I was sitting in my favorite spot at the avung when Manang Delia approached me and asked me to help her son with his Filipino subject module. The topic was about Filipino Heroes. One of the activities in the module is about describing one's hero; the boy mentioned Rizal, Bonifacio, and so on. But since they are Ibaloys and members of the Onjon ni Ivadoy Association, Incorporated, I suggested that he should write about Mateo Cariño; an Ibaloy chieftain who revolted against the Spaniards and fought for the ancestral lands of Ibaloys in the City of Baguio and Province of Benguet. And then I remembered my conversation with Manong Boy at the avung. I was doing some data gathering for my research about burial practices and I happened to attend as part of my documentation process, the wake of the late Atty. Alfonso Pucay Aroco at the Ibaloy Heritage Garden in the City of Baguio and in Kabayan, Province of Benguet. Manong Boy mentioned that what I have witnessed might have been a Hero's Burial.
Thinking about it now, I'm wondering what made Atty. Aroco's burial, a "Hero's Burial"? Is it because of the more than 30 pigs that were slaughtered? Could it be because of the inclusion of cows, carabaos, and a horse? Could the presence of a number of politicians and government employees during the wake made it a hero's burial? Or is it the fact that different people from different walks of life came to testify about his dedication to serving not just the Igorots but also other Indigenous Peoples/ Indigenous Cultural Communities in the country.
Atty. Alfonso Pucay Aroco or "Uncle/Manong Ponso" to his family and peers, was born and raised at the picturesque Municipality of Kabayan in the Province of Benguet. Described by his sisters as the quiet type, Manong Ponso, becomes talkative when he starts talking about topics that interest him, finding no difficulties in changing from one topic to another. Many fascinating stories about him were shared with me by his family and peers. One that fascinates me most was when he was in college: he shifted his course from MedTech to Political Science but was still able to graduate on time, he even passed the bar exam on his first try at the age of 25. He was just a few years into private law practice when he suddenly thrusted to public service as he was appointed the OIC-Mayor of Kabayan, Benguet, after the EDSA Revolution. Thereafter, he was elected as the town's Vice-Mayor and after serving as such, he went on to work under the Office of Northern Cultural Communities (ONCC) and later the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP).
However, Manong Ponso is not just about laws and politics, Auntie Vicky, a close associate of the good attorney mentioned that the late Atty. Aroco is also very knowledgeable about the rituals and practices of Ibaloys. She mentioned that Atty. Aroco is her partner in presenting the rituals and practices of the Ibaloys whenever they were invited. In fact, the late attorney's research paper entitled Ibaloy Knowledge through Oral Tradition that he delivered and discussed during the First Ibaloy Studies Conference in 2015, under the Cordillera Studies Center at the University of the Philippines Baguio, was published under the book Chiva: A Reader on Ibaloy History and Culture that was edited by Professor Jimmy Fong of UP Baguio.
Atty. Aroco died in Palawan last October 19, 2021, according to his nephew, Atty. Steve Aroco, on the death certificate of his uncle Ponso, the cause of death was Septic Shock due to a rare infection on Atty. Aroco's foot that he got in Palawan while working with the Palaw'an Indigenous Peoples/ Indigenous Cultural Communities (IPs/ICCs) on a boundary dispute involving their ancestral domain and that of a neighboring tribe. Additionally, according to his brother Manong Patol, Atty. Aroco was also infected by COVID19 but was not really hit hard by it; the infection worsened the existing complications of his diabetes, pneumonia, and kidney failure which eventually caused his demise. His remains were put on view for one night at Puerto Princesa, Palawan, before it was flown by PAL Cargo Plane to Manila and then brought to the avung at Ibaloy Heritage Garden City of Baguio. The wake at the avung lasted for three days and the wake at Kabayan, Benguet, lasted for five days. From the moment Atty. Aroco's remains arrived at the avung on October 21, 2021, and on the last day of the wake at Kabayan on October 30, 2021, owek were performed.
