Elders are dynamic leaders of indigenous society. They are good practice models in all aspects of socio-economic life, symbols and dispensers of order –authority –justice, and bearers of knowledge and values for the common good; for the present as well as for future generations.

There is rich lore and history in the Cordillera on resistance to Spanish colonial subjugation, and even participation by parts of the Cordillera in the first Filipino national democratic revolution against Spanish colonial rule in 1896.

American colonial rule effectively subjugated the Cordillera and co-opted Indigenous socio Political systems (ISPS) and culture; bodong/dap ay, American bulol or white apo,  American flag and symbols of authority like Sapao of Kalinga and Galman of Ifugao, dependence “Nangamong ni Galman mentality’, or the ‘American dream mentality’ of professionals going to America as the measure of success in life.

Cordillera Elders of the different ethno linguistic groups  with varied Indigenous Socio Political systems (ISPS)- like bodong, ator/dap ay, hidit, tongtong ; have shone forth in their brave principled leadership to  defend ancestral lands,  the indigenous way of life and  the common good, for the ili/tribo. This was  highlighted  in the struggle against the  U.S. -Marcos Dictatorship and Cordillera people’s  opposition to the World Bank funded Chico dams, as well as against other development aggression projects secured by militarization.

Such past and continuing example of Cordillera Elders  is a source of inspiration as we assert our identity and advance the struggle for Cordillera Genuine Regional Autonomy   and for genuine sovereignty and national democracy.

Persistence of ISPS from subsistence society up to the present.

Subsistence economy with limited irrigated rice fields, uma/swidden lots, and forested environment was the  economic base for the traditional operation of  indigenous socio political systems with  established role of elders.  Then American colonization at the turn of the 20th century instituted  colonial economic  policy  that regarded the Cordillera (as well as the Philippines) as a rich natural resource base for export of natural resources (minerals, logs) and agriculture products; while importing American manufactured products. This supported American industry and maintained the Philippines a backward rural agricultural base.  This continued in succeeding semi colonial semi feudal Philippine society as reflected in the early 1960’s Mountain Province Development Authority (MPDA)) development perspective for the Cordillera (then Mountain Province): of more large scale mining industry, expanded vegetable industry, and more mega dams like the Chico Dams that Marcos tried to implement.

Up to the present, the same  imperialist -ruling class  oriented “natural  resource base”  perspective and regard for the Cordillera remains; thus the continuing clash between government and communities regarding “development aggression” of destructive  large scale mining, dams, and other energy projects. These have escalated in the Cordillera under imperialist globalization with more  mining and energy projects.

The unprecedented  fast pace of comprehensive social – economic, political – cultural change since American colonization, has   marginalized the subsistence economy, and eroded indigenous socio political systems. Other economic activities now dominate as sources of livelihood, though eroded subsistence economies still co-exist with other economic activities even in the rural interior. In politics – governance –justice system, there has been significant in roads of elite patronage (trapo) politics especially with the Local government code operation at the barangay level. This has eroded traditional ISPS role in ili/tribal governance and the justice system. Culture on language-dance-song-weaving-art, generally continue to flourish as the people actively practice them.

On the whole there is  persistence, but there is also disintegration of  ISPS, namely those   that outlive their use like the observed community rest or  teer/obaya that is linked to the eroded subsistence economy, or inappropriately expensive rituals that are adjusted or are not practiced anymore. Tribal war has also outlived its relevance and use.

And there is remarkable persistence of ISPS and values  that uphold the common good. The Cordillera people’s  movement has persistently nourished the progressive social function of  ISPS. These nurture democracy, social justice, unity and discipline to serve the people.  Continuous exchange and sharing among Elders and the Youth would ensure the transfer of such knowledge and values  to  younger generations.

It should also be noted that that there has been reactionary and self serving use of ISPS like during elections when “trapo” –traditional politics use the bodong or dap ay  for traditional patronage and corrupt politics. Or when tribal conflicts are ignited by divisive and oppressive use of bodong, such as in settlement of cases, or when casualties of the civil war (AFP – NPA) are subjected to bodong, or when differences of positioning on issues are also  inappropriately subjected to bodong.

 Three Levels of Identity and Exercise of Self determination

 The three levels or scenario of  Identity and exercise of self determination are:

1. first as Cordillera peoples from diverse ili/tribes and ethno linguistic groups who are the national minority or indigenous people,

2. then as Cordillera people of both the  Cordillera national minority or indigenous people together with non indigenous people,

3. and third as national Filipino identity because cordillera people, both indigenous and non indigenous are also Filipinos.

