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Putting Igorot ethics at the heart of governance
by Maurice Malanes

One time, some acquaintances casually talked about some former government personnel who made it "big" while in public service. These former government personnel now own mansions, a fleet of cars, and other properties.

Before they would be probed by the Ombudsman, the government personnel resigned. It is now public knowledge (at least among former colleagues and some townmates) that the wealth of these former government personnel came from shady deals.

Anomalous deals are not the monopoly of these former middle-rank government personnel. Recently, media colleagues also casually talked about how someone, who was related to a top national official, pocketed huge kickbacks from major road projects. How? Colleagues cited one road project, whose approved design was 6.1 meters wide but was redesigned to 5.5 meters wide. The kickback came from the difference between the approved design and what was actually implemented.

Graft has become so widespread that it has become just "one of those things." Worse, graft has become part of what’s considered as "standard operating procedures."

If this is so, why can’t the national and local governments include graft as part of the national and local budget? For transparency, why not state in the national and local budgets how much of the budget pie is allocated to graft, label it as graft allocation, and identify the recipients?

As this article was written, a kapihan (press forum) was tackling anomalous deals within the John Hay Economic Zone. Apparently, some people made a killing from the "absolute sale" of some property within the economic zone, among other questionable transactions.

The sale of some property within John Hay, says a lawyer of the company managing the facility, is illegal because the property is covered not by absolute sale but by a 25-year lease agreement, renewable for another 25 years.

Some citizens are also questioning this agreement. This arrangement, which covers more than half the lifetime of the average person, is as good as owning a property within the city’s choicest lot.

Anomalous deals, compounded by questionable policies, have become so pervasive that the government of President Benigno Aquino III made the battle against graft one of its major programs.

The anti-graft program is part of the current government’s promise to live up to the daang matuwid (righteous path) kind of governance.

By targeting graft, the Aquino government would be rescuing and putting to good use millions of taxpayers money, which can help build schools, village clinics, foot-bridges (so village school children won’t have to cross rivers during the rainy and typhoon season), and other much-needed basic social service facilities.

Igorot ethics
In the campaign against graft, some educators and some Igorot leaders say returning to some old spiritual and ethical values may yet help.

One is inayan or the fear of a perceived someone. This fear of a perceived someone affects one’s conscience, according to "Power from the Mountains," a book by the Bakun Indigenous Tribes Organization or BITO, a peoples’ organization of the Kankana-ey and Bago tribes of Bakun, Benguet.

The perceived someone may not impose any sanction, but the offender’s conscience hurts him most, and this may mean sleepless nights for the person concerned.

Another is paniyew or fear of the unseen or the creator of humankind. A breach of the paniyew law could spell an eternal suffering for the offender, says BITO.

Still another is bain. This, literally, is shame. "The Kankana-ey and Bago society is a reproachful community," says BITO. "To live in such a community upon conviction of a crime is intolerable because of bain. Bain can be too heavy for a person to take so much so that it becomes enough punishment in itself."

Other communities in other parts of the Cordilleras adhere to the same spiritual and ethical values and principles. In his essay, "Role of Parental Upbringing and Igorot Sense of Identity," Sagada-born Richard Stone Pooten, a London-based businessman, also talks about the values of inayan, lawa, pamiyew (which is spelled paniyew in Benguet), and laton.

"These inayan, lawa, pamiyew, and laton carry a threat: if you cheat during your married life, this will have a devastating effect in the family in the future," he writes. "One thing more severe is that, as it is considered a curse, the misfortune does not affect the doer (husband or wife), but the curse may pass through the innocent victims – the children or grandchildren."

He swore that he actually saw the devastating consequences of violations to these values so he made it a point to teach these to his children.

Pooten’s essay, which is part of "Igorot by Heart," a recently launched book published by the Igorot Global Organization or IGO, an organization of Igorots worldwide, dealt on inayan and the other values as they relate to relationships in marriage.

But these values and principles encompass other social dealings and relationships.

For example, the late Teodoro Bolislis Sr., former mayor of Kibungan, Benguet in the 1950s, took inayan, paniyew, and lawa seriously so much so that it became an integral part of his governance principles and policies.

After many years later, Bolislis’ grandchildren asked him why after years of government service he and his wife had continued to live in a simple, grass-thatched one-room house. "Having lived in the same simple house (before and after I became mayor) was proof that every taxpayer’s money was wisely spent for the community," he said. "It would be inayan to break your oath," he added. Breaking one’s oath as an official, he said, included misspending taxpayers’ money. Related to the value of inayan and other traditional values is word of honor or fidelity to one’s word.

"The Philippines has the unenviable reputation of being one of the most corrupt nations in Asia and unfortunately we in the mountains are being sucked into its culture of corruption," wrote the late Bishop Francisco Claver of the Bontoc-Lagawe Diocese in an essay which is also a part of the "Igorot by Heart."

"But this does not stop us from wishing (and working) that the old value of fidelity to one’s word would still mark us as a people, especially our elected government officials," he added. "For when they swear in their oaths of office to be ‘public servants,’ and they lived up to their word, there would be less stealing from the public purse for private gain."

Cultural revival
A common question is often asked: The more people get educated, why are they becoming more corrupt?

For example, some would cite a lawyer, who is one of the few educated in a community. But they said the lawyer became a great disappointment to the community whom he was expected to serve.

The reason: the lawyer took advantage of his relatives’ ignorance of land titling procedures and went ahead to work out the titles of a sizeable portion of the clan’s property all under his name.

There are other similar stories, which have become public knowledge already.

But hope is not lost, and one source of hope is the current effort to establish among indigenous communities what is called "schools of living traditions (SLTs)."

Besides teaching traditional dances, music, and folklore, the schools of living traditions also aim to teach inayan and other Igorot spiritual and ethical values.

In Kibungan, Benguet educators vowed to integrate traditional values like inayan along with the equivalents of "good manners and right conduct," which had been taught in the 1960s and 1970s.

There are similar efforts of establishing SLTs in other parts of the Cordilleras.

These efforts were inspired by the pioneering initiatives of the indigenous Talaandig of Bukidnon in southern Philippines under the leadership of elders like Datu Victorino Saway, an anthropologist, who embraced and has continued to live out the traditional knowledge, wisdom, values, and principles of his ancestors.

For the Cordilleras, the age-old values and wisdom of the Igorots – who pride themselves as having a flourishing culture before the Spanish and American colonialists came – can continue to be their distinguishing marks as they conduct themselves in society.

"If there is any sense to my talk about the ‘The Essence of Culture in Our Lives’ as it applies to us, it is this: An Igorot is an Igorot, and a blue-blooded one (or red-blooded one?), if he is faithful to the distinguishing values of Igorot culture and lives them as fully as he can wherever he goes," said Bishop Claver.

And what are among the distinguishing marks of a real Igorot? Real Igorots are those who learned the ways of their ancestors, who "taught us to be honest and trustworthy, implementing the virtue of "inayan," according to Melchora Calang-ad Chin, composer of "Onward IGO!" the anthem of the Igorot Global Organization.
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