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The Cordilleran History

It's how the people of the cordillera bravely defended their ancestral domains from the threat of mining, logging, and destructive energy projects.

 |  8 min read

Earthy Walk at Tanglag, Lubuagan Kalinga Philippines. IG: cawaxennon

Lifted from historical records and stories shared by elders:

This is a brief recall and review of the vibrant history of the Cordillera peoples' continuing struggle to defend ancestral domain and their collective right to self-determination and how the Chico and Cellophil inspired the growth of the Mass Movement in the Cordilleras.

While there may be a whole range of forms of self-determination, the key issue is the empowerment of the people, the level of organization and strength that they are able to build, the struggles that they can successfully wage, including the support that they can generate from the wider population in the country, and internationally, based on the legitimacy of their struggle against oppressive structures.

In June, 1984, 150 delegates from 27 organizations from all over the Cordillera region gathered in a People's Congress in Bontoc, Mountain Province and organized the Cordillera People's Alliance for the Defense of the Ancestral Domain and for Self-Determination (CPA).

Among our founding documents was the seminal paper Towards Defining the Substance and Features of Self-Determination in the Cordillera. In this document, we proposed that regional autonomy would be the form of self-determination for the Cordillera.

From 1984-86, the CPA distinguished itself by being at the forefront of the struggle for indigenous people's rights. We launched many campaigns such as those for Ancestral Land Rights, Regional Autonomy, anti-militarization, Kaigorotan unity, and others.

One of the early campaigns of the CPA was to bring together the Cordillera provinces as one region. Many people may not know it but the Cordillera provinces did not always stand together as one region. One of the early declarations of the dictator Marcos was to divide the Philippines into regions. Without any consideration for the commonalities of history, geography, national minority status and the like, Marcos divided the Cordillera provinces, including Mountain Province and Benguet along with Abra in Region 1, and Kalinga-Apayao and Ifugao in Region 2. CPA protested this act as a form of political misrepresentation and national oppression, which had the ulterior motive to stop the unification of the indigenous peoples of the Cordillera, especially as the resistance against Chico and Cellophil was raging.

In 1985, the Cordillera representatives to the Interim Batasang Pambansa were trying to pass a bill to regionalize the Cordillera provinces. The CPA allied with the sponsors of the bill for the tactical demand of regionalization but raised the slogan regionalization and beyond, to be able to conduct a regional campaign on indigenous peoples' rights and regional autonomy as the form of self-determination for the region.

CPA's main thrust was towards the conscientization, organizing and empowerment of the Cordillera indigenous peoples in the struggle against national oppression and for self-determination. It played a most significant role in popularizing the demand for the recognition of indigenous people's rights, not only in the region but even nationally.

To set the record straight against historical revisionism, it was the CPA that popularized the concepts and slogans of ancestral land, national oppression, self-determination and regional autonomy, such that these became integrated into the national struggle against the Marcos dictatorship, as it was the CPA which was at the forefront of this struggle in the region.

The period from the mid-seventies to the mid-eighties was a decade of ferment and upheaval throughout the Cordillera region as the indigenous peoples here drew on the lessons from Chico and Cellophil and learned to assert their rights. More and more militant organizations sprouted, as more and more began to assert their rights even under conditions of intense militarization.

On April 24, 1980, military troops of the Marcos dictatorship gunned down Macliing Dulag of the Butbut tribe, in Bugnay, Tinglayan, Kalinga. Macliing was one of the leaders of the opposition to the Chico dams. He was killed in the dead of night in an effort to intimidate the indigenous opposition. The people refused to be cowed. Instead, Macliing's death was commemorated with a Macliing memorial yearly thereafter to remember the martyrs who had given up their lives in the struggle. It also became an occasion where Cordillera advocates would come to express their solidarity with the Cordillera peoples' struggles. In 1985, April 24 was commemorated as Cordillera Day for the first time.

The people learned the value of concerted and unified mass action. The decade of ferment led to increased coordination among the growing number of militant organizations, and more concerted efforts towards defining the substance and features of a program for self-determination of the indigenous peoples in the Cordillera.

During the Cory Aquino administration, riding on the crest of the anti-dictatorship struggle, it was the CPA that mobilized a region-wide lobby of the Constitutional Commission for the inclusion of the provisions on ancestral land (Article VII, Section 5) and regional autonomy (Article X, Section 15) in the new Constitution which was ratified in 1987.

