Organizers of an international male pageant in Manila must explain the use of the Igorot bahag or g-string in its swimsuit round that drew flak online, the government body for indigenous peoples said.
The Man of the World competition must produce "concrete, and anthropological proof" of their claim that the garment was worn in accordance to cultural standards, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples said in a statement.
The pageant was at the center of a social media firestorm, after netizens questioned how the flaps of the bahag were tucked in the contestants’ waists during its swimwear event last June 11.
"While we commend the noble intention of the organizers to showcase the rich culture of the Cordilleras through the wearing of these bahag, we cannot however undermine the indigenous peoples when they cry foul on matters affecting their culture," the NCIP said in their statement, which also denied claims, supposedly from the organizers, that the commission was properly consulted throughout the process.
While the commission confirmed there was an intent letter submitted by the chairman of the pageant's organizing company, it explained no objection was made on their end at the time as they were assured the indigenous clothing would be "worn properly" with the help of an expert.
Jerick Bambi Sadernas, one of the supposed organizers quoted by NCIP, purpotedly said such consultant was the "Director" of the NCIP himself.
Atanacio Addog, a regional director of the NCIP in the Cordilleras, said this was untrue on his end, "unless [Sadernas] is referring to another Director from NCIP".
"NCIP - CAR did not allow nor tolerate the way the 'Bahag' was worn during the said competition. The way they were worn during the said competition rest solely with the organizers and their supposed cultural consultant," the NCIP said.
The cultural body reminded in the end that traditional garments such as the Bahag should be "accorded the highest respect by wearing them properly and for the purpose they were made", and that ultimately, the authority on their proper wearing and possible modification to adopt into modern times "rest upon us indigenous peoples through our culture bearers".
The incident adds to a string of controversies concerning the exploitation of indigenous culture.
In 2021, foreign-owned learning platform Nas Academy was embroiled in a dispute over its botched online course featuring the legendary Kalinga tattoo master Apo Whang-od.
The Philippines has laws in place to protect the rights of indigenous peoples, such as Republic Act No. 8371 or the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA), which provides that "free and prior informed consent (FPIC) is required when the knowledge of indigenous peoples is used for commercial purposes".