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Stories of Cordilleran Heroism That Were Left Out Of Philippine History Books

There is a growing consensus among historians that the gallantry of the Igorots played a pivotal role in the countrys struggle for independence.

 |  5 min read

NatGeo Interactive: Bontoc Igorot warriors pose with their weapons and shields
NatGeo Interactive: Bontoc Igorot warriors pose with their weapons and shields

With the never-ending stigma attributed to the Igorots in terms of appearance and cultural uniqueness, one has to assume that the general population knows little about this extraordinary people and how their daring exploits helped shape the Philippines as it is today. Far from the common notion that they have tails, ignorant, barbaric, and indecorous; the Igorots are a fascinating lot admired by various international writers, historians, and travelers. Being an Igorot myself, I am taken aback and utterly disappointed by the insensitive display of ignorance by some of our countrymen. Recently, there were a number of social media posts and comments unjustly maligning the Igorots which I will not even consider quoting in this article for their sheer ridiculousness. What is more bothering is the fact that these vilifications are coming from within our own nation when we should be the first to be proud of this distinctive heritage had our history books been forthcoming with the truth.

In the countdown to Philippine Independence, history (as we've been taught) is rife with tales of heroism by our lowland counterparts. These are the mainstream stories almost all Filipinos grew up to, thanks to our National Historians who failed to view the struggle for independence at a larger scale. Luckily, some local historians took the initiative to provide us with geographically focalized versions that present more accurate historical accounts.

During the Spanish occupation of the Philippines, the Igorots fought fiercely to preserve their liberty and aided their Filipino compatriots in later achieving the country's freedom. According to William Henry Scott who served as teacher for many years in the locality, in his essay: "Igorot Responses to Spanish Aims; 1576-1896" which was published in a book by the University of the Philippine College Baguio (UPCB), " the Spaniards failed to conquer the Ygolote mountains of North Luzon". Quoting another historian (John Leddy Phelan), Scott wrote:

"In the face of uncompromising hostility of the mountaineers and the reluctance of Manila to underwrite the expenses of a prolonged and costly territorial occupation, various military expeditions in1591, 1608, 1635 and 1663 proved fruitless".

To put things into perspective, Scott made particular reference to chronicles made by early international writers describing the Igorot's valor in resisting foreign domination by their own means. These accounts were later on supported by other findings of the National Commission for Culture and Arts casting aside the earlier notion that for 320 years prior to June 12, 1898 the Igorots were naive to the fight against Spanish colonial rule. In truth, the Igorots were unjustly left out of mention by then available textbook on how Philippine Independence was fought and won.

The "Bontoc Uprising of 1881" was one of the most prominent documented events which according to Scott, "the Spanish expeditionary force led by Father Rufino Redondo was walloped by the natives". The ferocity of that uprising was described in part: "When the rifle fire began, the Igorots fled ---but not before for soldiers had lost their heads, two wounded fatality, and the official Interpreter, the Sanitary inspector, and one of the Lieutenant's servants have been killed". "Despite the loss of more than 60 of their own forces, the Bontoc Igorots then retired to the hills jubilantly with the heads they had taken to celebrate their victory with traditional dances, the brandy and other spoils of war".

In Benguet, a local Ibaloi rancher by the name of Mateo Cariṅo was distraught over what is now known as the "Tongdo Massacre" where the whole town of men, women including children was blown to pieces by Spanish cannon balls released from a distance. He later on lead local revolutionaries helping the republic overthrow the ruthless Spanish regime. He successfully raided the Spanish Garrison in La Trinidad and later on, he was proclaimed Capitan Municipal of Baguio by Emilio Aguinaldo. After Spain ceded the Philippines to the Americans, Cariṅo continued to resist and reportedly, he gave Aguinaldo refuge when he was being pursued by American soldiers. Hence, Benguet became the last stand of the Philippine Republic and the Philippine Revolutionary Government.

Having known the Spaniards' aim of obtaining Cordillera's gold and plundering further the country's resources, the Igorots became directly involved in the revolution and battle for independence. Not only did they provide food, shelter, and protection for the fleeting Katipuneros, they were also reportedly engaged in actual combat.

Historian-writer Rowena Reyes-Boquiren, assistant profession of UPCB, wrote that in Benguet alone, there were various "Ibaloi" and "Kankanaey" leaders who rallied for the protection of their tribes while resisting the subjugation from Spain, especially with the order of then Governor General Fernando Primo de Rivera on January 14, 1881, which designated April of that year as an ultimatum "For all independent tribes to submit to the Spanish government".

Among those leaders mentioned in her article were: Mateo Cariṅo, Mateo (Kustacio) Carantes, Cecidno Carantes, Juan (Oraa) Cariṅo, Magastino Laruan, Molintas Kidit, Alumno Kidit, Espiritu Cariṅo, Damsis, Balanao, Anuya, Valeriano Guillet, Motes, Bayongasan, Pulicay and Fernandez. Such valor was carried on by the Cordillerans in the Philippine-American war and later on during the WWII Japanese occupation.

There is a growing consensus among historians that the gallantry of the Igorots played a pivotal role in the country's struggle for independence. It was their relentless and fearless opposition to foreign control that struck fear in the hearts of both the Spanish and American colonizers. Even in recent history, the heroism of the Cordillerans cannot be discounted leading to respectable Police and Military leaders to conclude that Igorots in uniform are one of the country's bravest, most disciplined, and most proficient assets in the field of Law Enforcement and Military Service.



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