Photo by Masfere (Bontoc, 1948)
First off, it is important to understand how the indigenous peoples of the Cordillera became national minorities. The well-known historian of the Cordillera, William Henry Scott, explains how this happened. Previous to Spanish colonization, there was no majority-minority dichotomy. What generally existed throughout the archipelago which Spain colonized and named after its sovereign, were small independent barangay communities which inter-related with each other.
Spain was able to effectively colonize the greater part of the archipelago, in the process integrating the formerly independent communities into the newly formed Filipino nation. There were some communities, however, specifically in the Cordillera region in the north and the Moro and Lumad communities down south, which remained largely unsubjugated throughout the three hundred years of Spanish colonial rule.
Three centuries is a very long time. Three centuries of a different experience with colonialism can spell a world of difference. It created the majority out of the colonized Filipinos who now shared more things in common as they suffered exploitation and oppression under Spain, and as they commonly experienced the integrating developments in the economic (the feudal encomienda system, later the semi-feudal hacienda system), political (centralized government), and cultural (conversion to Christianity) fields. It also made national minorities, or second class Filipinos, of those who were only in the periphery of the great economic, political and cultural changes which the majority collectively experienced, and who therefore retained much of their indigenous traditions and institutions throughout Spanish colonial rule.
The Americans succeeded where the Spaniards did not. They were able to effectively colonize the whole Cordillera. They opened up the region, with its rich natural resources, to imperialist incursions. They subsumed the region’s peoples to the colonial and semi-feudal set-up, along the way drawing the national minorities into the wider national and class structure. However, the differentiation which was created by the fact that sections of the archipelago were not effectively colonized by Spain was never effectively bridged by the new colonizer, and up to the present-day Philippine republic.
The national minorities continue to suffer national oppression and institutionalized discrimination which make them second class citizens and less equal to the rest of the Filipino people. At the same time, they also share the problems common to the rest of the Filipino people to which they also belong.