IPs, like the Ungtas live in a place separate and isolated from the mainstream society; they have a markedly distinct and different culture from that of majority of the people; they believe in what majority of the people call as deities as superior beings.

Also, the terms tribo and Diwata are terms most closely associated with the IPs, the letter added. ” A Diwata represents one of the sacred spirits of the IP and should be portrayed with utmost respect just like how Christians regard Jesus Christ and saints with sacredness and veneration,” the IP leaders said.

But there is one “very striking difference between the show Noah’s depiction of the Ungtas and the IPs,” and that is, that IPs do not look like monkeys or behave like one and they have no tails,” the leaders said.
The Noah website refers to Ungtas as “tribe of monkey like humanoids” and one of its characters, portrayed by Lou Veloso, as “Imam of the tribe” and “most knowledgeable about the island.” An Imam is a Muslim religious leader.

In the updates section of the website, it states that Ungtas are “a group of ape-like beings.”

The IP leaders said the show’s depiction of the Ungtas and consequently of the IP’s is violative of Republic Act No. 8371 or the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997.

Sec. 29 provides that the state “shall respect, recognize and protect the right of the ICCs/IPs to preserve and protect their culture, traditions and institutions” while Sec. 31 provides that the state “shall endeavor to have the dignity and diversity of the cultures, traditions, histories and aspirations of the ICCs/IPs appropriately reflected in all forms of education, public information and cultural-educational exchange.”

“Consequently, the State shall take effective measures, in consultation with ICCs/IPs concerned, to eliminate prejudice and discrimination and to promote tolerance, understanding and good relations among ICCs/IPs and all segments of society.”

The same section provides that government “shall take effective measures to ensure that State-owned media duly reflect indigenous cultural diversity. The State shall likewise ensure the participation of appropriate indigenous leaders in schools, communities and international cooperative undertakings like festivals, conferences, seminars and workshops to promote and enhance their distinctive heritage and values.”

“We acknowledge that Noah is a fictional story and artistic liberties are employed by its producers in making the television show,” the IP leaders said. But “correlative to such artistic freedom is the obligation to respect the cultural sensibilities” of the IPs.”

“The damaging blunder may have been inadvertently done in good faith, without intent to insult the culture of the ICC’s/IP’s, and purely for the sake of entertainment, but substantial damage has already been done. Considering that television is a very powerful, effective and popular medium of communication, due care and prudence must be exercised to prevent the proliferation of prejudice on and misinformation about a cultural minority protected by law. The proper corrective action is, therefore, imperative to clearly disassociate the fictional Ungta tribe from the ICCs/IP’s.”

“We pray that prompt and appropriate action will be taken by the MTRCB with regard this matter. We fervently hope that the MTRCB will give as much importance to the culture of the ICC’s/IP’s as it did the teaching profession when it acted accordingly when a judge in the television show Showtime gave derogatory remarks toward teachers and the teaching profession,” the leaders said.

The IP leaders did not specify how they want the MTRCB to “dissociate the fictional Ungta tribe from the ICCs/IPs.”

Copies of the letter were also sent to Atty. Roque Agton, chair of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples and Charo Santos-Concio and President of ABS-CBN Broadcasting, Inc.

ABS-CBN Davao received a copy of the same letter and has forwarded the same to their main office in Manila. (MindaNews)