Domoguen: Something happened to the native meal

Robert L. Domoguen

MY UNIT has this mandate to execute its plans concerning the #BROWN4good #Brown4GoodLife #Cordillera social media campaign with DA Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol during his visit in Banaue, Ifugao last August 31, 2016.

All over the country, the agency’s information officers understood why this campaign has to be done. We are engaged in changing the way we look at rice in general and the way we eat it as part of our three-times-a-day meal.

The campaign was to be simultaneously launched nationwide last August 30, 2016. It will be concluded on October 31.

It will not only promote the eating of brown rice as an energy source but that rice as “brown rice” which is unpolished is “good for our body...for our country...for our farmers...for the less fortunate.”

We should have launched the campaign as planned but being informed of Secretary Piñol’s visit to the region on August 31 during a management meeting, I asked permission from our directorate to delay the launching of this event in the Cordillera, and include it as part of the Secretary’s activities during his visit.

The management acceded to my request for us to do both on August 31. Otherwise it was not really possible for my unit to launch the activity and yet travel to Ifugao on the same day to set our exhibits, and document and cover the Secretary’s visit on the next day.

When I accepted a call from PhilRice about our #BROWN4good campaign launch event, I briefed the caller on how it is going to be done in the Cordillera. The same briefer was also relayed to our directorate and our event management team for the Secretary’s visit, who also told me it was approved.

Part of the launching activities with Secretary Piñol is the eating of the common meal of brown rice with its multiple symbolism and meanings. It must reflect on eating a meal during breakfast, lunch and/or dinner with family, friends, clan and tribe as a shared event, respectful as it is caring, the way it was and is done in a place among a people.

Among indigenous mountain peoples, a segregated meal for special people is foreign and an offensive concept.

In the culture and tradition of the people, certain parts of a butchered animal are automatically reserved for old folks and elders, not meant for children like the fatty parts of a meat. The prepared food as a whole are eaten together by the assembled guests with the family and clan without segregation whatsoever in terms of hierarchy and importance in the society.

Unfortunately, it was during breakfast last September 1 after the event that I appreciated Mr. Raffy Panagan, Secretary Piñol’s consultant for Northern Luzon Cluster A, for inviting me to sit beside him in the table with the Secretary, not because of any entitlement but that being family (DA), I was there and several chairs were empty. I really wished this moment was shared with everybody who came to see the Secretary or that the previous dinner was shared in one dining room with them.

In any case, I accepted the invitation and settled in my chair in silence. Mr. Panagan may have realized that in my silence I reminisced about our food rituals and how our elders prayed during community events and meals of this kind. I silently went through some mountain man’s prayer at that very moment for the nation’s brown rice breakfast meal at this moment with the Secretary seating at the head table.

“With appreciation we eat this meal not to frolic, nor indulge and increase conceitedness but to maintain our health and strength, prolong life, quench thirst and hunger, so we can fulfill our obligations and duties that benefits ourselves and others, and bring about a meaningful, wholesome and peaceful existence in our environment.”

This kind of prayer built the rice terraces, at least among my own ancestors. I know the meaning of those words as uttered during rituals by the old folks in the rice fields, when the seasons of planting, weeding and preventing pests and diseases, and harvest come around. It is during these occasions that the family and clan members are gathered to help each other in a practice known as “ob-obfo.”

As a practice and prayer, the ob-obfo impacts its participants to willingly do their roles desiring that all will be free from pain, hunger and suffering. It is their desire for everyone to live long and be healthy (Men sineg-ang, men ginasing, maid mauuwat, daet wasdin sumya). May all receive physical nourishment, spiritual well-being and awareness through abundance in food, and experience loving-kindness and compassion.

In reminiscing about this prayer, I am actually grateful that this launching activity for the #BROWN4good for brown rice and #Brown4GoodLife for heirloom rice campaign got through as initially planned with some minor revisions in physical arrangements and its story line.

With this activity, we do not want to engage in empty symbolism, mind you. We want to be part of a nationwide activity and a process, which if we do it right is also tailored and fitted for the re-emerging heirloom rice industry. Thus the campaign for brown rice is a campaign for heirloom rice too, for good health and wellness.

The messages for the brown rice campaign also reflect on the characteristics of heirloom rice. In some specific instances, we can cite why heirloom rice is important in the continuing quest for food security of the country not only as a source of genetic rice material, the superior health benefits they possess but also the continuing contribution of rice terraces farming to environmental preservation, weather welfare downwind and hydrological services.

By the way, it is a misnomer to say that the Secretary launched an Heirloom Rice Project during his visit, knowing that it is his policy to launch development interventions and projects after these have gone through a community consultation process.

The Heirloom Rice Development Project under the Duterte Administration is now in its primary stages even as Secretary Piñol has already committed the DA’s full support to it.

As agreed during the “Tapatan” consultations in Banaue, the Provincial Government of Ifugao will spearhead the formulation of an Heirloom Rice Development Council to undertake consultation and propose development interventions for the rice terraces as part of a comprehensive plan and program.

What is being implemented right now is the DA-IRRI Heirloom Rice Project. I guess it is up to the council, after completing its work, to sustain this project after validation or change it altogether.