Editorials | Inquirer Opinion


/ 12:20 AM June 01, 2014

Old tradition

It’s an old tradition that threatens to be toppled like an ancient pine tree, but it’s hanging on. Last May 22, carvers celebrated the Pa-ot Festival in Tuba, Benguet, to draw attention to the “endangered” treasure that is Ifugao carving.


Originally from two towns deep in Benguet, five  munpa-ot  (carvers) migrated to Asin Road in Tuba in the late 1940s, where they built a thriving business carving a wooden menagerie for American soldiers in Camp John Hay. Out of pine and other available wood, the carvers made statues of animals, American Indians, the Buddha, giant spoon-and-fork sets,  bul-ol  and the famous “man in a barrel.” They were men of great talent and industry; theirs was a proud and prolific trade.

No more. Their longtime clients have long pulled out of Camp John Hay, and they also gradually found their inherited craft weakened by the scarcity of wood. With the signing in 2011 of Executive Order No. 23 banning any kind of logging, they were effectively cut off from their vital sources of wood. The government decree also threatens to sever the carvers’ links to their history. “The total log ban accelerated the erosion of Ifugao carving [in Tuba],” Pa-ot Festival chair Grace Marie Quilas was quoted by Inquirer correspondent EV Espiritu as saying.


“Woodcarving is a village culture. The elders work side by side with their apprentices, usually their grandchildren. Younger villagers watch on the side, learning the craft by observation and, later, practice.”

It’s a clear conflict between the need to preserve a cultural tradition and the equally critical need for forest conservation. But it’s noteworthy that the current generation recognizes the necessity of saving the remaining forests. Handicraft business owner Rovilyn Mayat-an said she took part in the Pa-ot Festival, “not to advocate a return to the old ways, but to seek new materials to replace wood so that we carvers do not reduce our forest cover.” A highlight of the festival was a statue of the comics character Incredible Hulk carved, not from ancient wood, but from that most modern of materials—fiberglass.

Ifugao carving may yet survive. In attendance at the Pa-ot Festival were grandchildren of the original migrant carvers; there were dancing in the streets and displays of products of the old craft. Remedios Andrada, daughter of one of the original migrants and principal of Joaquin Smith National High School in Tuba, has asked the Department of Education to let her include carving in the school’s curriculum. For the Ifugao, this is not about commerce but about their very way of life.

New treasure

And speaking of treasures, the heart-tugging performance of the Philippine Azkals in Maldives does the country proud.

Roiled by corruption and other scandals, the Philippines needed the scrappy victory of the men’s national football team as a shot in the arm for the national morale. After its sensational arrival on the scene years ago, the team has continued to work on improving its international performance year after year in quiet dedication.

The Azkals entered the Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup with both concern and confidence. They had a new coach, American Thomas Dooley, a new game plan and a retooled lineup. They began their campaign quietly, with a scoreless draw against Afghanistan after a tumultuous boat ride that caused seasickness and tardiness. Then they began their winning run, beating Laos, 2-0, and old Turkmenistan, 2-0, to barge into the Challenge Cup semifinals.


In a hostile stadium full of home fans, the Azkals played heroically as they made the finals for the first time—in the tournament’s final year—by beating Maldives, 3-2. They were an exemplary outfit in Maldives, overcoming everything from late ferries and theft, playing dogged defense, with standout performances from Phil Younghusband, Patrick Reichelt, Chris Greatwich, Simone Rota and goalie Roland Müller, among others. At home and in the stands, Filipinos watched their exploits avidly, proving again that in these parts, sporting interest is not strictly limited to basketball.

In their biggest game yet, the Azkals played like proud lions but could not quite overcome a poised and confident Palestine, 0-1, to finish second in the Challenge. The Asian Cup will have to wait another day, but what a thrilling run it was. “The biggest thing we can do is write a new history,” Dooley has said. Hope springs. More power to them.

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TAGS: AFC Challenge Cup, Azkals, Benguet, Editorial, football, OPinio, sports
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