I was invited by the Ifugao women to speak to them in celebration of Women’s Month. Actually, it was the Secretary who was invited. Second-stringer lang ako haha.. Tapos their invitation pa said something like, “It was a unanimous decision to invite you, Madam Secretary.” Ka-anxious dba? Kasi pano if they see it’s just me, Madam Assistant Secretary? They might go, “Oh, darn.” Full of disappointment–and unanimously too. Haha.. But go I did because, hello. Ifugao. Women.
And I asked what it was I supposed to talk about. And I was told, “Inspire them.” And I kinda went, “Me? Inspire Ifugao women? Hello, knock knock. Is anybody home?” Because they have been the ones inspiring me from as far back as I can remember.
I have long admired the Cordillerans for their steadfast refusal to foreign intervention. No matter what the cost, they paid it, up front. Walang credit card. Solid cash. The women fighting and working alongside the men. What the men did, they did. And if the men are brave and strong, the women are no less brave and strong. Where the rest of the Philippines bowed before the white man, they, basically, said, “Hell, no.”
And they have paid with their very lives. But pay they did. Walang alinlangan. And it is us who have reaped the bountiful harvest of their sacrifices.
Just before my speech, I watch them dance and I listen to their songs and something in me stirs—like a memory of something I had long forgotten. And I know what it is. They make me remember what it is to be Filipino before we learned the language of defeat—tragically, a language we are so fluent at.
They make me remember star lit nights and sitting by the fire, breathing the air of free Filipinos. They are of the soul—all that’s true and noble about us as a people. We owe them a debt of gratitude for showing us what a dignified Filipino looks and sounds like.
So I got onstage and before I could even say one word, they pulled their surprise card—garbed me in full Ifugao garments—so beautiful, waaah! Dream come true!-from head to foot then declared me an Ifugao woman. And then gave me my Ifugao name: Bugan.
Can you beat that? My own Ifugao name.
I was so moved that the speech I planned on saying evaporated into thin air and I, basically, blabbered. To hold it in, I just told myself: “Fine. Be that way. Just speak from your heart then. Let’s not declare this a total loss.”. Haha..
At some point—in the middle of my fevered blabbering– I remember some clapping so I might have gotten my message across—this message of love and admiration and gratitude for all those years that they inspired me and so many of us. And how they are our true North for when we forget who we are.
Then right after the feast they prepared, I sat to dialogue with the Ifugao women where they told me their most pressing needs. And those needs fall squarely under the purview of the DSWD. Yey! Livelihood. No handouts for a most proud, most hardworking, creative bunch.
I don’t mean to romanticize their condition—a lot of them live in poverty. This is the dark truth that stares us in the face: that they are poor because government has failed them.
There is so much that needs to get done—serious work too. And I think it an honor to be part of that long chain of humanity that strives to give them better lives—government and the private sector working hand in hand for and with them.
And I cannot wait to get to work today so that these Ifugao women get access to government services that is their RIGHT. I think it an honor to be the face of government to them—a govt that has long been indifferent and unresponsive to them.
Bugan is stoked.