Sara Duterte explains closure of lumad schools; defends Bagobo tribal dress in SONA

enablePagination: false
maxItemsPerPage: 10
maxPaginationLinks: 10

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 31) — Vice President Sara Duterte defended her attire during President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.'s first State of the Nation Address (SONA) last Monday.

Duterte attended the event wearing a traditional dress of the Bagobo Tagabawa tribe, a subgroup of the Lumad indigenous community in Mindanao.

She chose to wear the tribal dress, which she borrowed from the deputy mayor of the Tagabawa tribe of Davao City, to honor her kababayans from the group, according to Duterte’s spokesperson Reynold Munsayac.

Through the years, the annual SONA has become an opportunity for top politicians, their partners and other guests to make a fashion statement and don their best Filipiniana, barong, and traditional raiment.

On July 25, Duterte’s attire during the opening of the 19th Congress quickly grabbed the attention of netizens, spurring an online debate.

While some praised Duterte for honoring indigenous peoples (IPs) with her fashion choice, some pointed out that two lumads who joined the SONA protests were arrested by police

Some brought to mind the permanent closure of lumad schools in the Davao region in 2019, during Duterte’s time as mayor of Davao City.

’All for show’

Eufemia Cullamat, a lumad leader and spokesperson of the Sandugo Movement of Moro and Indigenous Peoples for Self-Determination (Sandugo), on Wednesday remarked that Duterte wearing the Bagobo tribal dress to the SONA was pointless and only for show, as she allowed the red-tagging of students and teachers of the lumad schools.

“Ang aming mga kasuotan ay sumasalamin sa aming kultura at tradisyon na pinanday ng aming karanasan at pakikibaka para proteksyunan ang aming komunidad at lahi. Bukas kami sa mga gustong humiram ng aming mga kasuotan, pero dapat ay kinikilala din nila ang aming mga karapatan at mga laban,” said the former Bayan Muna representative.

[Translation: Our traditional costume mirrors our culture and tradition shaped by our shared experience and struggles to protect our community and race. Other people can borrow our traditional wear, but they should recognize our rights and fights.]

In a statement on Friday, Duterte defended her SONA garb, saying she wore the traditional dress to symbolize her “solidarity with the lumads of Mindanao and the many other indigenous peoples’ groups all over the country who have been rising up against the terrorist New People’s Army’s chronic exploitation of their children, arming them as new recruits.”

The vice president further claimed that lumads are “the favorite darling” of the New People's Army (NPA) and are targeted and recruited by the communist armed group.

Duterte said Cullamat, whose daughter was killed in a clash between government troops and NPA fighters in 2020, should apologize to her fellow IPs for letting rebel groups like the NPA deprive them of their humanity and entangle them in a conflict that does them no good.

“And as a mother of a dead NPA fighter, she should apologize to her daughter for sending her to her untimely gruesome demise,” the vice president said.

Closure of lumad schools

The Makabayan bloc denounced Duterte’s statement against Cullamat, saying the vice president resorted to “red-tagging and terror-tagging” like how her father, former President Rodrigo Duterte, “dodged pressing concerns of the Filipino people.”

The group said Duterte should instead apologize to the lumads and to Cullamat for “enabling the massacre and corporate plunder” of lumad communities and for ordering the permanent closure Salugpungan schools in Davao City.

"As Secretary of the Department of Education (DepEd), Duterte should instead take note of Cullamat’s tireless advocacy in fighting for the rights of the Lumad, especially their right to education." added Makabayan. "Yet Duterte has not made any pronouncement over the continued closure of Lumad schools. That speaks volumes of the kind of 'solidarity' with the IPs which she is prattling."

In 2019, the Department of Education, headed by former Secretary Leonor Briones, shut down 55 schools for indigenous peoples in the Davao region for allegedly teaching "left-leaning ideologies.”

RELATED: Duterte threatens to bomb Lumad schools

Duterte, who is also secretary of the Department of Education (DepEd), hit the Makabayan bloc for “desperately spinning things around as they scramble to make sense in a world that has already rendered them inconsequential.”

She said the Salugpungan schools were closed down because they were not serving the interest of the learners, lacked permits and documents, and were not helping DepEd fill in the education gap “except maybe for subjects dedicated to the indoctrination of the children.”

The DepEd chief claimed the Salugpungan schools were run by teacher volunteers who allegedly had ties with the NPA, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

“The dress that I wore to the SONA and why I wore it doesn’t really interest Cullamat and the rest of Makabayan bloc. They can lie about it but the Salugpungan schools that we shut down do not also matter to them. And the IP children being potential recruits of the NPA is something that’s within their political agenda, so it’s only convenient for them to turn a blind on eye on this,” Duterte said.