Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Tolay: An Ethnography of the Ibanag People

Photo from Google
By Chester B Cabalza
(Copyright @ 2014 by Chester B Cabalza. All Rights Reserved).

Manuel Castells (2010:6) argues that by identity, there is a process of construction of meaning on the basis of cultural attribute, or a related set of cultural attributes, that is given priority over other sources of meaning. For a given individual, or for a collective actor, there may be plurality of identities. Yet such a plurality is a source of stress and contradiction in both self-representation and social action.

Scholars (Richard Jenkins [1997:342-399], John Ikenberry [1999:130], and Howard Adelman (2000:8]) say that anthropologists and sociologists trace back ethnicity from its ancient origins which means ethnos, referring to a range of situations in which collectivity of humans lived and acted together, hitherto, typically translated as people or nation. Others collectively agree that ethnicity can be lost, discovered, or simply invented, since ethnicity and ethnic identity are social constructs and identity is subjective based on beliefs about common ancestry of shared historical past.

There are also those who say that an ethnic community consists of people who identify themselves or identified by others in cultural terms, such as language, religion, tribe, nationality, and possibly race.

Ibanag nak: an embedded ethnic identity

The Ibanags belong to an original ethnic group that occupied the northeastern portion of Luzon. The name came from “bannag” meaning “river” as they lived along the banks of the Cagayan River. In other words, they were the people who lived on or from the banks of Cagayan River (Talla 1999, Wein 1987, Gatan 1981, and Llamzon 1978). Based from ethnographic accounts, documents provide that they belong to the lowland Christian groups according to the then Ethnological Survey of the Philippines Office, the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) during the American period, and based from today’s National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP).

More so, Manuel Castells (2010:7) deems that the construction of identities uses building materials from history, from geography, from biology, from productive and reproductive institutions, from collective memory and from personal fantasies, from power apparatuses and religious revelations. But individuals, social groups, and societies process all these materials, and rearrange their meanings, according to social determinations and cultural projects are rooted in their social structure, and in space/time framework.

From Ibanag riverine community

            The original homeland of the Ibanag is an ideal coastal maritime trading center and inland secondary trading center locations. Wernsdent and Spencer (1967) believe that the Ibanags used to occupy the Babuyan channel coast before venturing to the lower half of Cagayan Valley in the late sixteenth century. The Cagayan Valley mirrors a general pattern seen all over the Philippine archipelago wherein we see plural societies with upland people bringing down forest products and ores to river delta coastal maritime trading centers which has maritime trade links overseas (Junker 1999).

            The Cagayan River, also tagged as the Rio Grande de Cagayan, is the longest and largest existing river in the entire Philippine archipelago. This mighty river proudly flows through the provinces of Nueva Vizcaya, Quirino, Isabela, and Cagayan. Along the Cagayan River, whose waters drain originally from the heights of the Casecnan watershed in Quirino, as well as its larger tributaries in Magat in Isabela, and then accumulate larger deposits of sediments level enough to become a flood plain. It is along this plain that the Ibanags have settled and do agriculture because the fertile soil is good for raising all kinds of crops such as paddy rice, corn, tobacco, beans, and peanuts (Valdapeñas 2008:2).

            The legendary river is surrounded by a valley as the homeland of many Ibanags which is bordered to the east by Sierra Madre Mountains, to the west by the Cordillera, and to the south by the Caraballo Mountains.

            Early settlements in Cagayan bordered by thick forest on the side, and a body of water either the river or sea, on the other side. The barangay refers to plank-built boats with outriggers. Larger vessels were called biray or biwong, dug-out canoes from a single tree trunk were takuli, a raft referred to as dalakit, and bamboo tied together were called gakit. This shows the role of water carriers in Ibanag community and it is no surprise then the strong maritime culture of Ibanags is alluded to in its literature (Scott 1994: 265).

            Based from beliefs of elderly Ibanags, the bannag (river) is sacred to them because their daily dose of activities revolves around the Cagayan River. For many Ibanags, after they catch fish from the river or toil hard from their farm, they would say nababannag nak (I’m so tired) in reference to the river.

While I was traversing the river, according to my parents (both Ibanags) and based from folklore, our ancestors thought that langi (sky) is regarded as heaven representing the place of all-powerful God called Makapangngua. For the Ibanag when he gazes up to the langi his disposition makes him at peace and happy. Oftentimes, the Ibanag exclaims kagitta na langi (it is like heaven) referring to the state of happiness.

