The roosters of the remote barangay of Lumbaan-Bicbica in the eastern outskirts of Pinili, Ilocos Norte in northern Philippines have been intermittently crowing for the past two hours.
It’s four o’clock, almost two hours before the sun rises across the forested hills of Lumbaan-Bicbica, 10 kilometers from the town proper from whose municipal hall lounge one can have a glimpse of the rugged Ilocos shoreline.
National Living Treasure Magdalena Galinato-Gamayo, 98, is ready for breakfast, prepared by Marjoe Galinato, son of her brother, and his wife, before the weaving routine begins.
Fifteen hours later, nearly two hours after the sun is gobbled up by the Ilocos shoreline, the 135 centimeter-Mrs. Gamayo will be retiring to bed, after relishing her favorite endemic risek fish, native chicken meat and vegetables.
That, after taking her losartan, at times omeprazole since 2019, when she started taking in maintenance only during the coronavirus pandemic when she slowed down stepping on her loom’s pedals.
She also takes in revicon for vitamins.
The Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan was conferred on Mrs Gamayo in 2012 for her excellent contribution to the cultural heritage of the country as a master textile weaver.
Republic Act 7355 or Manlilikha ng Bayan Act of 1992 was enacted to preserve and promote Philippine traditional arts, whether visual, performing, or literary, for their cultural value and also honors and supports traditional artists for their contribution to the national heritage.
The work of a Manlilikha ng Bayan is presumed to be an Important Cultural Property, second to National Cultural Treasure, the highest category of cultural property through Republic Act 10066, also known as the National Heritage Act of 2009.
At the Gawad Manlilikha ng Bayan Cultural Center at the bosom of her barangay, Mrs. Gamayo, first and only recipient thus far of the National Living Treasures Award in Ilokandia – Pangasinan, La Union, Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte – is already up.
The widow – she will be 99 on August 13 – is up and shaking a leg at the center, established for her and her throng of understudies by the government which conferred on her the recognition for her outstanding work as a traditional folk artist.
She looks after the younger trainees who get her punctilious mentorship and counsel.
To date, Mrs. Gamayo is one of 16 individuals given the Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan or National Living Treasures Award.
A recipient of the award is “a Filipino citizen or group of Filipino citizens engaged in any traditional art uniquely Filipino, whose distinctive skills have reached such a high level of technical and artistic excellence and have been passed on to and widely practiced by the present generations in their community with the same degree of technical and artistic competence.
In a weekend interview, arranged through a common niece, master teacher Neclyn Galinato, we were able to get a better glimpse of the woman who started weaving at age nine after finishing grade 3 in nearby barangay Sacritan, in efforts to help her siblings – three girls and five boys – and her parents.
Which suggests she has been on the loom pedal for nearly 90 years.
Born in Pinili two years after the erstwhile barangays of Paoay, Badoc and Batac became Ilocos Norte’s 17th municipality, the imperturbable Magdalena watched her paternal aunts, whose roots are from Paoay, the town heretofore known across the region for its distinct woven fabric.
Pinili is also known as the place where warriors walked during the Philippine-American War at the turn of the 20th century and during the Second World War when Japanese troops occupied the arboraceous northern hills.
There is a word called “abel” which is the Ilokano word for weave, and “inabel” can be interpreted to mean any kind of woven fabric.
In the world of weaving, “inabel” is particularly used to refer to textile distinctly Ilokano in origin.
With her at the center are 12 women and a male weaver – relatives and neighbors — who are perpetuating and institutionalizing her winning design described as “Inubon a Sabong.”
Loosely translated, it means “A String of Flowers” – a quick reminder of the 1941 song “A String of Pearls” composed by violinist Jerry Grya with lyrics by Eddie DeLange and set into music by trombonist Glenn Miller and His Orchestra which became #1 hit, a big band and jazz standard.
Mrs. Gamayo’s understudies are also weaving other designs called in Ilokano bola bola, tawwa-tawwa, pinilian,, binakol, kusikos and sinan paid.
And she is ultracareful in her coaching to ensure comparative durability, which has become known in the region.
Buyers travel to Lumbaan-Bicbica through the cemented road from the town proper, only four kilometers from the MacArthur national highway that cuts through the Ilocos region from the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway.
Her backup members don’t get any wage, but she says each gets two-thirds of their sale from their respective woven fabrics – bought in Vigan, Ilocos Sur or in Metro Manila – one third of which would be given to the center for its maintenance.
None to the government.
One fill-in can weave more or less 60 yards in a month, depending on the design of the fabric.
From a small place of loom weavers prior to receiving her GAMABA, Mrs Gamayo now has, thanks to the government, 18 looms and a wider space used for the GAMABA Cultural Center, funded by the provincial government.
There are other extra looms because of the rising number of trainees in the center, with one loom occupying 2 x 1 ½ square meter area.
There are times the weavers attend trade fairs sponsored by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, especially those in the capital.
On a rather morbid topic, which is among benefits GAMABA recipients are entitled to – burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani in Metro Manila – Mrs. Gamayo, is clear: “I do not want to be buried there. I much prefer our place (in Pinili.)”
While she has slowed down in her daily shuffle, she feels she is still physically strong and her eyesight is clear, hardly using her eyeglasses, when she sits on her loom.
In 1988, the National Folk Artists Award was organized by the Rotary Club of Makati-Ayala. The distinctions were given by the organization until it was replaced by the GAMABA Law in 1992.
The recipients of the National Folk Artists from 1988-1992 are not recognized by the government as the award was given by a private organization.
The National Living Treasures Award (Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan) was institutionalized in 1992 through Republic Act 7355.
The NCCA, which is the highest policy-making and coordinating body of the country for culture and the arts, was tasked with the implementation and awarding.
This is in line with UNESCO’s criteria of Living National Treasures.