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An Igorot Displacement Story: Busting the Claim that the Ibalois Sold Baguio

Baguio was and will always be an Igorot heritage

It is quite ironic that the Igorots of Baguio, particularly the original Ibaloi settlers, are now considered to be part of the minority sector in the city. Compared to the other towns in the Cordillera region, Baguio seemed to have lost its "kaigorotan" sense of identity. Its unique heritage is slowly fading with the influx of local immigrants, tourists, and aggressive development. Even in terms of leadership, the City has been run mostly by "outsiders" and affluent immigrant families coming from other parts of the country.

Since it was chartered, there were only about three Igorots who were lucky enough to sit as City Mayor out of the twenty-seven from 1909 to the present. Even most streets, roads, and other notable sites were named after foreign personalities and other Filipino political families prominent during the American and Commonwealth periods.

While it is but proper to give due recognition to the people who were instrumental to the rise of Baguio as one of the country's most loved tourist destination, let us not forget the Igorots who toiled these lands and protected it with their lives before they were unjustly displaced and robbed of their birthright.

Contrary to the popular notion and belief being mongered by some people that Baguio has been sold by the Ibalois, history presents a more accurate perspective as to how "kafagway" fell into the hands of the Americans and later on to other Filipino aristocrats. Kapaoay or Kafagway was a grazing ground for cattle before the Americans decided to build the city of Baguio.

According to the 2002 study of the status and impact of ancestral land claims in Baguio that Ibaloi families conducted for the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, custom dictates that "the first to till the land or introduce improvements" are recognized owners of the property. This is expressed during ritual feasts when a "mambunong" recites the community's history. This is known as the Traditional "land acquisition" process of the Igorots long before there were land titling procedures.

On Nov. 11, 1901, the American government appropriated P11,000 for the expropriation of Baguio land as it embarked on the creation of the mountain city. The study said the Ibalois were forced to sell their landholdings which were in the way of proposed government building sites, and lost much more land they needed for grazing cattle. Coercion was the mode by which the Americans "convinced" the Ibalois to accept the meager amounts offered. Some vast areas of land were just taken as a punishment for those who aided Emilio Aguinaldo and the remaining "katipuneros" as they elude American soldiers.

To facilitate this appalling dispossession, the Ibalois were also required to register their lands - a process that confounded Baguio's original settlers and made it more difficult for them to "legitimize" their ownership because it involved new concepts like land surveys. On account of this burden, it made land grabbing and stealthy acquisition techniques easier.

In 1909, Baguio was officially declared the summer capital, and the American government gave its inhabitants a shorter period to perfect their land titles when it established the Baguio townsite. In 1924, 48 Ibaloi claimants petitioned the government to recognize their land rights, but these claims were not settled. The number of Ibaloi claimants grew just as Baguio developed. But when World War II ended, Baguio addressed its first squatting problem, by relocating these families to villages, which were covered by ancestral land claims.

The national government had tried to resolve the claims from the 1960s to the martial law years of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos. In the 1990s, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) was tasked to process ancestral land claims, as the government pursued the enactment of Republic Act No. 8371 (Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997 or Ipra). But by 2002, 757 claims remained in limbo. The study said 194 of 425 ancestral land claims it examined indicated they inherited these properties.

The study said the Ibalois never abandoned their claims. "In the 1950s, fortunes were made and lost in the attempt to register and perfect Igorot claims. The Ibaloi family learned to rely on lawyers in the never-ending encounters with the administrative and judicial courts," it further claimed.

Baguio was and will always be an Igorot heritage and though other ancestral claimants have given up specially those involving lands now occupied by the government, they still deserve respect and recognition. There is no greater consolation for them than to see Baguio loved and protected genuinely and to one day wake up to a Baguio returned to its former glory as the heart of "kaigorotan".

(Originally published at inspired by "How the Ibaloi Lost their Land", PDI Article published January 14, 2014)

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