The Ibaloys are very welcoming and supportive of my research, they would explain to me the context of each practice and ritual that is being performed and some would even translate in Tagalog the stories being told during the 'istorya'. . I learned during the 'istorya' at the avung that Atty. Aroco was in Palawan to help the Indigenous Peoples/ Indigenous Cultural Communities (IPs/ICCs) there renew their royalty contract with a mining company. It was also at the avung that I met one of Atty. Aroco's client, Manong Naro. Manong Naro mentioned that Atty. Aroco was not just his lawyer but also a very good 'uncle' to him and represented Manong Naro's criminal and administrative cases for free. Manong Naro is from the Kalanguya IPs/ICCs. In Kabayan, it was told during the 'istorya' that Atty. Aroco also helped the Agta IPs/ICCs of Palanan, Isabela, wherein there was a confrontation because of some politicians and lawyers who wanted to have a cut on the supposed foreign funding of the Agta IPs/ICCs in Palanan, Isabela and Atty. Aroco walked out and was met by the members of the Agta IPs/ICCs outside and offered him food to eat, a note was made by the speaker that some of them were not even wearing slippers, Atty. Aroco, even with the knowledge that these people don't have the money to pay for his service, didn't hesitate and still helped them. This goes to show that Atty. Aroco doesn't just help the Ibaloys but other Indigenous Peoples/ Indigenous Cultural Communities as well.
Other Indigenous Peoples/Indigenous Cultural Communities that Atty. Aroco helped:
- Palaw'an IPs/ICCs of Bataraza, Palawan
- B'laan IPs/ICCs of Tampakan, South Cotabato
- Mankayan Ancestral Domain IPs of Mankayan, Benguet
- Ayta IPs/ICCs of Porac, Pampanga
- IPs/ICCs of Tuba, Benguet
- Dumagat IPs/ICCs of Polillo Islands, Quezon
- Agta IPs/ICCs of Rizal Province
- Tagbanua IPs/ICCs of Coron, Palawan
Hearing these stories makes me sad that I wasn't able to meet him. There are a lot of tiny details that make Atty. Aroco admirable, but more than any of these, I believe that what makes him shine, not just an IP but also as a Filipino, is the fact that he was among the first ones to participate in the implementation of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) and was one of the authors of the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of the said law. During the 'istorya' at the avung, one of the speakers mentioned that Atty. Aroco even went to Australia to study for a master's degree in Special Studies on Aboriginal Land Rights and Native Title. And when he came back to the Philippines, he was tasked to prepare the IRR of IPRA.
Atty. Aroco is already commendable as a lawyer for accepting pro bono cases and though I never met him in person, I can say that he was a great loss not just to the Ibaloys but also to other Indigenous Peoples/Indigenous Cultural Communities in our country. And I firmly believe that it is manifested here that Atty. Aroco could be considered a contemporary Ibaloy hero; an Indigenous Peoples/Indigenous Cultural Communities champion.
- Avung is an Ibaloy term for native hut. It has an alternate spelling; avong.
- Delia Bangkin also known as Manang Delia is a volunteer of the Onjon ni Ivadoy Association, Incorporated.
- The Cariño clan is one of the pioneer members of the Onjon ni Ivadoy Association, Incorporated.
- Joselito Shontogan also known as Manong Boy is one of the Public Information Officers of the Onjon ni Ivadoy Association, Incorporated.
- Some of these pigs are Kamang (from the dead person), Mangokat (from the immediate relatives of the dead, in context his siblings, nieces, and nephews), and Taknal (the literal translation is 'throw' but in context these are consigned to the dead for another dead relative or person, this info is also confined in the Ibaloy of Kabayan).
- The inclusion of pigs, cows, and carabaos are normal for the Ibaloys but the inclusion of the horse was premised on the belief that the horse will be used by Atty. Aroco on his way to Mt. Pulag, for it is believed to be a sacred place for the Ibaloys.
- Vicky Macay also known as Auntie Vicky is one of the Cultural Affairs Officers of the Onjon ni Ivadoy Association, Incorporated.
- The traditional butchering of pigs is called owek. They'll cut around on the pig's right front leg, and through the cut, they'll pierce through its heart with a stake. In context, this is also done as a form of ritual.
- In context, the 'Istorya' here is the part of the program during a wake wherein people who knew the dead would tell a story about his/her memories and personal knowledge about the dead person.
- Maximo H. Edwin Bugnay Jr. or Manong Edwin, the president, Junior Cosme or Manong Jhune, the secretary, and Leopoldo Lamsis or Manong Poldo, one of the Cultural Affairs Officers, of the Onjon ni Ivadoy Association, Incorporated, has been a great help to me in the contextualization of the entire wake of Atty. Aroco. And in Kabayan, the whole clan of Pucay and Aroco, especially Manong Steve and Manong Lykie, welcomed and helped me during my entire stay, they even introduced people that could be a resource person for my research.
Written by Fatima Genesis Rosario and Edited by Francis Ed Villanueva