Cultural sensitivity | Inquirer Opinion

Cultural sensitivity

/ 01:36 AM February 08, 2015

The Department of Education’s guidelines on the accurate portrayal in schools of the Philippines’ indigenous peoples (IPs) are a welcome move toward stamping out stereotyping and discrimination.

Signed by Education Secretary Armin Luistro last December, DepEd Order No. 51 details the steps to “implement stronger affirmative action to eradicate all forms of discrimination against IPs in the entire Philippine education system.” The guidelines “seek to promote among learners and the teaching and nonteaching staff cultural sensitivity, respect for cultural diversity, and a deeper understanding of the cultural expressions of [IPs],” Luistro said. The guidelines specify that permission must be sought by any school seeking to represent any indigenous community’s culture.


The DepEd actually embarked in 2011 on the mission to inculcate in young students the importance of cultural sensitivity. It is, according to Luistro, national education policy to stop discrimination against IPs, protect their intellectual property rights, and address their cultural concerns. Order No. 51 takes the difficult mission forward.

In his column last Friday (“Filipino, Filipinos”), Michael Tan noted the comprehensive nature of the guidelines, explaining that they cover not only “artifacts” or cultural objects but also clothing, music, instruments, even “steps/movements.” Tan wrote: “The guidelines can be thought-provoking—for example, advice against using the term ‘costume’ to refer to IP clothing, as the term suggests that the cultural performances are for show only.” The guidelines also discourage the imitation of IPs’ physical appearance, so that, Tan wrote, “strictly speaking, this would mean an end to all the Ati-Atihan type of presentations where performers paint themselves black, in imitation of the Ati or Negrito.”


These portrayals, a staple in school programs and fiesta celebrations, often lack context and go a long way in reinforcing a tendency to look down on IP traditions and culture. “There are still vestiges of these condescending attitudes, equating ‘native’ with ‘primitive,’” Tan wrote. “In other cases, though, there may be good intentions involved, such as a genuine interest to understand IPs, but the tendency is still to look for the exotic, which still results in stereotyping.”

Even those out of school can learn lessons on the ways to break stereotypes particularly as these pertain to Philippine indigenous communities. Stereotyping, discrimination and other problems confronting cultural diversity are hardly simple, are deep yet subtle, involving, as Tan pointed out, IPs discriminating against other IPs, and religious and regional groups doing the same. Consider the magnitude of the problem. The Philippines is nothing if not diverse, with diversities ranging from faith to language, to heritage, down to skin color. Respect for this diversity, indeed for other people, will hopefully be the end result of the DepEd guidelines.

A fundamental requisite is actually in place. Unbeknownst to many, the protection of the rights of indigenous communities is part of the law of the land: Republic Act No. 8371, signed in 1997. Yet even Moro Islamic Liberation Front peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal has said that the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law needs to address the needs of Mindanao’s non-Muslim indigenous groups. And IPs all over the country are finding themselves increasingly marginalized, with impoverishment adding to their burden. According to a report from Inquirer Northern Luzon, mendicants in the Cordillera are now facing competition for tourist alms from Badjao beggars.

To state the obvious, the DepEd’s “Guidelines on the Conduct of Activities and Use of Materials Involving aspects of Indigenous Peoples’ Cultures” deserves unequivocal support from the public at large. Admittedly, it will take a while to bring about cultural sensitivity and general respect for the IPs and their respective cultures and traditions, but it’s way past due to instill in young people this important and necessary mindset for the progress, indeed unity, of the nation. The dream of a multicultural Philippines gets a leg up in the DepEd’s determined effort to involve teachers and students in promoting cultural sensitivity.

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TAGS: Department of Education, DepEd, Education Secretary Armin Luistro, Indigenous Peoples
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