CUTTING into the middle of a Carmen Guerrero-Nakpil article about the role of women in Philippine history, is the odd juxtaposing of two photographs of two women: Dul, a Tasaday woman wearing a tunic made of leaves; and Imelda Marcos with radiant protruding cheekbones and terno. The caption reads “The woman has always occupied a position of respect and responsibility in Philippine society. The Tasadays, remnants of a Stone Age tribe discovered recently in the mountain fastness of South Cotabato in Mindanao, are led by a woman called Dul. The First Lady of the country, Mrs. Imelda Romualdez Marcos, has become the symbol of the modern Filipino woman’s role as a humanizing force in national development.”
This particular page in the Philippines Quarterly of September 1975 has a reddish orange stain, perhaps rust marks from stray staple wires, but it could also pass for momma spittle.
Rummaging through my grandfather’s reading materials reminds me that the marcos-mythmaking goes so far back. The Tasadays, after all, were never a real tribe living in the Mindanao highlands. In 1971, Manuel Elizalde, a Marcos-crony and then presidential assistant for national minorities, fooled the scientific world with the purported “discovery” of the primitive Tasadays in the fastnesses of South Cotabato.
An eden in the Philippines that would later on be exposed as a hoax: it was Elizalde who hired natives to play the role of a lost Stone Age tribe untouched by civilization. Dul, the leader of the Tasaday, was but an attractive construct, for here was “precolonial” woman in the flesh, an echo of babaylan authority in the pristine but phony world of the Tasaday. As for Imelda as “a humanizing force”… well, well, indeed.
In October 1975, a month after the publication of this issue of the Philippines Quarterly, Elizalde would be in Kalinga where a Chico River Dam project was then being opposed by the Butbut people. There Elizalde would be distributing cash, rice, chocolate, and liquor in the villages. There he would be deceiving Kalinga elders into signing documents giving their consent to the building of the dam on their ancestral lands. Five years of struggle later, Macliing Dulag would be shot in his Kalinga home.
Last May 23, a photo exhibit opened in the library of St. Mary’s School of Sagada, featuring “never-before-seen” colonial photographs of the Cordilleras from the Ortigas Library and the Jonathan Best Collection.
A few photos were familiar. Dean C. Worcester’s gazing-into. There’s a colorized Pitapit. A Sagada panorama dotted with inatep houses. Kayabang-carrying Ibaloy women holding pakkong in their hands. New pictures stood out: another studio shot of a startled-looking young man mid-tayaw, an Ibaloy woman with her American husband and their three children, a 1915 photograph captioned “Our Little Brown Brothers” featuring four Igorot men sporting different kinds of hats and shirts over their bahag. “These photographs pre-date Masferre,” said the exhibit manager John Silva. He later added, “Masferre is more sympathetic.”
The end of the exhibit spilled into the AVR, formerly called the school’s Silent Room, where the Filipiniana books were shelved. The titles on these bookshelves inadvertently became part of the exhibit, spanning decades of literature from obscure New Day novels to more recent great works from North Luzon writers like Pangasinan poet Santiago Villafania, and essayist Wilfredo Pascual.
Staring back at me with the same effect of a Dul-Imelda parallelism is a book spine where one could make out the faded letters indicating the name of the former dictator. “FEM: An Epic” was written by Guillermo de Vega, former presidential assistant and chairman of the country’s film censorship board under Marcos.
In his jacket blurb, Cirilo Bautista described the book as “a poetic biography; but more than that, it is the history of the Philippines in modern times.” The propagandic heights of de Vega’s language move me to tears of uneasy laughter. A son of Batac is described as “a magnificent atom aureoled in a tradition noteworthy for its dogged will” and soon as “a warrior acclaimed whose charismatic presence / Was the rage and adored light of the Solid North.” The mythmaking is thick and heady, long legitimized by poets and storytellers scribbling for magazines, fabricating epic heroes, framing and juxtaposing, creating theater in ancient caves.