Ibanag language as forms of identity and speech community

            One can easily identify an Ibanag when he speaks the Ibanag language. According to linguists, the Ibanag language is distinct in that it features phonemes and double consonants which are not present in many other languages in the country. The Ibanag language is using all the complete letters in the adopted Roman alphabets in Filipino since Ibanag words have embedded y / f / v / z /j / in its phonemes.

            Based from ethnographic studies, the Ibanag language is the lingua franca of Cagayan Valley and the mother language of other indigenous peoples (IPs) in the region such as Itawes, Gaddang, Yogad, and Iraya. It is spoken from Pamplona to Gattaran up to Tuguegarao City in Cagayan. This language is also widely spoken in Cabagan, Tumauini, Ilagan, Gamu, Echague, and Santiago City in Isabela. According to Valdapeñas (2008:18), he originally cited chronicles of Dominican friar Pedro Salgado, writing that the Spaniards crossed to their minds that having a common language would help the conquistadores in their governance. Therefore, they adopted and enforced the use of Ibanag as the official language for the rest of Cagayan Valley. 
Online facts about the Ibanags recount that we originated in the region around the mouth of the mighty Cagayan River. The group gradually dispersed southward within the last 200 years influencing other languages in the region. Based from Ethnologue, a database of languages throughout the world, there are half a million speakers of Ibanag. It is not a small number although the figure dates back to 1990. But somehow there might be a decreased number of Ibanag speakers now.   

Manuel Castells (2010:7) believes that identities can also be originated from dominant institutions; they become identities only when and if social actors internalize them, and construct their meanings around this internationalization.

Recently, the Department of Education (DepEd) used 12 major languages when it introduced the Mother-Tongue-Based Multi-Lingual Education (MTB-MLE) program last year. Tagalog, Kapampangan, Pangasinense, Iloko, Bikol, Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Waray, Tausug, Maguindanaoan, Maranao, and Chabacano include the first batch. To enrich and widen the program, seven new mother tongues embedded in the program including Ibanag, Ivatan, Sambal, Akianon, and Kinaray-a, Yakan, and Surigaonon. These Philippine languages are currently used or will be used as a medium of instruction from Kindergarten to Grade 3. Since Ibanag language has now been successfully included in the second batch of the vernacular languages to be used in public schools under the K to 12 reform program of the DepEd, it is expected that Ibanag native speakers will increase and its community will be bigger in the future.

However, John Gumperz (2009:71) cautions that language loyalty may become a political issue in a modernizing society when socially isolated minority groups become mobilized. Their demands for closer participation in political affairs are often accompanied by demands for language reform or for the rewriting of the older, official code in their own literary idiom. The replacement of an older official code by another literary idiom in a modernizing society may represent the displacement of established elite by a rising group.  

Global Ibanag community

            Diaspora has led many Ibanags to Metro Manila and in different world cities as students, professionals, migrants, and overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). Because of deterritorializing world, the Ibanag Heritage Foundation Incorporated (IHFI) was organized by a group of Ibanags headed by the Founding Chairman Jejomar C Binay, a half-Ibanag through his matrilineal descent, who primarily wants to preserve and enhance the cultural heritage of the Ibanags, their way of life, and their Valley. The vision of the organization is to aspire for a close-knit global community of Ibanags who share immense pride in their history and strong kinship, bound together by a rich cultural heritage that serves as their wellspring of empowerment. And the mission is to foster unity among Filipinos of Ibanag descent or affiliation and harness their combined power and resources to lay the cornerstones of a lasting legacy that sustains their growth as a community of outstanding citizens, making their mark on the global map as professionals, entrepreneurs, artists, peacekeepers, community leaders, and public servants [1].
Photo from IHFI
           Among the famous and successful personalities in different fields that has Ibanag lineage who may influence ordinary Ibanags to love their distinct identity and Ibanag community are Vice President Jejomar Binay; Kontra-Gapi founder and retired UP professor Edru Abraham; singer Freddie Aguilar; actors Derek Ramsey, Coney Reyes, Michael V and Maja Salvador; basketball icons Jerry Codiñera and Rommel Adducul; and seasoned senators Bong Revilla Jr and Juan Ponce Enrile.

