PRECIOUS HATS


Times have changed. No longer do we have so many beggars from the Cordillera in the streets of Metro Manila. But that was not the case not so long ago. Up until the end of the millennium, it was not uncommon to chance upon a group of Igorots asking pedestrians and motorists for handouts in Baguio City and Metro Manila specially during the Holiday Season. Most of them were women, most of them were aging, and most were from Mountain Province.

There are many stories about these beggars, and these stories may or may not be true. What is true is that indeed Mountain Province once had the distinction of being the source of these resourceful persons who made a livelihood of begging.

I heard from others of such a story. Whether or not the story is true in its entirety or was embossed in the telling, or whether it is altogether the fabrication of an imaginative mind, is irrelevant. If it is not true, then it shall be added to the many urban legends about the people of Mountain Province. True or not, accurate or not, the story, and others like it, just reflect the reality of what once was at a time that seems so long ago but nonetheless fairly recent.

And so it was that in the late 90s, there was such a group plying their “trade” in Quezon City.

And so it was that the Congressman of Mountain Province at that time, the late Victor Dominguez, was in a convoy of cars with his staff and some local government officials visiting the nation’s capital.

Somewhere along the long stretch of Quezon Avenue in Quezon City, Dominguez, who was in the lead car, saw such a group of women actively asking pedestrians and motorists for alms. He asked the driver to stop and the driver obliged. Of course the other cars in the convoy also stopped, and everybody was wondering why the Congressman’s car stopped.

According to the story, the Congressman told his staff to get the straw hats (silag) of the women.

Those in the other cars saw the Congressman’s bodyguard, secretary and assistant getting out of the lead car. Of course, out of concern, others in the cars following also got out.

The bodyguard, secretary and assistant approached the women on the sidewalk.

The women, probably thinking that the ones approaching them were cops, started running in different directions. The Congressman’s men run after them. Without thinking, the passengers of the other cars followed suit.

And so it was that there was these group of about five Igorot women being pursued by Igorot men in the streets of Metro Manila. Eventually, the men caught up with the women. After the pursuers explained that they were not cops, the women were placated. However, when the pursuers asked for their hats, they refused to give these, saying that it was a hot day, and they needed the hats to shield their heads and faces from the sweltering sun.

The pursuers continued to demand the hats, and the women continued to refuse to give in. After a heated and extended conversation, the assistant went back to the Congressman to report. The Congressman told him that they must get the hats at all cost, and if necessary, they should buy it from the women. The Congressman pulled out his wallet and gave the assistant some money so that they could buy the hats from the woman beggars.

After another heated and extended conversation, the women finally acceded to sell their hats to their pursuers. So, hats in hand, the group got back to their cars and proceeded on their way.

Rumor has it that the price that the Congressman paid for the used hats was more than twice the price of new straw hats, but still the Congressman thought it money well spent. Rumor has it further that the Congressman would have been willing to pay more, just so the beggar-women would sell the hats.

Those in the convoy laughed themselves hoarse talking about the spectacle of aging Igorot women being pursued by burly Igorot men in the streets of Quezon City. It was even more hilarious since the women, and most of the pursuing men, were ignorant of the reasons for the chase. It was a funny moment, but all agreed that it was worth it, and the Congressman was justified in purchasing the precious hats at such an extravagant cost.

What made the hats so special?

Painted in bright red on the wide brim were the words “GAWIS AY MOUNTAIN PROVINCE.”

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