When I met Teddy Baguilat

He was only 32, a month older than my daughter, Fatimah,  who was also born in 1966. Teodoro Brawner Baguilat, Jr. is a Tuwali Ifugao with  Gaddang  blood. He was elected councilor of Kiangan in 1992, at the tender age of 26  and after serving a 3-year  term, he ran for mayor in 1995 and won.   When we met in Kiangan,  Ifugao province,  in early 1999, he had already received two awards, the Dangal ng Bayan and the Ten Outstanding Civil Servants.   I  was the newly-appointed Secretary of the Department of  Tourism (DOT).  Looming over our heads was the state of the Ifugao Rice Terraces: There was a dearth of support for marketing highland rice,  deforestation of the muyong (mountain peak forests) affected the elaborate water system of the terraces; gigantic worms began to breed. There were terrible landslides.

In the aughts of the Estrada administration, I  convened a meeting on the rice terraces at the government-owned Banaue Hotel; all the mayors, councilors and advocates were invited, everyone came except Mayor Teddy Baguilat of Kiangan. His colleagues were embarrassed, the  DOT  staff  felt slighted, so after the meeting, I decided to pay Mayor Baguilat a surprise visit.

Why didn’t you come to the meeting, Mayor Baguilat? He had a ponytail down to his waist, was wearing tan cotton shorts and a non-descript  shirt.  He mumbled that he was wary of government meetings.   It was my second visit to his province, I said to break the ice, the first was on 3 March 1969, when I was National Museum Director. We were looking for a hagabe for the museum collection and a family in barrio Ba-ay ,   Kiangan, agreed to part with their precious possession provided we went through the “Duh-Igan”, the prescribed rites of transfer; three animals were sacrificed.  We stayed in Governor Gualberto Lumauig’s house. Teddy Baguilat was only three years old then and probably never even heard about it.

The rice terraces have their own heft, I continued,  and the  DOT wants to help save them, not only because of tourism, but more importantly for the preservation of our culture and history. He remained unmoved, instantiating the convictions of a rebellious youth.  After Pres. Joseph Estrada was overthrown by his vice-president, I lost track of Mayor Teddy Baguilat.

Round about 2002, I received a call from the Clarendon School of Roxas city in Mindoro Oriental. Its director, then Mrs. Flerie T. Tesado,  asked for my address; they wanted to send me a formal  invitation to be Graduation speaker. I was baffled; Mrs. Tesado and I had never met.  She revealed that   I was “ highly recommended”  by her good friend, the Governor of Ifugao,  Teddy Baguilat. Well, what do you know, how could I refuse?

I next saw him at an international water conference in Manila where issues about conservation of rain water, basins for flood control in urban areas were taken up.  Simple technologies for water filtration and purification were displayed which  Teddy examined microscopically.  He still had a ponytail.  I followed his political denouement. He was twice Governor of Ifugao, from 2001 to 2004, then again in 2007 to 2010. He represented the lone district of Ifugao in Congress from 2010 to 2019. He chaired the Committee of National Cultural Communities and was also vice-chairman of the Committee on Indigenous Peoples . From 2004 to 2007, Teddy was president of the “Save Ifugao Rice Terraces Movement.” He is a member of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights.

He has remained focused on his advocacies, judging from news stories about him.  Rep. Teddy Baguilat lamented that legislators in general do not view “communities” or “indigenous peoples” as worthy protagonists in our political life.  Land-grabbers and water-grabbers enrage him;  privatization of the ancestral domain threatens the very existence of communities.  Infrastructure like dams, ports, highways, planned without consultation and ostensibly for progress encroaches on their ancestral lands and destroys the environment.  Teddy Baguilat is a relentless advocate of the sustainable use of renewable and non-renewable resources like timber, fauna, minerals, etc. He takes aim at the destructive practices of   “powerful outsiders” like government agencies, profit-driven corporations and religious organizations that purposefully deculture indigenous communities.

While in Congress, he authored and/or co-authored bills to promote better education models for  Indigenous communities as well as to push universal access to tertiary education and free Wifi. He was against the death penalty and police brutality, but in favor of a Department of Fisheries, of One-town-one- product and the preservation of the contentious Chico River Basin.  He co-authored the National Land Use Act (NLUA) which is backed by the  Indigenous Conserved Communities Areas Consortium of which he is the global president. Teddy Baguilat is running for the Senate in VP Leni’s slate. We need him there.