The basic identity and practice of self determination is first as Cordillera peoples from diverse villages/ili/tribes/ethno linguistic groups.Indigenous Socio Political Systems (ISPS) and culture with  key role of Elders  operates at the levels of clan, ator/dap ay, and ili/tribe. An established  wider and related   level of identity and practice of self determination on language and culture are the ethno linguistic groups with seven (7) major and various subgroups in the Cordillera.

These diverse basic levels of identity and practice of self determination (on ancestral

land, isps with role of elders, language, and culture) was the scenario in Cordillera subsistence and communal societies prior to and during colonization, and has persisted in post colonization up to now even in spite of levels of disintegration.

On the whole,  Cordillera Elders have  actively participated in monumental social movement episodes in the Cordillera. Such as in the  community  ‘life- and –death’ struggles like against Chico dams – CRC –Mainit mines and militarization  under the Marcos dictatorship, as well as in all other succeeding campaigns against other development aggression projects and accompanying militarization. And some of our venerable elders have paid with their lives – Macliing Dulag during Marcos martial law, Ama Daniel Ngayaan during Corazon Aquino, and Marcos Bangit under GMA.

Elders are localized leaders  with specific representation :as Ator/dap ay elder or as member of the Council of Elders, or as pangat or bodong peace pact holder, or as ili elder in the hidit or tongtong . As such, they are effective leaders upholding ancestral land rights and ISPS for the welfare and interest of the clan, ili and/or tribe. These traditional ISPS formations, are the basic building block  or level where  traditional self determination in all aspects of land- economy-political – cultural life are upheld.

Then Kaigorotan or Cordillera wide identity and consciousness emerged as part of the upsurge in national democratic activism with the First Quarter Storm and the succeeding U.S.-Marcos Dictatorship and explosive Chico dams and CRC.   .  Traditional ISPS like the bodong/dap ay combined with new activist forms of community and  multi sector organizations that have  Cordillera wide and national Filipino perspective.  Thus was built the dynamic unity of traditional ISPS organizations from the Cordillera interior, with sector and community organizations  of farmers –workers- urban poor – youth –women, professionals from both rural and town center/urban Cordillera, and from the national capital region. From the basic ili/tribal world view and level of self determination, now emerged the wider Kaigorotan or Cordillera wide consciousness as indigenous people or national minority with the particular problem of National Oppression and the  right to self determination in the form of Regional Autonomy. This was formalized by the surging people’s movement  with the establishment of the Cordillera People’s Alliance in 1984, for the Defence of Ancestral Land and for Self Determination.

CPA then launched  the “Regionalization and Beyond” campaign to have the Cordillera be recognized as one Region, which was achieved with Executive Order 220 in 1987 by President Cory Aquino that established the Cordillera Administrative Region. And then CPA led the lobby at the 1987 Constitutional Convention on Regional Autonomy for the Cordillera and for Muslim Mindanao, which was also achieved with Regional Autonomy enshrined in the 1987 constitution. The campaigns for Regionalization and for Regional Autonomy marked a  high peak in the militant Cordillera people’s movement for indigenous peoples rights and for national democracy; with active participation of Elders/ ISPS, progressive politicians and professionals, multi sector activists in the Cordillera and national advocates.  The  weakness of such earlier campaign on Regional autonomy was that the  requisites were not clarified, thus giving the impression that Regional Autonomy was then immediately attainable, which was and is not the case with serious limitations of the prevailing national situation. This is now being corrected with the qualification of Genuine Regional Autonomy and the requisites for its achievement.

It must be shared for historical accuracy that preceding the upsurge of national democratic activism during martial law that addressed Cordillera national minorities/indigenous peoples, there was  earlier active assertion of Igorot identity/integrity and homogeneity of the highland mountain region (Cordillera);  by Baguio City based BIBAK Igorot students, professionals and politicians. The most dramatic and inspiring (in early ‘60’s) was then Congressman Alfredo Lam en of the lone district of Mountain Province (Cordillera) –with his tall warrior physique in Igorot g-string and head gear, who stood for a privilege speech before Congress to assert who Igorots are, and also that Igorots are Filipinos. This was to expose and correct the derogatory reference on Igorots with the implication that they are not Filipinos – in the book of Carlos P. Romulo.

