A group of indigenous people in the town of Sumilao in the southern province of Bukidnon justified the tribal ritual the tribe performed during the visit of Vice President Leni Robredo last week.
The tribe made the statement following comments posted on social media that tried to laugh off the activity as “stupidity” meant to generate a buzz on the web.
A social media user even accused Robredo of “receiving blessings from demons” because of the ritual, adding that it is against the teachings of the Catholic Church.
“The blessings she got from our bishops and priest was either diminished or canceled by this practice,” read one post.
Cheril Lorenza, vice chairperson of the Panaw-Sumilao Multipurpose Cooperative, however, said the ritual offered on February 23 for Robredo “was to ask Apu Magbabaya to bless the vice president and to give her protection.”
She said the tribe decided to conduct the prayer ritual for Robredo because she is a constant visitor to the community.
Lorenza said the tribe does not consider Robredo an outsider but as someone close to their hearts.
“We do not simply see the [vice president] as a politician. She is our companion, a partner of farmers, and above all, a mother to us,” she said.
She said the ritual is part of the Higaonon culture and is traditionally performed to welcome guests.
“We may have different prayers or rituals based on our respective cultures and traditions, but we hope that you will respect our traditions and beliefs,” said Lorenza.
The Higaonon tribe in Sumilao welcome Robredo to their community last week, reminiscing the day they first met.
Robredo used to be a pro bono human rights lawyer before entering politics, and her late husband, then-Naga mayor Jesse Robredo, welcomed the farmers to their city in 2007 and joined the march to fight for their ancestral land.
The Office of the Vice President noted that as of 2017, the Sumilao farmers communally owned 97 hectares of land. Each family also owns a 0.25-hectare parcel of land for crops and another 150 square meters for their homes.
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