Davao, here is looking at you!

5

WITH the coming new administration and its set of personalities, just wondering if Davao pragmatism in clothes will trump the Manila flair for over-the-top fashion ensembles. After all, we are talking about governance. Form should follow function. Meaning, it is a simple hand-over on June 30 that should keep a business-like if formal tone. Formal, as in serious without ostentation, distraction or triumphalism expressed in too celebratory clothes. But with the serious note of a new beginning.

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I guess this makes me sound like the party pooper. Especially when we are contemplating the opening of Congress, which brings on a tsunami of luxury clothing, mostly in native fabrics, which ends up conveying an air of triumphalism right there separating the governed from the leaders. In a democracy, we are supposed to elect servant-leaders, not royalty, homegrown as that may be. Those elected must demonstrate to the rest of the population that they are still one with us in our serviceable clothes, not showily apart. Considering that I am an advocate of indigenous fabrics and work for the preservation and development of our traditional hand-woven fibers, it does seem I am deliberately missing an opportunity to encourage a wholesale fashion display of their variety and attractiveness. It is not that way at all. I am calling for restraint to fit the occasion. By all means, use indigenous materials, but in a way that unites us as a people, as in affordable, practical and, yes, modest, please.

The opening of Congress has become such a fashion show with the media focusing on who wore what, that whatever this beginning of legislative work is originally meant to be, gets lost in the parade of extravagant fashion ensembles.

I do wonder where else in the world does a legislature opening come with such a tone both of unnecessary luxury, fatuous symbolism and an underlining of inequality. Yes, indeed, it is a lot of fun and quite an entertainment, sometimes good for laughing out loud. But it is also pathetic for the falsity of its tenor in a country like ours is today.

When Singapore became independent decades ago, the ruling party that became the government eschewed the British clothing formalities of the colonizers and deliberately used white short-sleeved shirts for government work, parliament and other official events. It emphasized it was a tropical country where formal Western clothes were out of kilter with the weather. Those short-sleeved shirts showed solidarity with the population, not separation.

In Indonesia, they wear batik everyday so their legislators as well as their taxi drivers are in the same fashion, no obvious differences. In Myanmar, everyone, from government officials to the general populace, wears their native styles and fabrics.

The new President seems to favor plaid shirts, which are a commonplace piece of clothing available to all here. Davaoeños seem to be wearing them daily. And guess what? Iloilo hand-woven fabric (hablon or patadyong material) can produce all kinds of plaids. So can Northern Luzon, from La Union to the Ilocos region. Encouraging increased production by wearing plaids would be a good thing. Plaids would bring on the right tone, encourage production of available local materials, popularize affordable everyday wear.

This is not to discourage the barong tagalog or the terno or the kimona, baro’t saya, etc., but to use them in a thoughtful and correct context, taking into consideration the current malaise about inequality, elitism and whatever separates us from each other based on material wealth, political power and status. By the way, the fashion overdose from the Congress opening is not limited to Filipiniana. The Congress opening must tone down. We are a developing country with too many stuck in poverty. Let us be real. Legislators and other government officials and their families should be servant-leaders and act as such, not like power trippers in our midst.

Davao, here is looking at you.

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5 Comments

  1. Well said, Ms. Ongpin. Watching on TFC ( for us residing abroad), these elected leaders and their wives “stroll down the carpet” wearing designer Filipino attire, leaves a poor taste in our mouths. It is not an OSCAR awards night they are attending, after all. Appropriate change will be refreshing to see.

  2. Abdul Ampatuan on

    Filipinos are stucked in the cultural norm brought by the Spaniards. Ostentatious display of luxurious clothings has become part of our norm and also, a status symbol for most of the politicians (specially, their wives). I don’t know if they do this for the purpose of promoting fashion, getting public attention/approval, or perhaps, they are just KSP (Kulang Sa Pansin). LOL…..