In the upsurge of the people’s movement in the Cordillera, with the Cordillera people’s Alliance in the early ‘80’s, Igorot and Kaigorotan was initially popularized as identity of the national minority/indigenous peoples of the Cordillera. But this was not embraced by all as only those from Benguet and Mountain Province ( ethnolinuistic groups of Kanakanaey, Bontoc, and Ibaloy) internalized their identity as Igorot. Others asserted  operational self ascriptions of other major ethno lingistic group (i.e. Kalinga, Tinggian,Isneg, Ifugao) or sub group (i.e. Tuwali, Ayangan). The clear point is that Cordillera wide identity beyond the ili/tribe/ethnolinguistic group/sub group is flexible. At present, the Igorot Diasporo (overseas ) has   found relevance in asserting their Igorot identity and culture, i.e. Igorot Global Organization (IGO).

And finally our national Filipino identity and consciousness is Filipino, because the Cordillera people -as diverse ili/tribes/ethno linguistic groups or Cordillera minority or indigenous people, together with non indigenous people in the Cordillera are also Filipinos. So together  with the majority of Filipinos from exploited and oppressed classes and sectors (at the base of the pyramid social structure), the Cordillera people (indigenous and non indigenous) are one in the national struggle  to decisively change the pyramid social structure of Philippine society – for genuine sovereignty, democracy and social justice.

Elders participation  in national concerns also raise their consciousness, beyond their ili/tribe/ethno linguistic group and the Cordillera. Discussions on the Chico dams that was World Bank funded, and other corporate projects,  explained imperialism in partnership with the ruling classes in Philippine society, who enforce destructive projects even if these clash with people’s rights and welfare, as in the Chico dams. The so called debacle and failure of the WB funded Chico dams, was on the other hand a victory  of the Cordillera  people’s brave assertion of their self determination  with notable Elders role -– for their land/livelihood-politics/isps/culture- and survival as a people. In the past, elders awareness or conscientization on martial law and dictatorship, as well as progressive education and advancing new politics during trapo elections, as well as other national exposures; are continuing opportunities for national consciousness raising of elders.

Progressive Transformation of ISPS for Effective Social Function, and Enduring Social Values for the Common Good

Over all, it is remarkable how activist Cordillera Elders  have been  open, progressive, and wise in their grasp of the politics involved even beyond their ili/tribo. With the key role of progressive Elders, traditional forms of isps were transformed for more appropriate and effective social function.

  1. One was the transformation of the bilateral bodong (traditional bodong/peace pact is bilateral between two ili/tribo), into multi lateral bodong for wide unity and action on issues like the chico dams that affected many ili/tribo. The multi lateral bodong against the chico dams, CRC and militarization united all the affected tribo/ili within the Cordillera, and had the support of organizations/ advocates in other parts of the Cordillera, as well as national and even international advocates.
  2. In dealing with the armed conflict (AFP-NPA), with the reality that there are binodngan ( people from bodong practicing ili/tribo) who are either in the AFP or the NPA; Elders adopted the policy to exclude those in either armed force (AFP or NPA) from the provision of the bodong, i.e. bales/revenge or multa/fine. Adopting such progressive policy of excluding armed combatants, minimized unnecessarily creating conflicts among the people.
  3. Clarification on the concept and application of “Ancestral land” as “Area and people specific”. This stopped the confusing and opportunistic action of vested interests like elements of the CPLA that at one time, claimed any spot on the Cordillera as their “Ancestral land” because they are IPs from the cordillera.
  4. Elders at times had composed or formally organized as “Village council of Elders” for more organized action and governance. But these as well as traditional role of Elders in village justice or case settlements have been eroded by the operation of the Local government code that neglected and did not ensure the role of Elders.
  5. The collectively processed and common good application of consensus in dealing with traditional politics and elections.
  6. Progressive Elders role in the campaign to expose and to correct the bankrupt and divisive politics of the CPLA that divided and eroded progressive Elders role for a time, with their political line of a “Cordillera nation”, “Bodong as Government”, “Cordillera highlanders against lowlanders”, and opportunistic positioning in the structures of the Cordillera, i.e. Cordillera Executive Board (CEB) and Cordillera Bodong Administration (CBAD); while also consciously marginalizing the progressive people’s movement and murdering its leaders/activists. All these was with government and military complicity under President Corazon Aquino who supported the CPLA politically, militarily, and financially;

The Cordillera people’s movement for indigenous peoples rights, human rights, and for national democracy also highlight enduring social values and discipline that Elders  impart to younger generations. These have persisted from subsistence  to colonial society, up to present semi -colonial  and semi – feudal society. These are nurtured  for the present as well as the future socialist society. These are in northern Kankanaey terms but are also expressed in other languages Cordillera languages..

  1. Ayyew – Do not waste any particle of food or any material that could still be used (recycle, re use), either by you or others.

2. Alaen laeng nan kasapulan – Get only what you need and leave the rest for others. This applies on access to free forest products but get only what you need, same as the practice in traditional Benguet mining where miners are guided to get only what they need. Leave the resources for others now or even for succeeding generations.

