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By Icoy San Pedro

AN OLD boss of mine, in his many tirades at the office, always called them Tarpulano or Tarpulana, his favorite catch-all names when referring to the common man-on-the-street. Although I’ve always felt this to be a bit derogatory, I left it at that, giving him the benefit of the doubt that he really meant nothing by it. I even thought, for what it’s worth, he might have believed that most uncommon sounding name had a certain mass appeal. Like a bad joke.

Back then, I didn’t know what to make of it really. What I knew though, all our lives, we’ve been casually brought up in a culture where day-to-day name-calling, labeling and (such a hot topic today) tagging, were just the most normal thing to be doing. Oftentimes said in jest, it even appeared as endearing as a nickname. (now, the only positive tagging I know of is when they literally attach a “tag” to the dorsal fin of a shark for the purpose of studying and documenting its behavioral patterns. Surely, can’t apply to people.) 

But who was Tarpulano, by the way? Many years ago in Manila, I was attending a consultation on indigenous people’s rights and in one particular session, a discussion on how best to promote and preserve lumad’s rights took place. Having noticed no lumad representative present, I had asked if there had been prior consultations with any groups that could at least be the basis for our recommendations. Apparently, I was told much of the info came from their available data and from what they knew of indigenous cultures and traditions (stock knowledge?). 

Not the ideal way to proceed I thought, but I knew they didn’t mean anything bad. However, I still felt there had to be a representation of sorts, not just empathy for the plight of our brothers. Anyway, that was Tarpulano right there. Then many elections ago, one candidate was put on the spot when, after mouthing that the poor man’s fare of “galunggong” (a type of fish) was getting too expensive. When she was asked what the actual selling price was at the moment, it turned out she hasn’t even seen one, much less know how much it cost at present. 

In case we’ve noticed, in many venues such as those mentioned, so much about the plight of Tarpulanos everywhere had been discussed and deciphered. They’ve even appeared as recipients in many a project by both government and non-governmental institutions. However, how much we really know of the common man, that’s still really up in the air. Or just framing inside the head. This is one reason why there’s still this cringe moment whenever on TV, I hear some personality talk about the ordinary people. 



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