Speech of President Corazon Aquino at the First International Festival on Indigenous and Traditional Cultures

Her Excellency Corazon C. Aquino
President of the Philippines
At the First International Festival on Indigenous and Traditional Cultures

[Delivered at the PICC, November 23, 1988]


Culture forms the core of Philippine identity, it unifies a race, gives it a national identity and makes one proud to be a citizen of one’s own country. The President calls on the Philippine artists to lend our people in forging unity and peace through culture. She hopes that the festival will usher in a decade of promotion of international cultural cooperation among the representatives of ethnic tribes all over the world.

I am deeply pleased to welcome all of you who represent ethnic tribes from all over the world to the Philippines. It is our singular honor to host this First International Festival on Indigenous and Traditional Cultures which ushers in the United Nations — proclaimed World Decade of Cultural Development for the period 1988-1997. Incidentally, this coincides with our own Philippine Decade of Nationalism.

The other day, I rendered a report to the Filipino people on my one thousand days in office. I stressed the fact that I considered the ratification of a new Constitution by over 70% of our people as pivotal to our efforts to restore the democratic institutions which were lost during the dictatorial regime.

Given importance in this Charter are the rights of some ten million Filipinos belonging to about 110 ethnic tribes.

Very explicitly, the State is mandated to “recognize, respect, and protect the rights of indigenous cultural communities to preserve and develop their cultures, traditions, and institutions. It shall consider these rights in the formulation of national plans and policies.”

And because basic to their survival is their rights over their ancestral lands, the State is further bound to “protect the rights of indigenous cultural communities to their ancestral lands to ensure their economic, social and cultural well-being.”

The government has created three offices to address the needs of the cultural minorities: the Office of the Northern Cultural Minorities, the Office of the Southern Cultural Minorities and the Office of Muslim Affairs.

Through these agencies, we seek to preserve the identities of the individual tribes and protect their rights. For as each nation progresses, there is a real danger of the cultural groups being swallowed up.

Let me cite to you a concrete illustration of how an ethnic tribe’s identity was all but lost in the cross-currents of media hype and scholars’ unscholarly posturings. First brought to modern men’s awareness in the early ’70s, the tiny Tasaday tribe of South Cotabato in Mindanao was given full exposure in the prestigious National Geographic Magazine. For apparently materialistic motives and to open the group’s 19,000 hectares of rich agricultural and timber ancestral lands for exploitation, some scholars with media support denounced the existence of the tribe as a hoax. With the integrity of the discoverers and the concerned government agency at stake, Congress had to launch its own investigation through its Committee on National Cultural Communities. Many extended hearings later, the Committee confirmed that the Tasaday tribe is indeed a genuine and separate tribal group.

If I have taken pains to narrate to you the story of a tribe that was almost wiped out of existence by the inroads of present-day manipulations, it is merely to underscore the need for vigilance on the part of governments to keep intact their traditional cultures.

The survival and preservation of the identities of ethnic minorities in any country can only enrich a country’s culture. I am sure that, in your own countries, culture also brings you together, gives you a national identity, makes you proud to be a citizen of your own country. That is what culture does in my country. It forms the core of Philippine identity. It makes us one. It makes us what we are, as a people, as a nation.

That is why, more than a year ago, I personally asked Philippine artists to get involved in the project that has resulted in this international conference and festival, I said then, as I say again now, that artists must lead our people in forging unity and peace through culture.

I was sure then that, with the help of Philippine artists, particularly those from the private sector, the Philippine government would be able to fulfill its commitment to the International Theatre Institute and to the United Nations when we first invited you to come to Manila to have this conference and festival.

The United Nations and UNESCO launched this Decade for Cultural Development because they realized that culture and development are inseparable. A nation, all nations, for that matter, cannot develop if culture does not develop. A world without culture is a retarded, a stunted world. Culture is a key to development. The development of culture is itself a major step towards all other forms of development — political, social, economic, spiritual, intellectual.

We are aware of the delicate balance between national unity and cultural diversity. Sometimes, nations tend to encourage uniformity, rather than unity. This tendency is understandable, in the light of what are sometimes perceived as more immediate political or security problems. But we in the Philippines believe that cultural unity can be and should be achieved within the framework of cultural diversity. And with a healthy respect for each other’s cultural traditions.

It is good to know that there are more things that unite us than there are things that separate us. We all seek answers to the same questions. We all share the same problems crucial to our cultural survival and integrity. We all know that we can achieve national peace, even international peace, only if we learn to live with each other. To respect each other. To understand and to love each other. This is what it means to live and operate in a global village.

Now this conference and festival will usher in a decade that will achieve many things. Among them, the acknowledgment and enhancement of the cultural dimensions of development, the affirmation of cultural identities, the broadening of public and private participation in cultural life and the promotion of international cultural cooperation.

You are familiar with these goals of the decade. And I have no doubt that you will make them more concrete as you address issues and concerns that affect cultural development around the world.

I am also elated that you are showcasing new kinds of artistic expression inspired by the wealth of our ancestral roots. Your creative interaction with each other and with each other’s traditions, your explorations and discoveries in the workshops, exhibits, performances, and film showings during this event will surely reaffirm our common humanity. This is our investment in building one peaceful world.

I wish to commend the UN, the UNESCO, the organizers and the non-governmental organizations which made this first-of-a-kind event possible. Their efforts will go a long way in ensuring unity among and within nations even as the rich legacy of diverse indigenous cultures are preserved for the ages.

Thank you and good day.

Source: Presidential Museum and Library

Aquino, C. C. (1988). Speeches of President Corazon C. Aquino : June – December 1988. [Manila : Office of the President of the Philippines].