Around this time, the Cordillera People's Liberation Army (CPLA) of Conrado Balweg had split from the Communist Party of the Philippines - New People's Army in the region. The CPLA was soon coddled by the Aquino government after the much publicized peace talks and sipat held in Mt. Data in September 1986. On July 15, 1987, Aquino signed Executive Order 220 creating the Cordillera Executive Board (CEB) and the Cordillera Regional Assembly (CRA) as transitional bodies to work towards the creation of the Cordillera Autonomous Region after the ratification of an Organic Act as defined in the Constitution.

July 15 is presently celebrated as a public holiday in the Cordillera Administrative Region, in contra-position to the people's Cordillera Day which has been commemorated since 1985 (called Macliing Memorial from 1981-1984) to commemorate the martyrdom of Macliing Dulag and other Cordillera heroes and to build unities in facing various issues confronting Cordillera communities.

EO 220 gave Conrado Balweg a privileged position as it institutionalized his Cordillera Bodong Administration (which had split from the Cordillera Bodong Association allied with the CPA) in the Cordillera Executive Board-Cordillera Regional Assembly (CEB-CRA).

Although EO 220 stopped short of official recognition of the CPLA as the regional security force, which it had asked for, the Aquino government practically gave Conrado Balweg and the CPLA license to lord it over the new Cordillera administrative region. Many opportunists soon toadied up to them as they had the power to dispense positions, projects, and patronage in the new structures.

The CPLA even had license to murder and commit criminal acts, especially against the Cordillera Peoples' Alliance and other innocent civilians. In 1987, they killed Daniel Ngayan in cold blood at Cagaluan Gate in Lubuagan. Ama Daniel was a tribal leader from Tanglag, leader of the Cordillera Bodong Association and vice chairperson of the CPA when he was killed. Soon after, they tortured and murdered Romy Gardo of Tubo, Abra, CPA organizer in that province. Through the years, many others became martyrs through the bloodied hands of the CPLA.

Although Conrado Balweg had the temerity to publicly acknowledge that the CPLA had killed Ngayaan and Gardo, the Aquino government never took him to task for it. Neither was the CPLA punished for their other crimes such as murder, robbery, grave threat and intimidation. The families and friends of the many victims of the CPLA did not receive any justice from the Philippine government which had simply tolerated all of their crimes.

In December 1999, the CPP-NPA in the region exacted what it called "revolutionary justice," and killed Conrado Balweg while on a visit to his hometown. The CPLA soon broke up into factions, with some being integrated into the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and others flaunting themselves as armed goons involved in criminal activities.

The CEB-CRA-CBAd lasted from the time it was created in 1987 by EO 220 to 2000, when Congress practically abolished it by refusing to continue allocating funds for its operations. It was composed of a hodgepodge of political appointees which included Conrado Balweg and his CBAd, traditional tribal leaders who probably did not even know what regional autonomy was all about, johnnies-come-lately to the autonomy bandwagon, and the like.

In the 12 years of its existence, it accomplished nothing of significance. It was just a superfluous structure set up to accomodate political appointees, with all of the graft and corruption, inefficiency and infighting associated with such government bureaucracies. It could not even effectively conduct the educational campaign on regional autonomy that it was mandated to do.

From then onto this date, the CPA has launched massive education campaign on indigenous peoples rights mainly to empower communities in asserting their collective rights and defend our ancestral domain.

Over the passage of time, despite intensified threats, harassment and arbitrary arrests of its members and leaders, the CPA never wavered in its commitment and has gone on to launch more campaigns against the attempts of foreign entities and their local political allies to takeover the lands from the indigenous peoples in the guise of progress and development which serves only their bourgoise interest.

CPA has grown stronger through the years, and now has a current membership of 307 peoples' organizations representing tens of thousands of individuals. It remains the largest federation in the region and organized expression of the Cordillera people's movement to this day.

CPA has gained national and international recognition for its staunch defense of indigenous peoples rights. It received the International Eco Water Award from the Government of South Korea in 2014 and the Gawad Bayani ng Kalikasan in 2009. Some of its leaders like Petra Macliing, Joanna CariƱo and Joan Carling received international recognition for being champions of environment and human rights defense . These awards are a testament to the exemplary work and legitimacy of the CPA.

My goal in striving so hard is to one day see my fellow Igorots basking in the goodness that our ancestral land offers and which we deserve.

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