            However, the Ibanag Heritage Foundation Incorporated encourages our members to search for a global Ibanag that would embody the Ibanag culture, language, and community in a global scale. In our search, we have found Diosdado Banatao – philanthropist and computer engineer – a.k.a the Bill Gates of the Philippines. From his very humble beginnings from Iguig Cagayan Valley and going big time to Silicon Valley in the US, he never forgot his roots as an Ibanag. He pursued his secondary education in a Jesuit run school, the now defunct Ateneo de Tuguegarao. After finishing high school, he obtained a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering at Mapua Institute of Technology and graduated cum laude. He later completed an MS Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from Stanford University in 1972 in order to enhance his craft as design engineer for Boeing in the United States. According to http://www.forbes.com, he is the founder and has been Managing Partner of Tallwood Venture Capital (Tallwood) since July 2000. From April 2008 to June 2009, he served as Interim Chief Executive Officer of SiRF Technology Holdings, Inc. (SiRF), a publicly-traded company that was acquired by CSR plc in June 2009 (SiRF). From October 2006 to August 2007, he served as Interim President and Chief Executive Officer of Inphi Corporation. Prior to forming Tallwood, he was a venture partner at the Mayfield Fund, a venture capital firm, from January 1998 to May 2000. Among his achievements, he co-founded three technology startups: S3 Graphics Ltd in 1989, Chips & Technologies, Inc. in 1985 and Mostron, Inc. in 1984. In his comeback to the Philippines, he continues to offer scholarships to bright students in Cagayan Valley and is willing to donate millions of dollars to resurrect his defunct alma mater Ateneo de Tuguegarao. 


Adelman, H., 2000. The Synergy of Culture and Realpolitik in Ethnic Conflict, in The International Migration Review, New York: Winter.

Castells, M., 2010. The Power of Identity, Second Edition, Wiley-Blackwell.

Ibanag Heritage Foundation Incorporated (IHFI). 2012. A Primer.

Ikenberry, G., 1999. From Culture to Ethnicity to Conflict: An Anthropological Perspective on International Ethnic Conflict, Foreign Affairs, New York: Vol 78, Iss. 4, p 130.
Jenkins, R., 1997. Rethinking Ethnicity, Journal of Peace Research, Oslo: Vol. 41, Iss. 5, p342-399.
Junker, L. 1999. Raiding, Trading, and Feasting: The Political Economy of Philippine Chiefdoms, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Llamzon, T. 1978. Handbook of Philippine Language Groups, Quezon City: Ateneo University Press.

Scott, W.H. 1994. Barangay. Sixteenth-Century Philippine Culture and Society, Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press.

Talla, P. 1999. A Historical Account of the Province of Cagayan. In Apilado, D (Ed), History from the People Kasaysayan Mula sa Bayan (Vol. 2), Quezon City: National Historical Institute and Philippine National Historical Society.

Valdapeñas, V. 2008. Ateneo de Tuguegarao: The Jesuit School UP North (A History of Generosity), Don Bosco Press, Inc.

Wein, C. 1987. Ibanag Songs, Folklore Studies Program, Cebu City: University of San Carlos Press.

Wernstedt, F. & Spencer, J.E. 1967. The Philippine Island World, Los Angeles: University of California Press.

[1] Cited from Ibanag Heritage Foundation Incorporated (IHFI) and available at http://www.ibanagheritage.org/about-us/mission-and-vision/#sthash.HJsymlOF.dpuf, accessed on 28 Janaiuary 2014.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The 'Propaganda Model' in Philippine Mass Media

By Chester B Cabalza

Blogger's Notes:
Commentary of an Academic 
(Copyright @ 2014 by Chester B Cabalza. All Rights Reserved).

One of the functions of media is to inculcate individuals with values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society (Herman & Chomsky, 2002:62). However, this rhetoric can only be fulfilled with systemic propaganda, thus, the authors proposed the ‘Propaganda Model’ to better understand the political economy of the mass media.

Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky outlined five (5) filters in the ‘propaganda model’ of inequality of wealth and power and its multilevel effects on mass media interests and choices. These are: (1) size, ownership and profit orientation; (2) the advertising license to do business; (3) sourcing mass media news; (4) flak and enforces; and (5) anti-communism. Hence, the issues raised arise on its application to the Philippines. 

By and large, I agree with the arguments on the propaganda model propounded by the authors which can be seen as realities in both the American and Philippine mass media. Imperative examples to compare the US and PH media industry are largely the same because the Philippines is certainly influenced by the Americans, being a colony of the US in the past. Nevertheless, the elite domination of the media and marginalization of dissidents, apparently are dominating the choices and interpretations of “objective” news and formation of professional news values, circulating in the air waves and the community of manufacturers of information.

