Speech of Senator Loren Legarda on Weaving Heritage of ASEAN at the 49th ASEAN Economic Ministers’ Spouses ProgramSeptember 8, 2017
Speech of Senator Loren Legarda
Weaving the Cultural Heritage of ASEAN
49th ASEAN Economic Ministers’ Spouses Program
8 September 2017 | Hall 1 of CITEM, Pasay City
ASEAN is one of the most diverse regions in the world. It is a region of 32,000 islands spanning over 4 million square kilometers and hosting more than 600 million people who speak more than 900 different languages and dialects.
Aside from its abundance of natural resources, the ASEAN region is also gifted with rich cultural heritage. Among the facets of heritage, I have developed a particular interest on textiles and weaving traditions—the ties that bind.
Traditional textiles tell a lot of stories and histories. In every handwoven textile is a weaver’s passion for her craft and respect for her heritage. Although textile is tangible, weaving is an intangible heritage that would cease to exist if not preserved and promoted.
Behind every textile is a great synergy of a weaver’s mind, heart and soul unleashed through the loom. This rhythm of energies gives life to the strands of thread. Behind every cloth spun from threads of various origin and colors is a story of a weaver’s relationship with her loom. It is her craft, her passion, her life.
ASEAN member countries have their respective weaving traditions. Each country has a vast array of vibrant traditional textiles and beyond the intricate weaving technique and fine embellishments we find in these garments, we discover cultural expressions and visions of our history that have endured the test of time.
Many years ago, I started visiting textile museums of different ASEAN countries like the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology in Hanoi and the Arts and Ethnology Centre in Luang Prabang, which were my inspirations in setting up the country’s first permanent textile gallery, Hibla ng Lahing Filipino, housed in the National Museum of the Philippines launched in 2012.
In Luang Prabang last New Year, I was able to learn weaving and I accomplished a handwoven silk textile the size of a placemat. It now proudly hangs in my office. It was a memorable experience and through that process I was able to better appreciate the stories of our weaving traditions. Allow me to share some with you today.
For the T’bolis of Lake Sebu, South Cotabato, weaving, embroidery, beadwork and belt-making are important skills in keeping the T’boli tradition alive because every item they make is an important part of their life.
The t’nalak is a cloth made of abaca that is usually used by the T’bolis during significant occasions like birth, marriage and death; the hilets, or belts with brass small bells, are believed to drive away bad spirits; while the embroidery they use to accentuate their traditional blouses narrate the story of their relationship with nature and the spirits.
In Paracelis, Mountain Province, the Ga’dang community practices weaving that involves an intricate beadwork, which makes their garments unique from the others. 
The process of both the actual weaving and incorporating beadwork is too tedious and takes a lot of time. A belt alone is made in more than a week’s time.
Ga’dang elders strive to pass on this traditional Ga’dang cloth weaving to their children to unleash the creativity of the youth while incorporating in them the values of hard work, patience and love of culture.
Meanwhile, the Panay Bukidnon community in Calinog, Iloilo employs intricate handiwork and a unique dyeing system in the creation of their traditional wear. Embroiderers intricately work on their craft to emphasize the elaborate symbol pictography of the Panay Bukidnon, which is usually inspired by their natural surroundings.
The Hanunuo Mangyan community in Bulalacao, Oriental Mindoro continues to practice burungan to produce thread from cotton, which they use to weave ramit that they wear as skirt. 
The process of making cotton thread starts with the harvest of cotton and removing of seeds, which is already a tedious process. Using birikan, a bowl acting as a plinth, and the binuyo, a spool formed from the betel nut tree, cotton thread is spun as it is pulled from the wool of wild cotton. The dye extracted from the tagum leaf is used to infuse color into the thread. The Hanunuo Mangyans weave ramit, which have various designs, using backstrap loom.
These traditional practices are but a few of the many weaving traditions around the country which we were able to share with a wide audience at the Manila FAME 2012 through the Hibla Pavilion of Textiles and Weaves which we did with the Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions (CITEM) and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA).
We continue to propagate knowledge on weaving traditions through the Lecture Series on Philippine Traditional Textiles and Indigenous Knowledge at the National Museum of the Philippines. Aside from showcasing the weaving traditions of various ethno-linguistic groups in the country, we have also invited lecturers from our ASEAN neighbors.
