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Conrado Balweg: Father of the Cordillera Administrative Region

Conrado Balweg fought for the self-determination of the people of the Cordillera which led to the creation of the Cordillera Administrative Region.

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Conrado Balweg was a former Filipino Catholic priest and rebel who was the founder of the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army, a militant group which advocated autonomy for the Cordillera region in the Philippines. He was also known by the nom-de-guerre "Ka Ambo".

Conrado was born in 1944 to a poor peasant family in the Cordilleras Mountains. The family belongs to Tingguian, a tribal minority often referred to as "people from the mountains", primitive and inexperienced. Many people believe that the tribe is in headhunting and animism. To escape the branding, Conrado and his siblings were sent to mission schools. His parents chose the career of a priest for Conrado.

Conrado attended a priestly school of the international order of Steyler missionaries, the "Societas Verbi Divini" (SVD). From this, he heard the teachings of Marxism and the Liberation Theology.

Lectures on Liberation Theology had a great influence on him. According to the teachings of Liberation Theology, the church should focus its attention on social work especially on poor and discriminated people. Some supporters of the Liberation Theology are sympathetic to socialist, also models of communist society.

However, the Roman Catholic Church does not conform to the teachings of Liberation Theology. Pope Paul II insists that the Church should do social work but "the conception of Christ as a political, as a revolutionary or a person who participates in subversive activities is incompatible with church catechism." Those opposed to the teachings of Rome especially for theologians, priests and nuns admitted the possibility of excommunication.

In 1974, at the height of Martial Law, Conrado was ordained and became the first priest from the Tingguian tribe. Before becoming a seminarian, he devoted his time to social work. While serving as a priest in barangay Sal-Lapadan, he called for structural reforms. He protested against multinational timber companies invading and disagreed with the historic claim of indigenous ownership due to lack of documents. He accused the Marcos government of being corrupt and out of control.

In 1979, Conrado threw away his Bible and carried a gun as he joined the Cordillera People’s Army, the NPA in his region. He was named "Ka Ambo" and became the "Robin Hood of the Cordilleras," a local idol. As an NPA member, he was part of the Lumbaya Company. At that time he was excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church.

Late Sen. Agapito "Butz" Aquino and CPLA leader Fr. Conrado Balweg lay down arms and "talk peace".
Late Sen. Agapito "Butz" Aquino and CPLA leader Fr. Conrado Balweg lay down arms and "talk peace".

Conrado spoke in his CPA teachings about the need to use counter-violence against leaders and large landowners. He maintained that "guns will not win the war, but the justness of the cause will … we have the support of the masses."

"Guns will not win the war, but the justness of the cause will … we have the support of the masses." - Conrado Balweg

He admitted in a newspaper interview that his group killed 46 government soldiers and six armed forces informers in 29 collisions with the armed forces. Because of his admission, the Marcos government put a price on his head and ordered his capture – dead or alive.

During the course of his struggle, Conrado denounced the CPA / NPA as a totalitarian organization, acting against the interests of the Igorots and ruled by city dwellers in the lowland. He formed his own group Cordillera Peoples Liberation Army (CPLA) with fellow priest, Bruno Ortega.

The two groups fought each other, accusing each other of crimes and torturing people. It was a fight between the brothers because the CPA was led by Jovencio, Conrado's brother.

Former President of the Philippines Corazon Aquino and Conrado Balweg at the "Sipat" or peace pact in 1986.
Former President of the Philippines Corazon Aquino and Conrado Balweg at the "Sipat" or peace pact in 1986.

Under his leadership, the CPLA made a "sipat" or ceasefire with the Philippine government at the Mt. Data Hotel, in Bauko, Mountain Province on September 13, 1986. The agreement between the two sides was called the 1986 Mount Data Peace Accord.

In 1987, a biographical film of Conrado's life was released.

In 1999, Conrado was murdered.

Members of the Chadli Molintas Cordillera Region Command of the New People's Army killed Balweg at his residence in Malibcong, Abra in the early morning of December 31, 1999. The unit was led by his brother Juvencio, who denied firing the shots that fatally wounded Balweg. The New People's Army issued a statement that they killed Balweg for alleged "crimes against the Cordilleran people and the Revolutionary Movement".

Another NPA member, Procorpio Tauro also known as "Pyro" and "Ka Lito", was found by the Philippine police to be directly responsible for killing Balweg. Tauro, along with Balweg's brother and other NPA members were present when the killing occurred.

Balweg was married to Corazon Cortel. Upon Balweg's death in 1999, Cortel became the Chief of Staff of the CPLA. Cortel died at Camp Upi in Gamu, Isabela in March 10, 2008 leaving behind five children.

Conrado Balweg family photo
Conrado Balweg family photo

Jordan, one of Balweg's children, was a CPLA member who was integrated into the Philippine Army in 2012.

Father Conrado Balweg fought for the self-determination of the people of the Cordillera which led to the creation of the Cordillera Administrative Region.

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