DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 05 April) — I must admit that when I moved to Mindanao, I thought it would give me more material as a writer and researcher. Abi nako. Instead it taught me not to touch the material because any friction may cause it to blaze in a fire that I cannot control. Thus, I didn’t touch Moro issues without permission and never came near indigenous peoples’ matters. There are enough scholars and writers among these peoples to work with their own material. As a migrant Mindanawon, I wanted to honor their right to self-determination, which the law protects. In so doing, I did not have any research output (or merit points) as an academic in Davao for many years. For me it was a matter of personal research ethics.
Later, I needed to study the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) and the specific portions about Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) because I had to serve in a university committee deliberating about a particular complaint of an IP community regarding a creative work published without FPIC, and against which they had substantial issues. I’ve had to listen to the debate between creative license and IP “cultural, intellectual, religious, and spiritual property” and the gray areas between. I will admit that then and now, I would rather err on the side of the law and the IPs.
The issues raised against ABS-CBN’s tv series, “Bagani,” by various indigenous peoples groups represented by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) and other individuals stem from clearly valid perspectives about the appropriation of their native culture for commercial purposes. Enough has been written about the issue of the improper use of the word and concept of the ‘bagani,’ which is not a simplistic equivalent of the Filipino ‘bayani,’ or hero, nor the common translation ‘warrior’. NCIP has explained that the bagani are the “peace-keeping force” of the indigenous communities. Manobo-Bagobo and UP Mindanao alumna Melissa Claire Barrera added, “The bagani is not recruited but anointed by Mondaangan, and is sacred to the Manobo peoples.” Even more serious is Higaonon novelist Telesforo Sungkit Jr.’s emphatic explanation that bagani is not only a person, but a sacred word and responsibility, thus invoking it requires appropriate rituals to appease the gods. Otherwise, their curses will rain upon those who desecrate it.
Yet after two consultations between ABS-CBN, NCIP, and other IP representatives, it seemed as if all was well. The teleserye was allowed to continue using the word as its title, and a disclaimer is flashed before each episode, saying that the show is a work of fiction. A promise was also made that ABS-CBN will seek FPIC in its future forays in indigenous culture. Although I hope this matter will serve as a cautionary tale for them and other producers thinking they can do what they want with all this rich material. Da, tagam,as we say around here.
To be honest, part of me is awaiting the divine punishment Sungkit has warned about. Not only for the misuse of the sacred term, but also other dastardly tricks the show uses. I purposely don’t watch this show (or any other local teleserye) because I am protective of what I devote my time and energy to. But I did catch one episode by accident. The one with the infamous “Mekeni, mekeni, tugtog, do re mi” scene. And it made me angry enough to want to write about it, despite my initial apprehensions about meddling in IP matters.
ALCADEV Lumad School in its Twitter account explained that IP communities have a variety of oral literature used in daily activities and rituals, which are considered sacred. One of these is the tud-omor chant, which are part of their knowledge systems and cultural beliefs around the incantatory power that words have. In the tv show, this practice is appropriated to bring back the main character Lakas from the dead, and the chant used is the facetious “Mekeni,” which made the sacred ritual and magical act a joke. In fact, the Kapampangans should take issue with how the show made a joke out of their language, in which ‘mekeni’ means ‘come here’.
My problem with this show stems from the lack of creativity of its team of writers, who are unable to create its own terms for what they mean in their efforts to build a fantasy world. Thus, its devices are derivative and cheap. And the dialogue awkward, as exemplified by the viral “Malaking Ibon” scene: “Ngayon na ang tamang panahon para ilabas ang malaki mong ibon!” which translates equally awkwardly into “This is the right time to bring your big bird out!”
Clearly, ABS-CBN’s “Bagani” is its own curse.
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Jhoanna Lynn B. Cruz is an award-winning writer who teaches literature and creative writing at the University of the Philippines-Mindanao in Davao City and is a columnist of Mindanao Times.This piece was first published in the Mindanao Times issue of April 04, 2018. Follow or message her on Twitter @jhoannalynncruz)