In November 2012, we had a lecturer from Bangkok, Thailand about the present use of indigo in the Mekong area; in December 2013, we had Vietnamese lecturers on the Philippine Textile Collection in the Southeast Asian Museum of the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology; and in January 2015, we had a lecture on Lao weaving from the Director-General of the Lao National Museum and a weaving demonstration by Master Weaver Nanthavongdouangsy Kongthong, who is an ASEAN Living Human Treasure awardee and UNESCO Awardee on Traditional Textile.
Now, the challenge against a backdrop of a fast-changing globalized world is this: how do we promote, preserve and sustain the many weaving methods deeply rooted in our respective cultures? How do we support talented weavers, our culture-bearers, and encourage them to continue weaving and to pass on their expertise and art to the next generation?
Let us take a cursory look at our ASEAN 10 and consider the weaving traditions that show, above all, the many things we have in common.
- We all use wooden looms, both backstrap and upright handlooms, looms which we also share with our Western counterparts in North America, European and Scandinavian countries alike.
- Weavers are typically in homes in villages and some in centers of weaving.
- All draw patterns and inspiration from nature, often in commune with the spiritual.
- The use of natural fibers such as silk and cotton and natural dyes, with ikat or tie or resist dyeing as a cross border technique.
Of recent note, we also share in the same difficulties facing the traditional means:
- With the diminished availability of natural fibers, synthetic yarns such as rayon and polyester have come into popular use; in the Philippines and perhaps in some of your countries as well, recycled threads from waste or used clothing have come into good and hopefully more popular use;
- With ease of use, synthetic dyes, and dyed synthetic yarns have come into mainstream use;
- And, fewer are practising the tradition of weaving and natural dyeing as the younger generation have not been as engaged.
I am sure, each one of the ASEAN member country’s cultural offices have been actively working to engage the ethnic communities towards the preservation and conservation of these intangible cultural heritages. In our case, we have the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) which has the Schools of Living Tradition (SLT) program.
In the regional effort, since 2005, The ASEAN Foundation has been organizing the ASEAN Traditional Textiles Symposium. It is through these symposia that we hope we could come up with initiatives either through legislation, innovative policies, or programs to allow traditional textiles and weaving traditions to thrive in this day and age.
Textiles present a natural interconnection, a nexus, if you will, where science, technology and innovation meet art, culture and tradition. It is also a primary key to inclusivity as it provides a bridge between agriculture and industry.
As one of the three basics to life, in addition to food and shelter, textiles, more specifically in the form of clothes or vestments, must be sustained and promoted.
This is the reason why I authored Republic Act 9242 or the Philippine Tropical Fabrics Law, which aims to promote the country’s natural fabrics by using these materials in official uniforms of government officials and employees.
I have envisioned this law to jumpstart the effort to build up our country’s tropical fabrics industry, while giving the needed boost to the agricultural and industrial sectors, and creating diversity in our textile and fashion industry. These goals make the law relevant to our farmers, weavers, fashion designers, garment manufacturers and consumers.
Parallel efforts in the Executive Branch are also worthy to note. The Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging, Technology Research and Development under the Department of Science and Technology has launched an updated five-year Science and Technology Roadmap for the Textiles Sector last year that will guide concerned agencies in strengthening the textile industry; The Philippine Textile Research Institute’s Innovation Center for Yarns and Textiles makes indigenous yarns accessible to both weaving communities and commercial millers, while the Regional Handloom Weaving Innovation Centers showcase the textile-related products of their respective regions.
There needs to be convergence among agencies and across sectors to strengthen communities and local industries starting with the production of raw resources, to the creation of textiles, to the marketing of products. We should create a nurturing environment where our age-old crafts can flourish.
Preserving our heritage should be a shared cause. As individuals with influence in our respective nations, the task before us is to help our people value and continue our traditions. We must promote cultural enterprises and creative industries of our indigenous peoples. We must open doors of opportunities for learning and knowledge-sharing so that we expand our weaving communities and local textile industries.
Weaving and traditional textiles are part of a rich cultural heritage that each of our nations possesses. This heritage weaves a nation’s people into one unbreakable fabric.
As we have commenced the ASEAN Economic Integration, we must not get lost while we welcome each other into one community. Our respective identities as sovereign nations must remain intact. It is in a stronger and strengthened individual country’s identity that regional integration is enriched.
 OSL documentation on weavers at the Hibla Pavilion of Textiles and Weaves