3. Ipeyas nan Gawis – Share what is good: any good practice in farming or in raising pigs or other aspects of livelihood and health, community life, justice system or social relations should always be shared

4. Inayan – An admonition not to do anything that adversely affects others and the community. Similar to karma that ‘what you do goes back to you’.

 5. Kasiyana – Social assurance or support or advice to people in distress or difficult situations to help them cope with their situation, and give hope that there will be change – that “there is daylight after the darkness of night”.

6. Betad/Fetad – All out mass mobilization for any community/tribal contingency – tribal war, fire, disaster, death; as well as for festive ili/tribal occasions like begnas or bodong renewals.

 Elders and Genuine Regional Autonomy- whether within the present Unitary System or within a Federal System

Of the various forms of self determination, Regional Autonomy – not mere cultural autonomy nor secession, is what we assert for the Indigenous People of the Cordillera region. And we qualify the position of the people’s movement as Genuine Regional Autonomy to distinguish from the Regional Autonomy bills of government that have  been rejected in two past plebiscites, with a third upcoming HB Bill 4649 in the present Congress.

Genuine Regional Autonomy  should:

  1. Ensure ownership –management –benefits from ancestral land and  resources and appropriate sharing with the national government;

2. Uphold and nurture Indigenous Socio Political Systems (ISPS) and appropriate role of elders with  egalitarian values and discipline to serve the people, and lifetime commitment for the common good;

  1. Respect  identity and indivisible territorial integrity of the Cordillera;

4. Truly observe  democratic content and processes  and be guided by social justice and the common good in social relations;  and

5. Work for genuine sovereignty and democracy thus overhaul the pyramid structure of a ruling elite and their foreign masters that control Philippine society; and that derail, deceive and obstruct the attainment of Genuine Regional Autonomy and full exercise of self determination as indigenous people of the Cordillera.

Also, towards a genuinely sovereign and national democratic Philippine society, the program for Genuine Regional Autonomy supports   Peace Talks between the GPH and the NDFP, towards just and lasting peace; and where GRA would be possible.

So far, the past and present Regional Autonomy bills of government do not ensure the above and thus are not acceptable. They merely  elaborate on finance, structures/positions, and devolved operations. These maybe useful when the time comes- that Genuine Regional autonomy is finally possible.

And for the people’s movement, whether within the present Unitary System, or under a  Federal System, the same substance and features of Genuine Regional autonomy are advanced – for a  ‘Cordillera Indigenous People’s Autonomous Region’ if within the Unitary system; or for a  “Cordillera Indigenous People’s State” if within the Federal system.

But there must be caution on Federalism. Its inherent feature  significantly devolves  power to its component states. This would tend to further entrench local/regional dynasties/warlords. This would obstruct serious national democratic and social justice  initiatives, that are otherwise  more effectively undertaken by a unitary centralized system with a political will. Another caution is that the  move for Federalism would then have to be institutionalized through Charter Change. This maybe taken advantage of  by the entrenched ruling class and imperialism to further consolidate their dominance and control of Philippine society.

Finally, it needs pointing out that more than the concern for a Unitary or a Federal system; the really serious fundamental problem of Philippine society that should be addressed is the “pyramid structure”  – with a ruling class/elite together with their foreign masters who have historically controlled  the Philippine economy – politics – culture. Thus the Philippines is not genuinely sovereign, and it is not truly democratic with gross historic inequality and injustice. Other nearby countries like China and Vietnam and others have concluded their national democratic revolutions or achieved national self determination. They sufficiently decide for their own countries and their people avail of a level of democracy and social justice. Anyway they are not as deeply divided, as to have a civil war that has lasted for more than 40 years as in the Philippines.


To conclude, we highlight the committed  role of Cordillera elders  in all aspects of the people’s  life – against destructive projects, perseverance in asserting the progressive aspects of ISPS in the face of social change and disintegration, willingness and wisdom to transform and adopt ISPS for better social function. We  assert that GRA should institutionalize the Elders’ values –commitment – and discipline for governance to genuinely serve the people and to always promote the common good.

And on Federalism, let the discourse unfold. With diligence let us see the local-regional-national context and implications of Federalism. And let us address  the unequal pyramid social structure of Philippine society towards fundamental change for social justice. Confident in our position on GRA within national democracy, we participate in the open market of ideas fortified  by decades of advancing the people’s movement.

May we now all be better informed, united, and committed towards a genuinely autonomous Cordillera region; and a truly sovereign and democratic Philippines.

Final edits bps/27/08/16