Sometimes serendipity can lead you to paths you never dreamed you would be passing through, but the future often holds surprises which more often than not, exceed your expectations.
Thus, when Smart Telecommunications began the process to secure the Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) from the Higaonon community in Sitio Malasag, Barangay Cugman in Cagayan de Oro to renew the lease on their cell site located within the tribe’s ancestral domain, it triggered what has turned out be a most rewarding experience for both parties involved in the transaction.
By virtue of Republic Act 8371 (Indigenous People's Rights Act of 1997 or IPRA) which recognizes and promotes the rights of Indigenous Cultural Communities/Indigenous Peoples of the Philippines, Smart was required to secure the consent of the IP community which hosted their 1,000 sq. m. cell site area since it falls within the tribe’s ancestral domain.
Following the initial consultation last February, 2019 with the Malasag Higaonon Tribal Council represented by Datu Ireneo Jabiniar (tribal chieftain), Smart signed a Memorandum of Agreement for the renewal of the cell site lease for another 25 years.
“As part of the terms and conditions, our council requested Smart to conduct a training in wood carving for our members, as a livelihood project,” said Datu Masikal “Jude” Jabiniar, who site as the appointed 9th kagawad representing IPs in the Cugman Barangay Council.
Barangay Cugman has two rivers which provide them with a constant supply of driftwood as raw materials. More driftwood could also be sourced from the barangay’s seashore.
After conducting appropriate rituals at the cell site area requesting permission from resident spirits to approve the agreement, 15 Higaonons started training with expert wood carvers Arnel Rebate, Wilfredo Durano and Marichu Calzado from the Banglos Community Artists of General Nakar, Quezon, last May 28-30 for basic skills and assignment of projects; then again on June 27 for finishing and polishing of the completed works. Smart also donated to the community tools such as grinders and sanders.
The Banglos wood sculptors were themselves recipients of Smart’s livelihood assistance, being trained by famed sculptor Rey Paz Contreras who taught them the art of sculpting forest wood as an alternative source of income after their homes were devastated by flash floods following heavy rains caused by Tropical StormWinnie in 2004, killing over a thousand people in General Nakar, Infanta and Real.
The Banglos sculptors’ works have been featured at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the Furniture Festival at Megatrade Hall, Go Negosyo fair at Market! Market! in Taguig City and in various Smart functions.
The Higaonon artists were taught the basics of driftwood sculpture, how to use the tools of the trade, and how to bring out art from driftwood, based on its natural shape and textures. Aside from being a source of livelihood, the sculptures also aim to showcase Higaonon culture.
"A lot of the pieces here have come from wood that no longer had any use – maybe only to be burned for charcoal. The artists have been taught to see the beauty in them and bring this out. We Filipinos, we the katutubo, can also ask ourselves: "Are we charcoal, or are we works of art?"", said Darwin Flores, Head, Community Partnerships Department, Smart – Public Affairs.
One of those who underwent the training was Datu Masikal’s cousin Jeffrey C. Alia, an industrial electrician by trade, who lives along the seashore of Cugman with his fisherman father.
While he has no formal training in the arts, he learned drawing basics from his father Pedro B. Alia whose latent artistic skills enabled him to earn additional income through drawings and printed signs on the side.
“I won artistic competitions as grade school student and did automotive drafting in high school but shifted to GRCO due to lack of financial means to finish my automotive,” Alia recalls.
Eventually he became a licensed industrial electrician for commercial/industrial buildings, and joined the training during a lull between his projects.
“The training revived my interest in the arts, and I was inspired to carve many wood sculptures,” Alia said.
Among the wood sculptures he finished was a fisherman in his baroto (dugout canoe) inspired by the Recto Bank incident where a Filipino fishing vessel was rammed by a Chinese one.
“This shows the fisherman was free to carry on his trade without fear,” Alia explained. Turning to another of his works, he said the bird’s nest signifies that birds are still abundant within their ancestral domain. “Every one of my works has a story.”
From July 1-6, 2019, the Malasag Indigenous Driftwood Sculptors held the Malasag Sculpture Exhibit at the Sky Park at 5th floor of the SM Cagayan de Oro Downtown Premier in partnership with SM.
A constant partner of Smart for past projects like Earth Hour, SM provided the exhibit venue, lights and fixtures for the group’s first exhibit.
Next, the group plans to display some small sculptures at Ginama, the pasalubong center of LGU Cagayan de Oro at Gaston Park.
“Smart plans to continue supporting the tribe by providing capacity building trainings such as social media marketing, mobile photography and ideography,” saidJudee Dizon Chaves, Smart Communications Public Affairs Manager for North-West Mindanao.
Meantime, interested buyers who wish to commission or order some of their works can visit and contact them through their Facebook Page Malasag Indigenous Driftwood Sculptors of Cugman (URL: https://www.facebook.com/Malasag-Indigenous-Driftwood-Sculptors-of-Cugman-472330183554427/) Photos by Mike Baños & Smart Communications Public Affairs for North-West Mindanao.