The first filter talks about the size, ownership, and profit orientation of the mass media. They deem that family ownership becomes diffused among larger number of heirs and the market opportunities for selling media properties. With this the persistence of family control is evident, with enormous wealth possessed by the controlling families on top of the media firms (Ibid: 68).

They presented essential evidence in US mass media when the author argued that about twenty-four companies are large, profit-seeking corporations, owned and controlled by quite wealthy people. In the Philippines, despite the smallness of its media industry in terms of the number of competitors compared to the giant and global market of the United States; the same patterns on family ownership is apparent in two of the largest TV networks (ABS-CBN and GMA), and an emerging TV network (TV5) is controlled by a maverick business visionary who also owns the largest telecommunications (Smart) in the Philippines.  

The authors also mentioned about the diversification and geographic spread of the great media companies. This phenomenon is also happening in the Philippines through the regional networks of major TV networks. These radio-TV networks also partner with major daily newspapers; and connect with major telecommunications to spread and disseminate the information that instant – now using ‘quadmedia’ – print, radio, television, and the internet.

The same dilemma goes with the US and PH mass media as it besets the issue of government licensing; a requirement in acquiring licenses and franchises that could potentially subject them to government control and harassment. This major threat in the mass media can lead to legal dependency to discipline the media. An issue arising in the Philippines pertains to professionalizing “media practitioners” by requiring them to take the licensure exam administered by the government. It becomes a dilemma since the government is vested with its own interest contrary to what is expressly stipulated in the Constitution on the freedom of expression and right to communication.   

The second filter discusses the advertising license to do business. A conduit to successful mass media is the increasing presence of advertisers that become a ‘de facto’ licensing authority. In it, the authors believe that, “the power of advertisers over television programming stems from the simple fact that they buy and pay for the programs” (Ibid:76). Advertisers are anointed as ‘patrons’ who provide the media subsidy and their choices definitely affect the welfare of the mass media; thus, advertisers powerfully form the “normative reference organizations." Apparently, in the Philippines this is prominently seen as the ‘ratings race’ which may dictate the survival of substantive shows that may suffer from the political discrimination of advertisers.

The third filter dissects the sourcing mass media news which often happens to subsidize the mass media and gain special access to reduce media’s cost. The reason behind, there is a need for economic necessity and reciprocity of interest, where important rumors and leaks abound; the same way bureaucratic affinity are elicited. In here, the authors views that, “routine news sources have privilege access, whereas, non-routine sources must struggle for access and may be ignored by the gatekeepers” (Ibid:82).

One interesting arguments posed by the authors is how to deal with in shaping the supply of ‘experts’. The relation of power and sourcing extends to this issue, which may sound debatable as to the qualifications of the ‘expert’s expertise’? Are they founded based from their academic credentials, authority, knowledge, or experience? This becomes interesting especially when one is elevated as an expert by the mass media.

Flak and the enforcers becomes the fourth filter. Obviously, advertisers who are movers and shapers in manufacturing consent through the power of mass media do not want to get negative responses on the programs they are sponsoring that would jeopardize their profits. Profits are substantial in this kind of business.

So, the authors are adamant in saying that, “advertisers are still concerned to avoid offending constituencies that might produce flak, and their demand for suitable programming is a continuing feature of the media environment” (Ibid:86).

This phenomenon also happens in the Philippines, especially now that the mass media has become participative. The attention given to various flaks are concerns that the Philippine mass media has to take into consideration. Although, the flak machines steadily attacks the mass media, still the media treats them well because they balance the reality. Same as the case in America and the Philippines, the government plays a major role as a producer of flak in their aim to assail, threaten, and correct the media on the information and content they produce.

The last filter according to the authors is anticommunism as a control mechanism. I don’t seem to agree much with this proposition particularly in Philippine setting even if the Left (communists) is marginally present in our society. In the United States, this is an ideological battle that they need to stand and survive as a beacon of democracy. Ideological difference with communism is apparently understood since democracy is the beliefs that the US is trying to propagate. Their messianic mission to spread that democracy is good and communism is bad is a sharp divide in the international political arena. We must understand where the US is coming from. The press freedom, freedom of speech, right to communication, and others are values in which they want in ingrain to most nations in the world.

To conclude, I subscribe to the ideas of Herman and Chomsky on their arguments on the ‘Propaganda Model’. It sets the basic yet sophisticated tone on how the political economy of the mass media works in the United States, which is also happening in the Philippines. These are realities that must not be taken for granted; hence, it must be understood to know how the mass media operates in our society together with other powerful actors or players that are strategically tapped by the authors.